Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Big Interview: Joe McElderry

Joe McElderry is currently preparing to star as the title character in the UK tour of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat which recommences at the Broadway Theatre in Peterborough on 26th January 2016.

Joseph marks Joe’s first major role in a long running musical. In 2012 he played the title character in The Who's Tommy for a one-off West End gala and reprised his performance last year for a limited run at the Blackpool Opera House. 

Joe previously recorded a duet with Kerry Ellis, the first lady of the West End, for her self-titled album and joined her for the London date of her UK tour, as well as making appearances in various theatrical concerts and events. This Christmas he starred as the Man in the Mirror in Hull’s panto, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. 

Mentored by Cheryl Fernandez-Versini, Joe won The X Factor aged 18 in 2009. His version of Miley Cyrus’s 'The Climb' topped the singles charts whilst his debut album Wide Awake reached number 3 on the UK Albums Chart.

He has since gone on to have two more top ten albums and become the first X Factor winner to release four albums, with a fifth in the making. Joe is the first and only celebrity to have won three reality TV shows. He was crowned the winner of the second series of ITV’s Popstar to Operastar before strapping on his skis and winning Channel 4’s celebrity ski competition The Jump in 2014.

I recently spoke to Joe about joining Joseph, the differences between the theatre world and music industry, his loyal fanbase and being named the ultimate X Factor winner…

Joseph is one of those shows which is passed down the generations. Did you see it when you were growing up?
I saw it once and my junior school did it when I was a kid, but I was never in it. I think that’s the beauty of it – it’s a lovely family show. Everybody loves it! It’s been so nice for me because when people have been coming up to me in the street recently or speaking to me backstage at shows everybody’s been excited, there’s a real buzz about it… weirdly more so than anything I’ve done before! Even friends who don’t usually comment much on my career and tend to play it cool have been like “I’m so excited to see you in Joseph!” Everybody has such an attachment with the show.

Did you have your eye on the role? Was it something you thought you might be suitable for?
People over the years have always said it’s a perfect role for me…

Well seeing as you share a name…
[laughs] Yes – apparently I’m the first person called Joe to have ever played the role! I’m the first Joseph to play Joseph! I’m really looking forward to it, but I’m also anxious and nervous. I know it will all be fine, I’m going to have fun with it!

So many completely different performers have taken on this role over the years, does that add to the pressure?
Like you say I think they have all been very different and have come from very different backgrounds and have different styles of voices. Some of them have had musical theatre voices and some of them have been more pop singers which is the nice thing about it. I’m going to bring my voice to it and have a go!

Why do you think Joseph has stood the test of time? 
I think it’s a great family show. It’s a great story and the music is great – there are some really iconic songs in there like ‘Close Every Door’, ‘Go, Go, Go Joseph’ and ‘Any Dream Will Do’. It’s just fun and people like that, sometimes you just want to see a light hearted show. It’s easy to follow and it’s escapism.

Ok so there are two questions you have to ask every Joseph; firstly, how was it learning the colours of the coat?
[laughs] I know them now!

On Instagram? I was having a tantrum [laughs]!

How long did it take you?
It took me about two days! I’m very fast at learning lyrics. I can usually look at a page, sing through it once, sing through it again and then the third time I’ll know it… unless it’s a really difficult song. That’s just the way it has been – I’ve been in situations where I’ve had to learn songs quickly. You just can’t think about it too much. I know the colours now, but if I over-think it then my mind will go blank [laughs]. 

And secondly how are you feeling about the loincloth?
[jokingly] I can’t believe I have to wear a loincloth straight after Christmas! I’ve just finished panto and was exercising every other day whilst doing two shows a day… so I feel in alright shape. In rehearsals I probably won’t have any time to eat anyway [laughs]. I follow a really healthy eating regime so I think I’m going to be alright. It is what it is; I’m sure some people will probably say I look fat, some people will say I look fine… if I go into it thinking like that then I can’t go wrong [laughs]!

Joseph audiences are so mixed, you get the loud kids who are experiencing their first ever musical as well as the crazy hen parties. Are you looking forward to experiencing the different audiences?
Yes, I have no idea what to expect! I’ve never done a show like Joseph before. I did Tommy last September which is a very serious, full on and quite a sad show. Obviously at my concerts I’ve had the rowdy audiences, but I’ve never experienced hen parties coming to musicals! Or a kid going “WWAAHH” during ‘Close Every Door’ [laughs]. It will be great.

You’ve toured a lot before, but are you looking forward to spending a little bit longer in each city?
I think a week is just the right amount of time; you can see a few nice places, visit a few nice restaurants and then you’re off to the next city. We’re doing twelve shows a week so there isn’t that much time to do other things!

Joe winning The X Factor in 2009

You’ve dabbled in theatre over the years, doing Tommy and a few other theatre-related concerts. Was that a conscious decision or has it just worked out that way?
It’s just the way it has worked out, I never consciously think ‘right I am going to do this now’ – if a project comes in and I want to do it then I do it. If it fits in the schedule, if I think it will be fun then I’ll do it! Sometimes people think everything is so, so planned out years in advance. Yes, usually we do plan things a year in advance, so I roughly know what I’m doing in a year’s time. I was asked to do Joseph last summer and I didn’t have any solid plans for 2016, there were a couple of little things I was thinking about doing. I decided that I wanted to try it so let’s do it, six months… bang… done. It’s not a case of me thinking, “I want to be in the West End” or “I want to do pop”, it’s just about balancing it all out and trying different things so I don’t get bored. I’ve realised that if I want to be good at what I’m doing then I can’t be bored. Playing a character for a few months and then performing a few of my own concerts keeps it fresh.

Have do the theatre and music worlds compare?
They are very different. I think musical theatre is very disciplined… a lot more disciplined than the pop world. That’s not to say I’m not disciplined when I do my concerts and stuff, but I meet a lot of very disciplined people in musical theatre who are very professional… as are some people in the music industry… but others aren’t [laughs], not mentioning any names!

Do you enjoy being part of a company when doing theatre?
Yes I love that – it’s one of the biggest things I love about doing theatre. It’s so nice being part of a cast. When I do my own tours I go out with my band who I’ve performed with for years, but there’s only five of us and sometimes I feel like there’s a lot of pressure just on me which makes it a lot harder to enjoy the comradery because I know I’ve got deliver a two hour show of just me singing – I go into my own zone. With musical theatre I feel protected by the cast, huge ensemble, sets, and costumes – it feels like there’s a safety blanket so I can relax a little bit more. Also you’re hiding behind a character so I can enjoy the comradery a bit more!

So in December you were voted ultimate X Factor winner in a poll on Digital Spy! How did it feel to win?
Amazing! Digital Spy have always been great to me and all their readers have always been so supportive. There are a lot of people who have come out of The X Factor and done incredibly well, both here in the UK and outside of the UK. It’s nice to know people appreciate some of the stuff I’ve done!

Everybody must want to talk to you about The X Factor all the time – I’m sure it’s brought up in every interview you do and so on. Does it ever feel strange to constantly be talking about it, or have you learnt to embrace it?
It was six years ago now! Winning The X Factor is one of my biggest achievements and it’s the thing which catapulted me to everything I’ve been able to do since. So why would people not want to ask about that? I get that, and I get that it’s still a very relevant show and it’s always in the headlines. People tend to want to know what my views are about what’s in the headlines… sometimes I’m like “really?!” when I’m asked to comment on something which is nothing to do with me, but unfortunately it’s part of the job. I love the show and – within reason – I don’t mind talking about it. I’m not one of these people who says “I not going to talk about X Factor anymore” because that would be stupid when half my fanbase are the people who voted for me to get through every week and probably still watch the show!

You have such a dedicated fanbase, it must be so nice to know that regardless of what you’re working on they will travel the country to come and see you do your thing? They’re so loyal!
It’s wonderful – it gives me an amazing sense of protection. They’re like a protection barrier because they follow me 100% in everything that I do. I’m very aware that sometimes there are things I do in my career that they might not enjoy as much as I enjoy – I follow artists I absolutely love and sometimes they will do something different for six months and I’ll think ‘Ahh I’m not enjoying that as much’. What I love is that they always support me because they know I’m enjoying myself and having fun. It’s a really nice thing! Everyone has been so loyal, supportive and have got behind and been so passionate about everything I do which is lovely!

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Joseph and the Technicolour Dreamcoat opens at the Broadway Theatre in Peterborough on 26th January 2016 before touring to Crawley, Blackpool, Weston-Super-Mare, St Helens, Bromley, Oxford, Kings Lynn, Leeds, Manchester, Rhyl, Grimsby, Billingham, York, Northampton, Glasgow, Wolverhampton, Brighton, Sunderland, Buxton, Weymouth, Milton Keynes and Southampton. 

Please visit www.kenwright.com for further information, tour dates and tickets.

Read our interviews with X Factor winners Matt Cardle and Sam Bailey

Photo Credit 2-3: Mark Yeoman

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