Flashback – JLS: “X Factor was a crash course in this industry. From zero to hero in 10 weeks’ | JLS
X Factor finalists in 2008, JLS – short for Jack the Lad Swing – is one of the show’s most successful numbers. Celebrated for their R&B-infused pop and slick dance routines, the group reached No. 1 with their debut single, Beat Again, while their debut album won multiple Brit and Mobo awards and went quadruple platinum. They released three more albums and a line of condoms, before going their separate ways in 2013. Oritsé Williams and Aston Merrygold pursued solo careers in music, Marvin Humes thriving as a television and radio host, while JB Gill turned to farming turkeys in Kent. Their new album, JLS 2.0, was released on December 3, and they wrap up their comeback tour on December 12 at Capital’s Jingle Bell Ball at the O2 in London.
It was Marvin’s idea to wear pastel polo shirts. We rocked it in shorts, Converse and knee socks. This first X Factor audition opened a lot of doors for JLS, from a fashion standpoint, as it was quite avant-garde at the time. The same happened later with the Deep V T-shirts. We were always happy to define boy band trends.
I wasn’t nervous when we auditioned. I had the mentality of: okay, the door is open, let’s run through. When we sang our cover of If I Ever Fall in Love, I didn’t really think we had succeeded. Is performance ever 100% perfect? No, but we got the job done.
I’m from Peterborough, but moved to London after school. I was a host for the CITV Fun Song Factory show, and then I would go from job to job, trying to pay the bills. When Oritsé set up auditions for his new band, it looked like an incredible opportunity.
After X Factor was finished, we worked hard; if there was a concert, we would play it. We did loads of club performances which meant there was a lot of alcohol around. At a show I went for a backflip and on the way down I slipped on a glass that someone in the audience had knocked over. I styled it and resumed the routine, but I could have really hurt my tailbone.
At that time, I felt invincible. Now I eat clean, I stretch, I meditate. This goes for all of us – we have to make sure we are in the right space physically and mentally. When you’re on a 30 date tour at 33, doing the same moves you did at 18, you can’t break McDonald’s every day.
I’m in the best shape I’ve ever known, but it’s our friendship that makes our careers so lasting. After 15 years, I’m pretty sure we’re a lot closer than most of the greatest bands in pop history.
We had been together for a year before this audition. X Factor was the last roll of the dice – we had tried to do it ourselves, but no one was interested. The doors were closed to us. Of course, we were nervous in front of the judges, but we knew we would put on a good show.
When we started, Oritsé was the frontman, but the dynamics of JLS changed over the course of the show. In week four Simon Cowell pointed the finger at Aston and said: “It’s great, but you have to do more as a leader.” Some bands wouldn’t be able to handle this, others would get angry, but everything was fine.
We all play our roles. You probably think Aston is the leader, but what people don’t see is Oritsé is the founding member and he still has the big creative ideas. I’m the one who takes care of the management and the PR reps, and JB is the lawyer, who takes care of contracts and accounts. It’s not very exciting, but it makes JLS work.
As a band we have matured, but the music industry has changed as well. When we first came out, it was the era of the stereotypical boy band – Backstreet Boys, Boyzone, Westlife. Very clean and shiny. Beyond having a successful record, appearance was the most important thing. It doesn’t apply so much anymore.
These days we are much more patient and understanding of everyone’s schedules, especially as parents. We have gone from group members and business partners to family. I’m sure in 15 years nothing will have changed, but maybe our kids will run the show. We’ll just be daddy’s taxis.
Over the years I’ve known people who made X Factor, amazing singers who were in their early stages, so we didn’t know in which direction it was going to go. We weren’t dressed in the most fancy outfits, but we looked identifiable as a band, and while we weren’t the best technically singers, the energy we brought was unique.
X Factor was a crash course in this industry. From zero to heroes in 10 weeks. During that time, we’ve done everything a pop star needs to do. It really gave us a glimpse of what work was needed and how we should do it.
Before the final, we had everything to play, the tension was high. Then we did our homecoming gig in Croydon, where my family is from. It was the first time that I realized how much we were loved. We have closed Croydon! I thought, OK, there are thousands of people blocking the roads – something is going on here.
In addition to JLS, I have my turkey farm. It’s a different discipline for sure – with animals you always have to be there on Christmas morning and every day in between. There is no break. Being in JLS can also be intense: if I go out as an individual I always get “Oh, this is JB from JLS”. It can be hard to relax when you’re still on a mission. But it was never fun. We have an authentic relationship with each other, and what you are seeing is real.
Before the hearing, I had the flu. I tried to do my verse and all that came out was that hoarse sound. I said, “Boys, I can’t sing. I have no voice. I was upset and scared, but the rest of the group said, “You can do it. That day my voice came back to me. So getting noticed by Simon after that was a great time. My boys believed in me and I didn’t let them down.
I have dedicated my life to starting this group. JLS was a manifestation of the energy I put into wanting to take care of my mother, who has multiple sclerosis, and of whom I was a caregiver. When I was 12 my brother and I had an idea: I would become a successful musician and he would become a doctor, and we would use the money to find a cure for Mum. He graduated as a Biomedical Scientist and I formed a group, but we realized that the best way to support her is through love.
On X Factor, I was ready to do anything to make it to the final – dress or have my hair done, in a way. I was focused. When it comes to stardom, however, the boys have adapted to it a lot better than I have. I fought. From the first audition until I left X Factor, I watched my mom go from walking on crutches to using a wheelchair. It was impossible for me to lose myself in the celebrity bubble, so I felt very different from guys.
They are still as united, and always have been. I have been through a lot in a very short period of time and have had some serious character building experiences. But none of this would have happened if it hadn’t been for my unfortunate situation. There are 8 billion people in this world, so it’s a wonder I found these guys. I was obsessed with making it work – and it did.