Olly Murs had visions “to be… famous and sell records and be an international superstar,” when he first graced the stage of the British X Factor in 2009. Those visions have materialized into three successful albums and four number one singles in the U.K., and a stab at stardom in North America.
I met Olly Murs on a special night of his life, two hours before his very first concert as the headlining act in the U.S. The British popstar had toured North America as the opener for One Direction last year, but this time, he was the star.
“It’s massive for me… this is a huge concert. It’s New York. It’s America,” he said, sitting in the lobby of Irving Plaza, one floor below the concert hall where he would perform to a sell-out crowd. “I’m intrigued to see how many fans know my songs.”
I, too, wondered what kind of U.S. fans a British artist could have who had yet to release an album stateside. I admitted to the charismatic Mr. Murs that my own knowledge of him was limited to what I had learned online in the two months since British pop sensation Robbie Williams had announced Olly would be the support act for his European stadium tour this summer. I haven’t missed a Robbie tour in ten years.
“Robbie’s always been there for me,” he said. “I mean, Robbie’s my best friend.” Williams had rallied for and even sang with Murs, who became the runner-up on The X Factor. “He taught me to make sure I write my own song, which I did.”
Murs returned to the X Factor stage in 2011, as a radiant example of a TV competition success story. The handsome lad from the East of England sang his own 1950s-inspired song “Dance with Me Tonight,” backed by some of Jim Henson’s most beloved Muppets. “Obviously you see the puppeteers…but when Miss Piggy comes to life, she really is Miss Piggy. She even threw a diva strop [strop refers to tantrum] onstage which was really hilarious, where she said that she wanted more lines to sing… I was like, ‘Unfortunately, Miss Piggy, this is my song, not yours.’”
That song, plus “Troublemaker,” both number one singles in England, will appear on Murs’ first U.S. album in April. The lyrics of “Troublemaker,” about a toxic yet irresistible girlfriend, drew from the songwriter’s own experience. “It’s not a healthy relationship. I think we all love challenges in life and we meet a girl… that’s that challenging, it’s like, I want a piece of that.”
Charming a “tough” New York crowd was not challenging for the 28-year-old that night. Mostly female, mostly young, and mostly fans who’d learned about Olly through social media during his tour with One Direction eight months prior, they mostly knew every line of every song, and loudly sang along. Once Murs was convinced they knew his music, he still tested them. “What’s my middle name?”
“Stanley!” shouted the entire room, including me. Thanks, Wikipedia!
When he spotted one of his male fans giving him the thumbs up from the balcony during the infectious “Heart Skips a Beat,” he mirrored the gesture and waved at me. Thanks, Olly!
You can now find his gestures, suggestive wiggles and teases about removing articles of his clothing that night on YouTube, as well as his leading the entire crowd in what became an all-night sing-along. What you will not find from bootlegged footage of his first solo concert in the U.S. are any major embarrassing moments. The same can’t be said for his performance in Sheffield, England, a year ago, when a kneeling young star suddenly spread his legs too wide, splitting his pants, “and obviously my briefs fell out,” he laughed. Half a year later, he “stacked it onstage” in Surrey, stumbling down a slippery staircase. The tumble went on YouTube, and the evening news. Robbie Williams came to the rescue with a supportive e-mail.
“He just said, ‘Mate, you’re not the only person who did it,’ and he actually put a link down, and when I clicked the link it was actually him falling over on stage on a big concert… He’s got a sense of humor like me, so it’s great.”
As our interview came to an end, I wished the soulful singer great success in America. ”Thank you,” he smiled, “and I’ll see you at the Robbie Williams’ tour.”
The album Right Place, Right Time is set for release on April 16 in North America. Watch for Olly’s performance on 90210 the same month.
- Paul Larson
See Paul Larson on Borderless North, Thursdays at 8:30pm on Mountain Lake PBS.
Listen to an exclusive radio interview between Olly Murs and Paul Larson here.