Reality hits

Aiden Grimshaw was an early favourite on X Factor before finishing ninth. Does his album prove that it’s the reality show losers who make successful artists, asks Antonia Charlesworth

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Series seven of X-Factor produced a mixed bag of pop stars. Winner Matt Cardle went on to sign a massive record deal before releasing a forgettable album and being dropped by his major label. Cheryl Cole’s hard-faced mini-me Cher Lloyd released a couple of highly produced and irritating earworms and One Direction, the show’s most successful exports, are currently working on world domination. Then there was Aiden Grimshaw, the early favourite who placed ninth, behind Brazilian novelty singer Wagner, and sulked off the stage into the X-Factor alumni abyss. Now he’s released an album.

Grimshaw’s parting words from the show, when asked what he was going to do next, were “have a beer”, which pretty much sums up how he’s spent his time since. Then 18, Grimshaw, from Blackpool, moved to London, broke up with his girlfriend and did some growing up in the two years he describes as “mental”.

“I do my own washing, I can cook chicken – I do that a lot, and eggs also,” he says before helpfully providing instructions. “You just put them in a pan and add boiling water. It’s the same with pasta, which is handy.”

Grimshaw’s sense of humour isn’t necessarily obvious – dry, northern, not an ideal fit for a Saturday night primetime talent show. Throughout the X-Factor, he was perceived as a quiet, brooding type but Grimshaw was never at home on the show.

“I kept going home as much as possible and telling everyone all the mental sh**t that went on,” says Grimshaw, who found a friend in Cardle whilst filming.

“Whenever things got too mental we’d go for a beer.”

But Grimshaw won a few fans, including a big gay following, which encouragingly doesn’t faze the 20-year-old, who’s spent plenty of late nights in Blackpool’s gay bars and did a photoshoot for the Gay Times.

“It’s always nice to know that people think you’re pretty,” he says, putting his popularity down to inheriting his mum’s eyebrows.

During the show he won crowds over with haunting renditions of Sinead O’Connor’s Nothing Compares To You and Tears For Fears’ Mad World, incongruous with his boyish good looks, but his album Misty Eye has seen him try to reinvent himself. He’s relaxed his signature quiff, grown a bit of stubble and got a few tattoos, including one credited to his high school teacher Mr Conway. “It’s something he used to say in politics all the time, an Oscar Wilde quote, ‘to define is to limit.’”

“I’ve got a great team around me that have just given me the time and space to go away and do my own thing.”

His album, out last month, is certainly difficult to define, incorporating elements of drum ’n’ bass in the likes of his first single, Is This Love, while tracks such as Be Myself, a piano ballad, demonstrate Grimshaw’s natural abilities. The two years it’s taken to release, Grimshaw says, is more down to him trying to find his musical style than working hard making it.

“I don’t feel like I’ve ever worked too hard,” he admits. “I’ve got a great team around me that have just given me the time and space to go away and do my own thing and make an album that’s totally my own.”

Grimshaw teamed up with Australian producer Jarrad Rogers, whose credits include Lana Del Rey and Tinchy Sryder, but the producer’s previous work isn’t representative of the direction he wants to take.

“It wasn’t about wanting to sound like anybody else and I made it clear that it was personal to me.”

Grimshaw completed the writing process on his own from his spare bedroom, taking four weeks. “That consisted of me going out on a Tuesday, getting a bit drunk and then coming up with an idea and writing it down,” he explains. The subject matter is love, and his break-up with his first girlfriend.

“I’ve been lucky in that I’ve written an album about something pretty generic. Everybody’s felt heartbreak and so hopefully everybody should be able to relate to it.”

Whether it’s a refusal to conform to what we expect to hear from a pop star, naivety or the arrogance of youth, Grimshaw’s admissions, such as him making generic music and not really working too hard, pepper his interview. It was this same quality that caused him to look like a bit of a bruised thumb on the X-Factor. When he was kicked off, he didn’t thank anyone for the opportunity or spout forth about the “amazing” experience but instead looked thoroughly miffed, which made for entertaining but uncomfortable viewing. His interview is of the same ilk – he mumbles his way through his answers and wears his sarcasm like a coat of armour but manages to stay endearing, on account of his lack of showmanship.

“I think all the X-Factor does is provide an opportunity, and it’s about what you do with it afterwards.”

How this will translate on stage will be seen as the artist heads out on his first solo tour.

“It’ll be a bit different from the last tour I was on,” he says, referring to the profit-milking X-Factor arena tour, compulsory for all finalists.

“It’s about just going out and letting people hear the album. I’m really excited, I’ve got a good band and we’re all mates and we’ve done a few gigs and they went really well, so hopefully we’ll be ready and the boyfriends that get dragged along will leave going ‘actually that was all right.’”

The 12-date tour of small venues includes Leeds’ Cockpit and Manchester’s Academy 3, to which he’s arranged a coachload of friends and family.

Although now based in London – he didn’t have many opportunities in Blackpool – Grimshaw still likes to go home regularly.

“I went back to Blackpool at the weekend. I had a christening to go to, with all my family who’ve been whacking out babies.” Grimshaw found the time to return to his musical roots and perform a song at a friend’s wedding that weekend, as well as catch up with members of his high-school band, Disco Nap.

With apparent influences such as Damian Rice and Moby and citing Dave Matthews and John Mayer as musical heroes, Grimshaw surprised most critics with Misty Eye, which begs the question – does it take an X-Factor loser to become a successful artist?

“I think all the X-Factor does is provide an opportunity, and it’s about what you do with it afterwards.”

Grimshaw never speaks negatively about the talent show that brought him into public consciousness – presumably there’s a contract somewhere preventing him from doing so – but there’s a hint of characteristic sarcasm in his answer to the question of how long X-Factor will last in the wake of falling ratings.

“There’re few things in life that are certain and X-Factor’s one of them. X-Factor will be there forever and Louis Walsh will be sat right there on the judging panel.”

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