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Olly Murs On His 'X Factor' Break, Says Simon Cowell Is 'Petrifying'

You know Olly Murs from his hit song "Heart Skips A Beat" and his stint on tour with One Direction this summer. But the British singer actually got his start back in 2009, when he auditioned to be on the X Factor UK

Murs sat down with CBS Local to talk about the difference between the X Factor in England and America, what he was doing before he became an international pop star and how he impressed notorious mean judge Simon Cowell. 

While X Factor is still struggling to find its feet in the U.S., adding new judges Britney Spears and Demi Lovato to the panel this season, it is a juggernaut in the UK. Airing Saturday and Sunday evenings, it is said to quiet down entire pubs of people who are captivated by the show. 

"The X Factor is the biggest TV show in the country," Murs explains. "It's huge…For me, like America there's so many small places in America. It's the same [in the UK]. I live in a small place called Whittam. It's in Essex, it's about an hour, a two hour drive from London. That's where all the record labels are, you know what I mean? The chances of me breaking into the industry was very slim. The X Factor was an opportunity for me to branch out and to be given a chance...I mean I worked in a call center. I used to sell kitchens on the phone. I used to give people advice on how to save money on energy bills and stuff like that…the X Factor gave me a new lease on life."

It wasn't just Murs' performance style that won raves on the show -- his personality landed him a gig co-hosting the official after show in the UK with Caroline Flack. Flack is best known in the U.S. as the older ex-girlfriend of One Direction's Harry Styles. The two met when One Direction were put together on the X Factor UK by Simon Cowell.

"I did the show, of course, in 2009 and then I've been away, had two albums out, and now I'm back doing the Xtra Factor which is presenting on the spin-off show," Murs continues. "It's kind of like, how I describe it in America for anyone who doesn't know it is it's like -- you know when you watch soccer or football and then afterwards they analyze the game? We react off the show, we talk about the performances, we talk about how they did, we talk to the judges, we talk to the contestants, we talk to celebrities and guests on the show."

But before he became a celebrity in his own right, Murs had to pass muster in front of the notoriously difficult Simon Cowell. While Cowell seems to have settled down this season on the X Factor U.S., displaying more of his playful side and letting judge L.A. Reid be the heavy, he is still the reality television judge most contestants are afraid to be on the receiving end of a tongue-lashing from.

"There isn't one thing in the world that is more petrifying than getting judged by Simon," Murs smiles. "He really does make you feel nervous. But I always feel like he wants to be impressed. He wants to be on his feet, he wants to be clapping. He wants to see talent. I think if you don't give him that then you do get absolutely slaughtered. Like, 'You're rubbish. Get off stage. You sound like a drowned rat.' When you first audition in front of Simon it's a massive like, 'I need to impress this guy. I need to show him what I'm about.' And I did. I believe my first audition was the reason why I got to the finals, really. I really gave it everything and really sold myself to Simon. He said it was the easiest yes he's ever given."

The X Factor 2009 - Olly Murs - Auditions 4 ( by The X Factor UK on YouTube

Murs will release his debut U.S. album, Right Place, on December 4, 2012. His single "Heart Skips A Beat" is available now.

-Courtney E. Smith, CBS Local

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