Sam Bailey scooped the big prize in the tenth series of X Factor, and that reality TV victory has kicked off a career that has taken the 39-year-old Bexley-born performer from ITV to the West End and beyond…
By now, everyone knows winning the X Factor means a lucrative contract with show mastermind Simon Cowell’s SyCo label, a crack at topping the UK charts and a guaranteed place in the annals of reality television. For Sam Bailey – winner of the tenth series of the original musical talent show – the journey only really started after she left Cowell’s company and forged ahead with an album and tour that were almost entirely self-funded.
Her debut album, Sing My Heart Out, is a tour de force of hopefulness and a never-say-die attitude that has characterised Bailey’s journey from prison warden to X Factor winner and a lot more besides. Song titles like Never Again – ‘My song to the industry,’ she explains – hint at the downside of fame, whilst the uplifting It Gets Better Every Day attests to current levels of satisfaction and ambition that flow from almost every sentence.
‘I’m earning money now, I’m going on a nice holiday and I’ve got a beautiful new kitchen,’ she explains. ‘Things seem right now on my own terms, and I’m never going to be taken advantage of again.’
Having just rounded off her UK tour in support of her last musical offering, the Bexley-born star is certainly not dwelling on the past. ‘I’m so excited about seeing people smile when they hear certain songs,’ she enthuses.
But even with her new album, appearances on Loose Women, and a generally positive outlook on life, Bailey is making it her mission to remember and recognise her roots as a pub performer. In light of this, her roster of backing singers is made up of musicians that Bailey knew from her days on the circuit around Kent and east London.
‘I know how it feels to be in their shoes,’ the 39-year-old explains. ‘They enjoy doing what they do, don’t get me wrong. But I think there are so many singers out there singing in The Dog and Duck on a Friday night and they’re absolutely amazing – but they’re just never going to be found in those boozers!
So unless they go out looking for it – and that’s rare because some people just haven’t got that drive and they’re a bit stuck in their ways – it will probably never happen.
‘I’ve seen that in so many singers,’ she continues. ‘There are a couple supporting me that I know should be on a much bigger stage, but hopefully that’s what this experiment is bringing. So in just the same way that I was afforded the opportunity, this is a way of me giving it back, yet also a way of showing my appreciation for some of the people out there who are singing in a pub for three hours for £50.’
As well as her touring responsibilities, Bailey has found that her X Factor victory opened a door into a world she had always dreamed about – the West End. Last year, art imitated life as the former prison worker took on the role of the formidable Mama Morton in a touring production of Chicago, and despite a rocky start she hopes this venture into musical theatre will lead the way to regular work on the hallowed boards of London.
My first audition for Chicago was shockingly bad, but they worked with me and did a bit of a workshop and I got much better. The next thing I knew, I’d got the part, so they obviously saw something in me
‘My first audition was shockingly bad,’ she laughs. ‘But they worked with me and did a bit of a workshop and I got much better. The next thing I knew, I’d got the part, so they obviously saw something in me. There are lots of shows I want to do – it’s something that will definitely happen, it’s just a matter of when,’ she adds.
‘My daughter Miley is only two-and-a-half, so I do want to wait until she’s at least school age because it makes it a bit easier for me to go away. My mum lives near the West End as well, so that’s an extra draw – it’s just about sorting out all the boring stuff first!’
And Bailey’s foray into theatre has stirred up a surprising reaction from a member of her family as well. ‘Being in musicals is something that I have always wanted to do, and my daughter has now said she wants to go to theatre school,’ she reveals. ‘I was like “wow, that’s a bit of a turn up for the books” – I never expected that! Perhaps it really is in our blood after all…’