Antony and the Johnsons win U.K.'s Mercury Prize. Androgenous singer comes out of left field to top Coldplay and Bloc Party for album of the year

The first words out of Antony Hegarty’s mouth when his name was announced at Sept. 6’s Mercury Prize Awards? ”I think they must have made a mistake.” Indeed, though the prestigious U.K. prize is known for idiosyncratic choices — past winners range from critical darlings Primal Scream and PJ Harvey to M People (yep, we don’t know them either) — he is, to say the least, a left-field choice. For one, though he was born in England, the 34-year-old New York resident has lived in the States since 1983; for another, Antony and the Johnsons’ winning album, I Am a Bird Now, an arresting mix of Hegarty’s Nina Simone-ish vocals and operatic, piano-laden balladry, is truly unique — a hothouse orchid in a field of rock sequoias (Coldplay) and hot young saplings (Kaiser Chiefs, Bloc Party). Some theorize that those nominees canceled one another out; Bloc Party singer Kele Okereke disagrees. ”There are certain bands,” he admits, ”that if they had won, I think I would have lost my faith in the British media. I’m glad it went to someone who deserves it…. He’s just a really, really great artist.”