The X-Factor is an epitome of the reality television phenomenon. Even more than Big Brother or I’m a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! it polarises opinion into two main groups, those who hate it and those who are addicted to it. The latter group seems to contain a further bifurcation: those who watch it for the talent, and those who watch it to smirk or wince at the unfortunate eccentrics and characters that the format so mercilessly exploits. Very occasionally, a contestant arrives who manages to appeal to both camps.
Stacey Solomon is a character. When she first appeared on the show it was plain to see that a metaphorical train wreck was widely expected by the judges, and probably by most viewers. Stacey did not present a cool, professional, composed, facade. What we saw was an eager, nervous, modest, star-struck Essex girl to whom the concepts of self-censorship and fakery seemed completely alien. If a thought popped into Stacey’s mind it popped out of her mouth a second later. As the judges pronounced their verdict following her audition performance of ‘What a Wonderful World’, Stacey just couldn’t help interrupting to tell Louis Walsh:
“I can’t believe you’re saying my name!” She was instantly likeable and it would have been terribly sad to see her fail. Fortunately for all concerned, the engaging personality was accompanied by a great voice and Stacey sailed through the first stage with the approval of all four judges.
“I’d auditioned a couple of times before that one,” says Stacey. “Usually it was just a day out for me and my mum. Go up there, sing, go home because I didn’t get through. But then that time I did get through and it was really, really weird. We kept just looking at each other, trying not to get too excited, because you never know when it’s going to end.
“It was amazing. It was such an experience; one of those things where you can’t believe it. I still live in the same place, with all the same friends. Everything is exactly the same, so when we’re all sitting there reading a magazine about someone and they’re like, ‘You met her, didn’t you?’, and I think, Oh God, yes! I met her! It’s so weird to think that I did all that. It’s just mad.”
Series 6 of The X-Factor was eventually won by Joe McElderry from Tyne and Wear, with second place going to Stacey’s fellow Essex native, Olly Murs. Stacey remained popular throughout the series and achieved a very respectable third place.
Now her career is taking off independently of that show, does Stacey keep in touch with any of the other contestants?
“Yeah, I still see Olly and Danyl [Johnson] all the time; sometimes Jedward, but they’re always all over the country. Olly’s just down the road so I see him. He’s recording all the time as well, so we’re in the same studios as I’m working on an album at the minute. Please God, it’ll be released in the summer. It depends. Sometimes the deadlines don’t go exactly how you want them to go, but as far as I am aware it’ll be summer. I can’t wait!“
As Stacey observed, even the best laid plans sometimes have to be revised, and the album release is, at the time of writing, due to happen during the winter of 2011/2012.
Success on The X-Factor led to more television offers and Stacey was asked if she’d like to participate in the 2010 series of I’m a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!
“They rang up and asked for an interview, then they just said do you want to do it? I was like, why not?
“I can’t say no to anything and my manager gets so annoyed. All the charities and things like that, I just can’t say no to them. I was no one before all this happened, so for me to say, no, I’m not doing it, well, I’d just feel like an idiot. In two years’ time I could look back and think that I’d turned down an opportunity that I’ll never get again. So I have to do everything!
“The jungle was so much fun. I’ve never, ever been to somewhere so different from where I live. I’ve never been in an environment so extreme and so different from everything that I know. I’m sleeping outside and it’s freezing cold. It’s constantly tropical storms. I’m exercising every day - something I’m not used to. I’m going on these long hikes, eating bugs and things like that. I know that sounds disgusting and like someone’s worst nightmare, but I thought it was such an experience.
“I love camping. I know it’s not the same, but I go to the V Festival every year and I sleep on, like, mud on the ground and I love it! But the jungle’s just the worst. Two weeks into it you’re thinking about baked beans or sweetcorn - just imagining things that you know you could have every day at home. It makes you think that you don’t really need anything. It was so nice not having my mobile phone. I have about a thousand phone calls a day, and it was so nice just to lie there and think, I wonder what’s going on in the outside world. I don’t have to think about anything!”
The celebrity jungle wasn’t the only far-flung corner Stacey has been called upon to visit. She made a trip to Africa with Save the Children. As we ask about that, there is just the tiniest change in Stacey’s demeanour. The giggles die down a little and her answers become more thoughtful. “Save the Children are doing a new campaign called No Child Born to Die.
We went to Malawi to visit some hospitals that they’ve built and some nurses that they’ve trained up and some schools they’ve put money into. It was wicked. It was so good and such a good experience. The people there are so nice and so happy. In fact, what you see on the telly with like barren land and flies everywhere, it’s not all like that. It was green, with trees everywhere and the people were so happy. They didn’t have anything but they were just so, so happy. It was one of the nicest experiences I have ever had. I thought it was lovely and really nice to see.
“But they had 80 children in one children’s unit and just three nurses. Five children die a week just in one hospital. So I’m going to be a patron of their campaign, going to different events and visiting Africa, and keep getting involved in trying to help.”
Stacey has lent her time, her name and/or her image to a number of causes in various ways since she became famous. Malaria No More, Barnardo’s, Genetic Disorders UK’s Jeans For Genes Day and others have been able to list her amongst their supporters.
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