Joe McElderry: 'I treasure the time I spent with George Michael... it was such an overwhelming experience'
Joe McElderry has returned with his fifth studio album. He tells Joe Nerssessian about performing with the late George Michael, his love for carpool karaoke and the toils of being a male X Factor winner.
Joe McElderry loves a good car album. One of those records which leaves you punching the air in traffic, a shout-out-the-window anthem. Or a tearful ballad during a roundabout tussle.
The Geordie-born singer is hoping to provide fans with all that and more on his latest effort.
After starring in the lead role of Bill Kenwright's Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, the X Factor winner has teamed up with the theatre producer for an album inspired by his love for film and musicals.
Covering Elvis Presley's Blue Hawaii and Dirty Dancing's The Time of My Life, McElderry wants Saturday Night at the Movies to help people enjoy their own carpool karaoke.
"It's one you can put on in the car and sing your heart out," he says in a soft tone.
"I love nothing more than getting in my car and belting out songs. On this album, there's big power ballads, up-tempo songs, emotional tracks - you can have a karaoke session with yourself," he laughs.
It's a decade since the singer first auditioned for the X Factor. As a shy 16-year-old, he pulled out of the competition at the boot camp stage, only to triumphantly return two years later.
Like the majority of male winners on the ITV show, McElderry has not always had the easiest ride.
Beaten to the Christmas number one by Rage Against The Machine and an anti-X Factor campaign, he parted ways with Simon Cowell's Syco label in February 2011 after just one album.
"The day after I won the biggest talent show in the country, I was told I wouldn't have a career. Everyone wrote me off," he reflects.
"They were all like 'oh we won't hear from him again'. All of those things become life lessons, but I've never been one to allow someone else's opinion define what I'm going to do.
"The minute you start doing that, or try to buy into it or pay attention to it, that's when it gets a little bit dangerous.
"I've always just completely taken no notice of it.
"That's not to say I don't get upset. I always shake it off and think people are coming to my shows, people are enjoying what I'm doing and I'm happy - therefore that's all that matters."
During the 2009 final, McElderry was joined on stage by his idol George Michael for a duet, singing Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me. The 26-year-old learned of the pop superstar's death almost immediately on Christmas Day last year.
"I was so shocked," he says.
"To work with him first of all was incredible, but I was just a fan, full stop. I'd have been just as upset if I hadn't worked with him because I was a massive fan.
"I admired him and his music, and he was such a lovely, humble man which made it 10 times sadder."
He recalls their sole encounter fondly and remembers George sending a congratulatory bottle of champagne and a card after his winning performance.
He says: "We spent an hour-and-a-half in the dressing room. We had a great chat and a cup of tea and discussed the industry.
"I'm sure if I would have bumped into him we'd have had a lovely catch-up, but I never did meet him again.
"I'll always treasure that time and how lovely he was - it was an overwhelming experience."
After leaving Syco, success on Popstar to Operastar led McElderry into the world of musicals with parts in Dirty Dancing, Thriller Live and the leading role in The Who's Tommy (a part he returned to in September 2015). Then two years ago, he teamed up with Kenwright to play his namesake in Joseph.
"It's been a wonderful journey and I'm so thankful at the opportunities I've been given," Joe adds.
After a day of promotion, one may expect him to sound a little fatigued - but he remains adamantly upbeat.
"I can't believe this is the fifth album I'm releasing," he says.
"All I ever wanted was a career. I wanted to look back over a number of years, and nearly eight years later I can say I've had an amazing time so far.
"I feel very lucky and I never in a million years imagined I would still be doing it."
The industry has changed vastly since McElderry beat Olly Murs and Stacey Solomon to the X Factor crown, but he would still encourage people to take part in the competition.
"It's always been tough and it's very tough now, but I just think there are more and more avenues," he says.
"The X Factor was a wonderful platform for me and I think life is what you make it and it's the same with your career.
"I totally knew the pitfalls of the music business, and after you win, that is where the hard work really starts.
"It's what you do after you've had that help. Nobody is in charge of your destiny, nobody is in your career - you have to take the bull by the horns and work hard."
Working hard is certainly McElderry's mantra. After returning from his first holiday of the year - a week's break in Croatia - he's now off around the country promoting the new album until the end of August.
He then returns as Joseph for a nationwide tour in September.
"My favourite part of my job is being able to stand with my band and have the audience sing along and build a connection and bond," he says.
"I just can't wait, I'm itching to get out there."
- Joe McElderry's new album, Saturday Night at the Movies, is out on BK Records now