Janet Devlin, who rose to prominence on The X Factor ten years ago, told David Hennessy about her new music, struggles with alcohol and why it’s a miracle she’s been able to come out the other side.
Ten years on from her X Factor debut, Janet Devlin has revisited the song that started her career.
It was in 2011 that a sixteen-year-old and very timid looking Janet Devlin wowed judges like Gary Barlow and Louis Walsh with her spine-tingling cover of Elton John’s Your Song.
The Tyrone teenager would go on to finish fifth in the overall competition.
Now ten years on, she has released a recorded version of the song that she first announced herself with all those years ago ahead of her forthcoming EP, It’s Not That Deep which follows in December.
Janet says of the new single:“I’ve had ten years of inbox messages requesting me to release this cover. I never quite imagined that a song could follow me throughout my career but this one has – in the best way possible. As far as songs to be known for, I’m glad it’s this one. I think I’ll rename it ‘My Song’.
“When 17-year-old me left the show I was offered a record deal, and the label wanted me to release this as my first single. However, I wanted to write my own music and earn my place in the industry. I made a promise to myself that if I were still in this business 10 years on then I would release it….and here we are.
“What I love the most is where the song took me and still takes me mentally – I’m automatically transported to a happy place when I sing it. Which is hard for me as I’m usually such as overthinker!”
It was just last year that Janet released her Confessional album. A concept record that was years in the making and accompanied by a book, her plans of touring it were then scuppered by the pandemic.
“The album came out in June 2020 so it was probably the worst time for an album to drop ever,” she laughs.
“Because I did an album and a book, it meant we had loads of opportunities to put on quirky, fun nights.
“Evenings where I would sit down and read some of the book and do performances. I was even going to rent a photo gallery.
“I had so many plans, and none of them went through.
“I was bummed. I was so excited to finally play those songs to people.
“It had been six years between albums and I find that period of time really, really exciting: You get to travel a lot, you get to play to more people, and you get to have fun, intimate nights as well.
“To watch all that go up in smoke after waiting so long to release the record was a bit disheartening.
“I love going to America. I enjoy my time there so, so much.
“For every other release I’ve ever done, I always, always end up going back and forth to the states constantly.
“Not being able to do that as well was a bit sad.
“I wasn’t gonna postpone it another year.
“I had already pushed it back so many times that I just kind of had to go with it and just accept it.
“I’m happy with how it went without the things that I wanted to happen happening.
“But like everyone else was, I was just working from home, just working from my bedroom and trying to make the most out of a bad situation really.
“And we still did loads of online gigs, we still made loads of content. I just basically kept doing what I’d been doing essentially.
“Basically, a lot of my job has been online and it has been for the past eight years.
“I basically turned most of my music work into an online business which sounds a bit bizarre, but I’ve been doing the online gigs for seven, eight years and then they’ve been really good and successful.
“And they’ve been something that I’ve always enjoyed doing.
“But basically, with the pandemic, it just meant that my life didn’t really change apart from the gym and cinema.
“My life was basically exactly the same. It just meant that I missed out on a few America trips and all the fun events that I had planned.”
Confessional was so called for its personal nature and how it saw Janet reveal things about herself such as personal struggles and her problems with alcohol.
However, as confessions are rarely done face to face, was it apt to release it in lockdown? “In the weirdest way I think, especially for the book, it did.
“I think more people bought the book than I thought, and I think that was because people had more time.
“I think a lot of people set themselves the goal to read more during lockdown and stuff like that, so I think that helped. And I think what helped as well was there was always more people online whenever I was streaming stuff.
“The online gigs definitely grew which was exciting.
“There was more people willing to try out the other parts of what I do, like the more online digital stuff.
“Even the likes of TikTok. I started that during lockdown, and we have ended up getting well over 800,000 followers at this point.
“And that’s all just through lockdown so I definitely can’t complain.
“I think a lot of people, for the first time, were faced with the realities of their own mental health.
“So I think an album and book that focuses quite heavily on mental health actually helped because I was able to just share my story.
“And I think a lot of people were more open to sharing their stories because they’d been forced to kind of sit in their own company for a little while.
“So it definitely opened up a lot of dialogue in and around the topic.
“I think the most popular one was when I came out about the alcoholism.
“That resonated with a lot of people, especially in lockdown.
“A lot of people had a lot of questions in regards to me and my alcoholism because I think a lot of people never really seen that one coming.
“I think a lot of people during lockdown ended up drinking way more than they usually would.
“I feel like there is quite a few that were faced with that question of, ‘Do I have a problem with drinking?’
“I’ve gotten a lot of DMS from people about that, ‘Do you think I have a problem with drinking?’ And literally people just sharing their life stories with me.”
Janet shocked many when she revealed she was an alcoholic last year.
While she says she is in a much better place now, there was a time when her mother was always expecting the phone to ring with the worst news imaginable.
She is open about her own struggles because she realises it could help someone who is also struggling.
“At 16 years old, everybody knew all of my business. It was everywhere.
“People knew all about my life and everything that I was going through, well not all of it, but I’m just very used to it because of my TV background. I’m very used to sharing about my life.
“So for me, it was just normal to talk about what was going on.
“And I think the years where I didn’t talk about it- I was just trying to recover and get in a good place- were weirder to not talk about it but I was trying to protect myself for my own safety and waiting a few more years into recovery before I started talking about it if that makes sense.
“Because I’ve been so honest about everything in my life- I was very honest about my depression and anxiety and stuff like that- People felt they knew everything but then I hit them with a few darker topics.
“And a lot of people think, ‘Oh, she was an alcoholic because she went on TV…’
“And I’m like, ‘No, actually, I was self-harming age 11 and I was anorexic by 15.
“I was pretty messed up and showing addictive behaviours before I even went on TV.
“It’s just that people didn’t know.
“When I think about the pain I was living in, it makes any bad day now bearable.
“All it takes is for me to be like, ‘Imagine how much worse life was back then and if you can make it through that, you can make it through anything’.
“It’s been helpful in that way like I’m able to see how strong I am and how much I am capable of going through and coming out the other end.
“But I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.
“I would not wish addiction on anybody on this earth.
“I swear to God, it’s a pain that I can’t explain to people and not just for me, it was pain for everyone in my life that loves me.
“I was stripping the joy out of their lives.
“And every single day, my mum thought she was going to get a phone call from somebody saying I had lost my life to alcoholism.
“It just ripped all of the joy.
“Nowadays the fact that my mum isn’t sat by the phone waiting for that phone call like is, in some ways, a miracle.
“I’ve been in recovery six years now.
“I’ve been sober for three on the first of January, because I had a wee relapse in between but it was the best thing that ever happened to me. That made me go to rehab, made me finally get better.
“Before I was sober but I wasn’t fully sober if that makes sense. I hadn’t addressed all my issues essentially. The second time around I was able to.
“So I’m in so much better of a place.
“It’s a daily thing. It doesn’t just go away, it doesn’t just wash away in the water.
“Every day is different, some days are just really tough.
“There’s obviously some days, especially during lockdown, where I was sat there like, ‘If I’m gonna drink, this is the best time to do it’.
“Because everybody would understand, you know that kind of way?
“Lockdown as an alkie was really tough.”
Does it get hard because Janet is still so young and alcohol is such a ubiquitous part of life? “I have an internal toddler that just goes nuts, ‘Why can’t I just have what everyone else has? Everybody else gets to have a good time, why can’t we have a good time?’
“I have a toddler in the back of my head and I just have to ignore it or pacify it in other ways.
“I try my best to do hobbies and sports that are quite addictive but hopefully in a good way and try and keep myself on the straight and narrow in whatever way that I possibly can.
“I’m no angel.
“In lockdown, I picked up smoking again. I quit again now but I picked it up for a few months because I was like, ‘Here, if I don’t have something, I’m going to win a jump out the window’.
“So I allowed myself to smoke for a while and that’s not the best coping mechanism.
“When I was already doing everything else- I was going to therapy, I was going to the meetings, I was doing everything I could but I just had an itchy voice inside me that was like, ‘We need to do something reckless’, you know?
“So I’m definitely not perfect.
“Music is the thing that keeps me sober, I swear to God.
“The thing about music is when you’re putting a release out, you’re already working on the next release.
“You’re not even fully thinking about what you’re putting out because you’re working on the next thing.
“I feel like as hard as that is and as much hard work as it is, it’s very, very useful for an alcoholic.
“It means that you’ve constantly got a goal. You’re constantly working towards something. And I feel like that’s been the thing that keeps me sober throughout all of it.”
Some past participants celebrated the announcement of the end of The X Factor with unbridled joy saying it left candidates damaged.
What was Janet’s reaction? “Errm, I didn’t really have that much of a reaction.
“It had been going on for so long.
“I always said they should stop and wait for people to miss it because I think people will.
“I think people will miss the show and it will come back in some form or another.
“I think it was just a long time of every single year dropping a new one.
“It’s hard to keep the interest.
“I didn’t really have that many feelings, maybe a bit sad for the ones that were like myself, who were like maybe 15 In school, and were maybe, ‘I’ll do X Factor’, but that option is taken away from them.”
How does she look back on her experience on the show? “It was just really hard work. It was hard work because I had a lot of mental health issues that I hadn’t talked about, I didn’t want to talk about so it was just a hard time for me.
“So thinking back on my time on X Factor, it’s really difficult because I was going through so much that I just couldn’t tell anyone about because we didn’t have the dialogue in and around depression, mental health, self harm, eating disorders and stuff.
“There wasn’t a good dialogue in and around this.
“I didn’t want to talk about that stuff because I knew it was going to get looked down upon.
“And so when I think back to my time on TV, it’s bad for me because I was going through so much.
“But as far as what the show gave me, it was amazing and it was an amazing opportunity. And I never take it for granted, it did launch me.”
Could the show have looked out for her better with all she was going through? “No, they did everything.
“I came to them one day and said, ‘Hey, I’m depressed’.
“Within 24 hours I was in Harley Street seeing a psychiatrist, a psychologist and a doctor so they did everything that they could.”
Janet is now focusing on the release of her EP, It’s Not That Deep.
Fans have already got a taste of the EP with singles Place Called Home and her interpretation of Prince’s Kiss which was a crowd favourite during her Confessional Tour.
After being so involved in a concept album like Confessional, the EP is so called because there is no serious message behind the songs or the record.
“The thing that links the songs is that they’re not intrinsically linked, because I did the whole Confessional album and everything.
“Everything was tied, the whole album went in chronological order. It was all metaphorical. It was all very deep.
“And this EP is literally called, ‘It’s Not That Deep’ for the sole reason it’s not that deep.
“I liked the songs so I put them on there.
“That was the motive behind it and as far as surprises, there is a surprise coming for people.”
What made her want to take on Prince’s Kiss? “I just love the song.
“I’ve always loved the song.
“My goal with it was I wanted to make almost a hipster first dance song.
“That was the aim, to make a cool couple wedding dance song that was a bit different, a bit quirky.
“I always just love the lyrics to the song. I’m very lyric-based. As a writer, and as a listener of music, I love listening to the lyrics because I find that’s the most interesting part for me.
“As much as I love the music obviously, I’m a word nerd.
“I love the poetry, I love good lyrics.
“I always loved the lyrics of that track so to put my own spin on it was just a bit of craic really.
“It wasn’t anything deep. It wasn’t anything special. I just decided I really wanted to do the song and it just turned out good enough that I was like, ‘I’ll release that’.
“There’s another original song on there too.
“It’s a very positive look on the whole lockdown side of things.
“Honestly, there’s no intrinsic message.
“It is what it is because it’s not that deep.”
Janet has just wrapped up a full UK and Ireland tour that included dates in Dublin and Belfast.
Asked what it was like to return to the stage, she says without hesitation, “Terrifying.
“I don’t do much live because I do most of my stuff online so it’s always really scary.
“But I don’t know why I get so scared because I go out there and have the best time and the audience are always giving me a lot of love.
“I’m very lucky. My audience always want to listen.
“It’s an absolute blessing. I don’t know why I’m so petrified.
“I think people expect me to have grown out of it since X Factor, not be so shy but I’m still petrified but it was good craic to be on the road.”
Your song is out now.
For more information, click here.