Subscriber OnlyMusic

Olly Murs: ‘The X Factor became more like a pantomime’

The singer on reality TV shows, writing his own songs, and enjoying a 12-year wave of success

Olly Murs is driving around London, talking to The Irish Times on a swish webcam. He looks and chats like a regular guy, but we all know he isn’t. Murs is one of the most successful stories to have come out of the reality entertainment show The X Factor; perhaps not as gazillion-selling successful as One Direction or Little Mix, but (along with James Arthur) not too far behind in terms of popular appeal.

There is one area, however, that Murs established before the The X Factor boy and girl bands released their respective records: from his 2010 debut self-titled album onwards, he has co-written most if not all of his songs. Ker-ching? Clever chap.

“I was asked if I would like to write songs,” he says as he deftly negotiates a corner, “and I said why not, let’s see what might happen. I went into a recording studio and started writing. The process seemed quite natural to me, and it wasn’t that I was adamant from the start, but rather I was just feeling my way, seeing what would happen.

“Luckily, writing songs was fun for me, and I also wanted to get my personality into them, which is something that doesn’t happen if you sing songs written by other people. For me, writing or co-writing songs was the best way forward. Thank God I did because if I hadn’t I wouldn’t have had the success that fairly quickly came my way.


“I had never written a song before The X Factor, so to walk into a studio with professional songwriters and be told that your ideas were good was a relief. You begin to piece things together, you start learning on the job, and before you’re aware of what happens, you know it inside out.”

There was, he says, an awareness of songwriting royalties, yet at the very start of his career, “it was more about establishing myself as an artist and not really caring whether or not I had written a song”.

“Of course, since 2010 the music industry has changed so much that the money you make from a song being in the charts or being played on the radio is now superseded by what you’d earn from touring, playing festivals, and so on. From a songwriting aspect, I just wanted the songs to feel like me. Luckily, that happened.”

And quickly. Before he walked away from The X Factor at the end of 2009, Murs had signed a record deal and released his debut album. “I was blessed,” he says. “Things just fell into place. I’ve enjoyed that wave for 12 years and I hope to enjoy it even more.”

If I can inspire one of the singers to follow in my footsteps and one day to be in the judge’s chair themselves, then I’ve done my job

In parallel with his recording career, he has moved into television. Being a judge on The Voice, a more recent X Factor-type reality show, makes perfect sense to him. As a successful result of a successful reality show, he says that he is one of the reasons why shows like The Voice exist.

“I’m something of a role model, I guess, and an example of what someone can be if they’re smart about things, ambitious and lucky. If I can inspire one of the singers to follow in my footsteps and one day to be in the judge’s chair themselves, then I’ve done my job.”

And what of the show that started it all for him? What did The X Factor, which was shelved in 2021, do right and wrong?

In the early days, Murs allows, the show did many things right, but towards the end, “it became more like pantomime, more about the judges than the contestants. Rumour has it that it will come back at some point, and if that happens I’ll be in front of the TV screen watching it, like everyone else.”

Olly Murs’s new album, Marry Me, is out now on EMI Records. He starts a UK tour in April 2023 and plays Live At The Marquee in Cork on June 9th, 2023.

Tony Clayton-Lea

Tony Clayton-Lea

Tony Clayton-Lea is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in popular culture