The group auditioned reportedly over 400 lead singers to find a replacement for Gabriel. Phil Collins, who had provided backing vocals, coached prospective replacements. When the band was about to record the vocals for the album the members came to the realisation that Gabriel's possible replacement just wasn't the voice they needed. Collins asked the other members if he could give it a try.And that try, ladies and gentlemen, lasted forty years. I suspect that somewhere back in the recesses of that tortured mind of his, Phil Collins still feels as though his whole career has been suspiciously like an audition. But thus began one of rock's great puzzles: why did he do it? For decades, the secret force that motivated this seemingly meek, unassuming percussionist to step into the harsh glare of the spotlight has been shrouded in mystery - until now. If, from an outsider's perspective, it initially appeared as though Phil was quite hesitant to take on front man duties, almost as if he wasn't terribly excited about it in the first place, such an impression was not entirely baseless. For the disturbing truth is that, for all intents and purposes, Phil Collins hardly had any choice in the matter at all.
He was blackmailed. From In The Air Tonight:
After the 396th audition, we sat around the studio, discussing the merits of the latest batch.
"That last one was a bit frilly, wasn't he?"
"Too much chest hair."
"Isn't chest hair what you need in a front man?"
"Well sure, but not that much chest hair."
"What about the bloke before him? He had a bit of a Greg Lake feel, with maybe a touch of Alice Cooper."
"He wasn't so bad. Couldn't hit the high C though."
"So? Peter couldn't hit the high C either."
"Yeah, but Peter never needed to."
"All right, I think we've seen enough for today."
The others gradually left the studio, but I decided to take a last cup of tea. I looked around the empty building and continued to evaluate the advantages and drawbacks of the auditioning singers in my mind, humming softly to myself, quite confident in my privacy. But I was not alone.
I thought I heard a voice from the break room. It had been a long day. Or perhaps Tony had put something funny in the tea.
"Phil!" In the darkness, I began to make out a figure - a familiar figure. It was none other than our former front man.
"Peter! Peter, what are you ... what are you doing here?"
"The others didn't see me, did they?"
"The others? Oh heavens, I didn't even see you."
"Splendid! Then we're alone."
"Peter, I thought you were starting a solo career."
"Oh I am, Phil, oh I am. But why does that preclude me from taking a keen interest in my replacement?"
"I thought you wanted us to handle it."
"And I can see what a deplorable job you've done, too. Mariachi singers? Lebanese folk dancers? Castratis? Is this what's become of my beloved band?"
"We're trying our best, we really are, but you're a hard act to follow."
"Nonsense. There's only one singer who was meant to take over this band, and we both know who that is."
I let out a terrible gasp. "But ... but I couldn't."
"Don't play coy with me. You've wanted it all along."
"But ... I'm just a drummer. And ... and I'm short!"
"The others are just pretenders, Phil. You have the power to move mountains."
I stared into the distance and nodded my head slowly. "Yes. Yes, I have thought about it now and then. I've entertained these childish fantasies. But that's all they are, Peter. In here, I'm a lead singer. But out there ... they'll never accept it."
"That's just the tea talking."
I took another deep breath. "No. I won't do it. It wouldn't be right."
Peter suddenly turned off all the lights. "I knew you'd hesitate." He walked into the closet and rolled out a cart with a film projector on it. "But I'm afraid you have no choice."
He turned the projector on, and there, flickering against the walls of Studio B, I saw myself in Rio ... with Carmelita. I became ghostly pale.
"How ... how did you get this?"
"We wouldn't want anyone to see this amusing little escapade now, would we?"
"You ... you must destroy this. You don't know what this means."
"What this means? To your precious reputation? Phil Collins, perfect little angel, wouldn't even hurt a fly, eh?"
"I have a family, I have an ... an image to uphold!"
"I agree. Which is why I'll never show this film to another living soul - on one condition: that you become the new lead singer for Genesis."
Standing there, in the dark, the sound of the one-legged Chilean dancer's moans and the clanking of oyster shells echoing throughout the room, I knew my fate was sealed.
"You're a bastard. You're a real bastard, you know that?"
"I'm the bastard? Oh I'm the bastard? I know a little more about Philip D. Collins than the rest of us."
"And what is that?"
"Oh, maybe I've heard something here and there about an incident in a marsh ... with a convict."
"I know all about it. I know about your little hedgehog pal, I know about the Belgian science experiment ... I know everything Phil."
"Lies! Lies, lies, a thousand times lies!"
"Oh, I'll be a liar, all right. I'll go right along and tell the public how shocked I am that Phil decided to handle lead vocals himself. I'll lie and tell people I've never seen you commit a single sin in your entire life. Yes, I'll be a liar."
An icy chill crept through my entire body. I took a long, last sip of tea. Peter rolled the projector back into the closet, grabbed his coat, and walked toward the door.
"But ... why? Why, Peter?"
His lips curled into a mischievous smile. "Because I like you Phil."