No more ordinary Joe

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The Independent Culture

As he made the now customary post-victory tour of the television studios yesterday, a heady mix of guarded faith in his own good fortune and cold adrenaline was sustaining Joe McElderry through the fug of tiredness and excitement brought on by two hours sleep and his sudden elevation to the status of Britain’s hottest new pop star.

Back home in South Shields the bunting was being laid out while family, friends and former singing rivals joined the Prime Minister Gordon Brown to pay tribute to the crowd-pleasing virtues of the sixth anointed winner of The X Factor.

It emerged that the 18-year-old college student had gained his crown before a peak television audience of 19.1m – 62 per cent of the viewing public and the highest ever to tune in to Simon Cowell’s unstoppable talent show, a performance which gave hosts ITV1 its most lucrative advertising night ever.

"I am still pinching myself, I cannot believe it, that I am sitting here, and that I have just won X Factor," the diminutive teenager said as he tried to explain his feelings after comprehensively beating fellow crooner Olly Murs. "I just feel like I am in this dream and then it keeps hitting me," he told GMTV

A mass internet campaign which aims to disrupt McElderry’s seemingly inevitable appropriation of the Christmas number one spot notwithstanding, the 18-year-old is now the rightful heir to a million pound record contract with recording giant Sony and a future that must seem unimaginably exciting to student friends back in small town Tyneside.

Yet just a few miles away from those same television studios where the young singer was toasting success with Champagne and playing down suggestions he was to sign a £5m deal making him the “next Zac Effron” Steve Brookstein was better placed than most to know that the denouement to McElderry’s story is far from guaranteed.

As the first ever winner of The X Factor in 2004, Brookstein can still lay claim to being its most popular having gathered a record number of audience votes despite the much lower viewing figures for the show then. But the south Londoner was never able to translate those Saturday night telephone calls into record sales: a failure which in the brutal logic of the multi-million grossing franchise saw him rapidly cast adrift as a failure.

The 41-year-old is not alone however. Earlier this year 2007 winner Leon Jackson was dropped by his record company after just a single album. Not everyone can emulate the success of a Leona Lewis or a Shayne Ward despite the astonishing platform given by the show.

Today Brookstein is concentrating on family life with his 18-month-old son, helping his wife the acclaimed jazz musician Eileen Hunter on her forthcoming debut album and thinking about “getting in shape” and resuming his singing career in earnest.

He has been stung by gleeful newspaper stories belittling his recent (and highly lucrative) appearances at Butlins, performances on cross Channel ferry cruises and gigs at Pizza Express. So perhaps unsurprisingly much of the hype surrounding Sunday’s triumph does not impress Brookstein who, like the rest of the nation, spent the evening watching the result unfold on his television.

“Put it this way. McDonalds sells 20m burgers but it doesn’t make it great. It doesn’t give it more substance,” he said. “When you hear Tory MPs going on about how it promotes family values and brings people together that doesn’t make it right either - just because the whole nation sat around gormlessly watching two blokes battling it out for the title of karaoke champion 2009,” he added.

For the record Brookstein believes McElderry is a decent singer and wishes him well, it was just that for him and other contestants, the X Factor all too rapidly became the ex-factor.

From the outset Brookstein was older than the other competitors and was more experienced having negotiated contracts before winning the show. But the relationship with Cowell was unhappy from near the start.

Brookstein didn’t like the record company mogul choosing his suits or telling him which songs to sing. He was also unhappy that his first single - a reworking of Phil Collin’s Against All Odds - was accompanied by a pastiche of moments from the show and not a bespoke video. He was also unimpressed with the selection of cover tracks for his album and believes that partly because of his age he was marketed as a Robson and Jerome wannabe rather than the soul singer in the Luther Vandross mode that he sees himself.

In the end Brookstein wanted more artistic control over his output and image and believed he could do better than the model being laid out for him. Within months he had parted ways with his record company while his former mentor moved on to bigger and better things.

“I remember when I won I really thought `this is it’. This was the first time I had been involved with something that I believed would be released. I thought `it can’t go wrong now’,” he recalls. “But then it gets stressful. You start to fear a bit of a backlash. I remember thinking I don’t want to be manipulated and everyone in the industry thinks you are a bit naff.”

“I got booed on my first appearance on Top of the Pops. I could understand music lovers not liking that I was doing Phil Collins’ Against All Odds. The only song that could have been worse was Unchained Melody,” he said. “I still haven’t heard half of my first album. I will get to the first chorus and just switch it off. I have fans who say they love that album but I can’t.”

The feeling that everything was not quite right with the Cowell formula seemed to affect Jackson too. Breaking a long silence since losing his record contract he recently told fans on his website that he is deliberately “shunning the spotlight” to rebuild himself by “focusing on and developing my craft”.

Thanking followers for their continued support, the 20-year-old Scot said: “I am working on an intimate, emotionally charged and organic sound developing my musicianship and trying to capture an honest chemistry for a new record.”

But The X Factor experience is not all bad. McElderry can probably look forward to a six figure advance on his contract. Even the shows early losers will enjoy big pay days ahead – at least in the short term. Former male stripper Chico who took part in the 2005 series claims to have earned £1m in the 12 months after he was knocked out. Irish twins John and Edward Grimes– better known as Jedward – can command fees of up to £40,000 a show under the watchful eye of their manager Louis Walsh while the top eight artists will pocket a further £100,000 on next year’s X Factor tour. Even small venues will pay former contestants up to £2,000 for a night’s work.

And most enjoyed the experience while it lasted, said Brookstein, especially the three months of recording the series itself. “People make out I am this bitter old man but I had a great time. I loved it,” he said. He believes that many of the mistakes made when he was the reigning winner have been learnt and artists are given a greater degree of artistic freedom though they will still live and die by the quality of the material selected for them, the promotion and marketing carried out on their behalf.

“Everyday I get people telling me that if I want to have a career this business I have to make it up with Simon Cowell. With hindsight I should have just done as I was told,” Brookstein said. “Life is the journey and it was a great time. I am a lot more philosophical about it now. I can analyse it now and I can see the mistakes I made. I made some huge mistakes and it cost me a lot. Now I still have some health left. I’m married and I have a baby boy. Now I want to make a record that he would be really proud of,” he said.