London singer with Irish-Zambian heritage Stephanie McCourt told David Hennessy how the X Factor was ‘traumatic’ for her, how she is now grateful for the experience as it made her stronger and she has always had the support coming from Ireland.
“I never wanted to do X Factor,” Stephanie McCourt says looking back on her 2015 experience with the reality TV show.
“I was presented an opportunity to do it and I was asked quite a few times. They kind of convinced me in the end. It was a bit of a traumatic experience but I’m actually quite grateful for it because it does make you a stronger. If you can deal with the ups and downs of that show, I think you’re good to go with anything in music because it’s never going to be as in your face. It’s so tense and dramatic, a bit pantomime.”
The London singer with Irish and Zambian parentage impressed enough to get yeses on her initial audition with her performance of Ella Fitzgerald’s Summertime with Simon Cowell calling her ‘100% authentic’. She would also sail through boot camp. However, when it came to the chair challenge, Cowell described her as ‘not very warm’ and there were audible boos and even inexplicable calls of, ‘Off!’
“Even to this day people ask, ‘Why did people boo you?’ I really don’t know. I didn’t really do anything. Maybe they misunderstood me. Even people watching it live couldn’t understand.
“Obviously, it’s edited for TV. People ask, ‘Did they cut something out?’ But they didn’t and that is just what they were doing. I don’t know. Producers encourage people to be dramatic like that in the audience so you’ve got to take it with a pinch of salt even though when you’re in it it’s really painful to experience. You’ve just got to realise it’s entertainment.
“It was a good experience. You could say like a five minute fame experience. When it aired on TV, I walked outside and everybody knew who I was. It was the weirdest situation. Obviously, it died away after a few months but even to this day people recognise me from it. They’re like, ‘I’m sure I worked with you’.
“In hindsight I am grateful for the experience just because it makes you stronger. I felt like I gave myself a rhino-thick skin and after that I felt like, ‘If I can deal with something like that, which I never thought in a million years I could deal with, then I could deal with anything.
“I’ve moved on, it was five years ago. I’ve had a lot of time to come to terms with it and I did get quite a few fans out of it so I can’t be sad about it really.”
Stephanie left the competition at the stage of that chair challenge but Stephanie did not have too long to get down about it as her appearance on the show got the attention of Hank Hughes, CEO of F/H Block, a music production studio whose clients include Beyonce, Rihanna, Sam Smith and Emeli Sandé to name just a few. Hugh invited Stephanie to join his star-studded roster.
“I guess X Factor gave me a foot in the door. My manager at the time introduced me to Hank Hughes and the rest is history. It was a few months after X Factor and we have just been working ever since so it’s been a while.
“I’ve got a great team around me. I’ve got nothing really to be sad about. Not anymore anyway. At the time I was very sad but now I’m good. I’m doing what I love to do. I’m able to write with amazing people, work with amazing producers and then have a team of people to make it all come together and happen so I’m really happy.”
With influences including Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Christina Aguilera and Amy Winehouse, Stephanie has a unique blend of retro soul, gospel and jazz with a modern tint. She has just released her latest single Walked On from her current EP, Wings.
“A lady called Jem Cooke wrote it and I heard it. I write 95% of my songs but I heard this song and it was just really relatable, in my style so I was like, ‘Can I please have it?’ I think I did okay on it. Have a listen.
“It’s about a player really. It’s about a man who is a player and a woman who has the strength to walk away and take her pride and be like, ‘I don’t need you anymore. I’m good, thanks’.
“It’s just like the woman kind of saying, ‘I know what you’ve been up to’. And the man being kind of surprised that she knows what he’s been up to and just leaving out the blue. It’s really sassy actually.”
Stephanie showed a talent and passion for music from an early age, winning a national singing competition to perform at the iconic Royal Albert Hall when she was only eleven.
Finishing school, Stephanie left London to study at the Brighton Institute of Modern Music, whose graduates include The Kooks and Tom O’Dell, for four years. Stephanie was not there long when her talents were noticed by school founders Kevin Nixon and Sarah Clayman who wanted Stephanie to front a group called Mascara. Stephanie spent three years with the group before leaving as it just wasn’t for her but says it was an important part of her development as a performer and singer.
Born in Finsbury Park to a Dundalk father and Zambian mother, Stephanie is equally proud of both cultures and believes they share qualities: “It’s funny because people always say they’re such different cultures but in a way to me, obviously I didn’t know any different but, they are quite similar in a way because they love to have a drink both of them, they love a good laugh.
“They’re quite similar in that sense and they’re both very proud of their cultures. Obviously there’s difference in food and music but I enjoy both really thoroughly and I think it’s given me quite an eclectic taste. I just enjoy culture, all different cultures.”
Stephanie has long been getting support from across the Irish Sea, featuring on local radio stations like LMFM and has seen her tracks climb charts in Ireland as well as the UK.
“That’s the great thing about Irish people. They definitely like to stand behind their own and they’ve definitely stood behind me. They’ve been really, really supportive and especially in the town of Dundalk. They’re just really lovely and friendly.”
There has been much discussion about racism in Ireland in recent months but Stephanie says she has only encountered that kind of ignorance on one occasion with the bulk of her experiences with Irish people being hugely positive: “It only ever happened once when I was younger but the majority of people are just so lovely and friendly. Do you know what? There’s always going to be one idiot who says something but it’s just one person. My experience of Irish people has mostly been very positive.”
The single Walked On and the EP Wings by Stephanie McCourt are both out now.
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