Stand up to Simon Cowell, don”t blow your money and NEVER become divas! Joe McElderry”s letter to the X Factor finalists
Two years ago Joe McElderry won The X Factor and was set for stardom. But he was dropped from record label Syco in April after just one album. Since then, he’s got a new deal, won ITV’s Popstar to Operastar and had a sell-out tour. Here, in an open letter to this year’s winners Little Mix and runner-up Marcus Collins, Joe advises how they should tackle fame — however fickle it may turn out to be.
Help: Joe McElderry gives his tips to Little Mix and Marcus Collins
Dear Little Mix (and Marcus),
Remember this: You’re not megastars yet. You’ve got a long way to go and a lot to prove before you can consider yourselves a success. The coming year is crucial — work hard, avoid becoming complacent and be professional.
Naturally, I’m a fan of Little Mix. Jade Thirlwall and Perrie Edwards both come from my home town South Shields and Jade is a good friend of mine.
We’ve known each other since we met on the local singing circuit.
I think you — together with bandmates Jesy Nelson and Leigh-Anne Pinnock — won because people related to you as normal girls.
You came out in Converse trainers, you weren’t overly sexy, which puts other girls off, and you were family friendly. It goes a long way if people see that you are genuine.
It was the same with me. I was true to myself on the show. When I felt nervous or didn’t know what was going on, I admitted it. People like you to be honest and to see genuine emotions.
Winners! Little Mix are close to Joe”s heart as he”s good friends with Jade
I still can’t remember the first couple of weeks after winning because I was so in awe of everything. But I do remember it being so exciting. If I could give any advice it would be to enjoy it because you never get that feeling back of having your first single out in the stores.
I do remember my first press conference after winning. It was at the Dorchester Hotel and it was surreal.
Everyone wants to know about your personal life, your relationships, your Facebook status. It is quite weird. I couldn’t get my head around questions about my family.
Why did they want to know Now I’m used to it, but back then being asked if I had a girlfriend or who was my first girlfriend seemed strange.
As there are four of you in Little Mix, it may be easier to bounce those questions off each other in interviews, but take your time, and remember that from now on everything you do and say goes on the internet and stays there for ever, so be true to who you are.
Stand up for yourself: Joe McElderry has advised Marcus Collins to stay in control of his identity
And if people write horrible things about you on online forums and Twitter — as has happened to me — try to ignore their negative comments. I got upset, but then I realised it’s pointless dwelling on them.
Ride the highs and let the negatives and lows go over your head, because the opportunities you’ve been given are too good not to enjoy. Better still, don’t Google yourself.
Building a relationship with the Press is a great thing to do, but when you get negative press just brush it off.
I was still very young — just 18 — when I took part in The X Factor and I didn’t really know who I was as a person, which is why I didn’t talk about being gay.
We did it! Tulisa celebrates as her group Little Mix – Jade, Jesy, Perrie and Leigh Ann take the X Factor 2011 title
You and your fellow contestants have had much more access to the Press than we did, so Marcus you have been able to talk about that sort of thing.
But I like to keep my personal life private. I would advise you guys to do the same because in the job you’re entering now, not much of your life is private anyway, so you should try and keep something back for yourself.
When I won, everyone was saying I was going to be Britain’s answer to High School Musical star Zac Efron. Little Mix, you have already had the same thing with people predicting you’re the new Spice Girls. It’s a bandwagon that people jump on. But I think you will be amazingly successful as yourselves.
You’ll find it isn’t really about coming first or second. I don’t believe, Marcus, that you will have more creative control than Little Mix because you came second.
It’s up to you all to take it to the next level. There’s no rule book for popstars. Everyone does it differently. X Factor is an amazing platform.
Disappointed: Marcus came second but he will still be looked after by Simon Cowell”s Syco label
You are in control of your own destiny. I know people think Simon Cowell is in control, and yes, sometimes you have to follow what the record company says, but Simon likes people who can stand up to him, who say: ‘I don’t want to do this’, or, ‘I like that song.’
He’s a very busy man and spends a lot of time in America, so most of the time we’d chat on the phone, but now and again I’d go into the office and he’d be there and we’d chat about songs. I’d say: ‘I’m not keen on this one and I really like that.’
He’d say: ‘Can you try this’ It’s about building a working relationship, not who controls who.
You girls and Marcus should stay in touch with your mentors Tulisa and Gary Barlow. They have really experienced the industry and have a lot to impart. It’s not about being friends with them, it’s about working on a professional level.
Man with the plan: Simon Cowell takes charge of the winners of X Factor
Cheryl Cole was my mentor. We still speak. I loved working with her. She always had an amazing work ethic and said it’s all about being professional, being on time, representing yourself as a professional artist.
Like any job, there are going to be disagreements. If you don’t like certain outfits, or aren’t happy with how you are asked to perform or even what you are asked to sing, then have a discussion about it. Talk about it honestly or you’re not going to do your best.
You’ve got to be comfortable with everything you do because you’re the one who has to sell the product. If you are not comfortable and it means having a bit of a row so long as it’s constructive and not a tantrum I think it’s fair enough.
It’s important to remember you are the artist, you have to keep creative control. Trust your own decisions.
Path to glory: Joe McElderry was on Popstar To Operastar with Andy Bell, Cheryl Baker, Melody Thornton, Joe Washbourn, Jocelyn Brown, Midge Ure and Claire Richards
Of course, there’s enormous pressure, especially if you’re the winner, to get a No 1 single and Top 5 album or you’re deemed a failure. I suffered it, but now I realise that No 1 isn’t always achievable.
Some of the biggest artists in the world have only had three No 1s, but have amazing selling singles throughout the year. So concentrate instead on producing good songs and having good sales.
And if it doesn’t work out with Simon Cowell’s label there is life after it. I left on good terms — it was just time to move on. My album Wide Awake did well, it went gold and I never felt down about leaving. I was thankful for the opportunity.
I didn’t even notice I didn’t have a record contract any more I was working so hard performing up and down the country. And it gave me the opportunity to do Popstar To Operastar on ITV1, which I might not have tried had I still been signed to Syco.
Helping hand: Mentor Rolando Villazon gave Joe the opportunity to get signed to another label
I didn’t expect the show to have much of an impact on my career. I thought I was going to be pretty rubbish at opera, but I found that connection with people again and ended up winning. I’ve just come off a 20-date sell-out UK tour and my new album Classic Christmas mixes the classics with pop ballads.
One of the opera mentors, Rolando Villazon, recommended me to his brilliant label Decca and they made me an offer. He’s recorded a duet with me. I knew I wanted to carry on recording albums and my plan was to keep working towards that.
I made the decision when I won The X Factor not to move away from my family. Winning, or coming second, affects your whole family.
Hang on to your money too because you don’t know how long it’s going to last. But keep close to your friends and families. I often have one or the other travelling with me — it’s nice having someone there who knows you well.
It’s important to stay true to the people who knew you before you were famous.
Remember, it’s the public that put you there. Sometimes people will stop you in the street. Always be polite — they gave you the opportunity.
When I look back I don’t think I did anything wrong. I was always myself throughout the whole X Factor experience.
The only thing I would have done differently is trusting my own creative decisions more and I would have thrown myself into it a bit more. I would have been more gutsy instead of worrying what people would think.
Little Mix and Marcus: Don’t be arrogant, you don’t want to be divas, but grab everything. Just totally go for it.
■ Joe McElderry’s album Classic Christmas is out now. His single Last Christmas is out on Monday.