The best thing about Olly Murs isn’t that he came out of nowhere—the British singer was plucked from obscurity when he appeared on the UK’s version of The X Factor, becoming one of Simon Cowell’s favorites and placing second on the show—or that he has serious singing chops (on display on his first two albums, which haven’t been released in the US yet but have already topped charts across Europe), but that in the midst of a major boy band revival, he’s old enough that you won’t feel embarrassed about listening. His heartfelt songs are catchy, yes, but they’ve also got teeth (hip-hop duo Chiddy Bang raps on his debut US single “Heart Skips a Beat,” which comes out this week). Before hitting the road to open for One Direction during their US tour this summer, Murs spoke with ELLE.com about working in a call center, being a band chaperone, and drunk-dialing Robbie Williams.
Why it’s taken him so long to cross the Atlantic: “I’ve worked really hard the past couple of years just establishing myself in the UK. The second album blew up across Europe, and I didn’t expect it, and then the American label was really interested in releasing it. It’s the right case at the right time, with One Direction and Jessie J and all these famous acts coming over and doing really well.”
So yes, there’s a British Invasion underway: “It kind of feels like an invasion—sometimes it just happens like that, I suppose. Obviously the success of Adele and One Direction has gotten people excited. It’s nice that people are playing our music around the world, and hopefully I can be a part of it.”
You may have spoken to him on the phone: “I didn’t really sing that much; I did karaoke one night and someone said, ‘You can sing! You should go for The X Factor.’ I went [to the audition] for a laugh, really, and all of the sudden it became a reality. It’s pretty crazy. I was 25, I worked in a call center, and I just did normal day jobs—I never had the contacts or people in the industry to send records off to.”
He’s afraid of drunk-dialing mentors Robbie Williams and Simon Cowell: “I actually changed their names on my phone so if I get drunk one night I won’t dial them. When I first got their numbers, you’re kind of excited to be on the phone with Simon or Robbie. I just imagined getting really drunk with my mates, [going], ‘Siiiiiiiimoooon!’”
The best advice he ever got: “I didn’t know what was going to happen when I finished the show, I was just enjoying it. Robbie Williams said, ‘You’re going to be fine, you’re going to get a record deal, the most important thing is to make sure that your music has your stamp on it and everything that you write is something you’ve experienced and indicates your personality.’ And that’s what I’ve done ever since.”
On buying beers for the underage One Direction boys while they’re touring America: “Well, I’ll do that. Obviously over here [in England] it’s an older [drinking] age, so I’m sure the boys will be having that experience in the hotel rooms. I’m sure we’ll have lots of fun anyway—the boys don’t need beer to have fun. They’re crazy, they’re a lively bunch, they’re cheeky… I can’t wait.”