In 2004, Steve Brookstein was catapulted into the limelight when he became the inaugural winner of ITV’s fresh new singing contest: The X-Factor. Over a decade later, the man once branded “the housewives’ favourite” is in relative obscurity, having had his named dragged through the mud for the best part of a decade. Finally, with publicist Max Clifford (who had warned Steve “talk to the press and we’ll bury you”) behind bars, the 46-year-old soul singer has found the confidence to release an autobiography, light-heartedly titled Getting Over The X. He has also released an album titled Forgotten Man, mixing tributes to great soul songs with some original material. Young Perspective caught up with the former reality TV champion recently over the phone for an exclusive chat to discuss his book, career and other exploits.
Focusing on the book’s overall purpose, Steve said: “The book is just about life choices and circumstances. And if you’re going for the X-Factor it’s about understanding what you’re going into and how they have got the power to change things.
“Whether or not people believe it, everything in there is factual. I give all the information; people can look it up and research for themselves. So that’s what I think the book’s about.”
When the X-Factor debut winner released his album as part of an advertised “£1 million record deal”, the record was met with poor press, and – despite topping the charts – did little for Steve’s reputation as a serious artist. Heart and Soul was little more than a karaoke album, which became infamous for winning the “worst album of the year award” and has since been pulled from circulation by SYCO – Simon Cowell and Sony Music’s joint record label. Brookstein’s new release, Forgotten Man, is a much more complete soul album. It was crowd funded, which meant it was not chart eligible.
Brookstein believes that his story would be entirely different had Forgotten Man been his debut album. “It would have made a massive difference! In terms of quality, Forgotten Man is a much better album than Heart and Soul. Recording, song choices, everything about it is better. It’s the album I feel would have been right for my first album. I probably would have included a couple more originals than I have on this one. I’ve only got two, where I would have had four, maybe five.
“The way we worked this album was we did A&R in the live shows. I short-listed about twenty songs, got the band on them and then we did a load of gigs to see what songs the audience liked.”
Prior to entering the world famous ITV talent show, the soul singer had finished second on ITV’s less successful “The Big Talent Show” and had opened at a Dionne Warwick concert. In fact, his X-Factor contract forbade him from taking up an offer to open for Lionel Ritchie. He states in the book that he had entered the competition looking for bigger gigs, but admits now that getting credible gigs is more difficult as a result: “I could have done the Lionel Ritchie tour. Now I couldn’t support Lionel Ritchie, I wouldn’t get the gig! So there are some jobs I couldn’t do now. It’s difficult now, because of X-Factor and the negativity that comes with my name after the show. It actually lost me work.
“There are a lot of people who say ‘Oh, Steve Brookstein – he’s trouble, he fell out with Simon Cowell. We don’t want to know’. Obviously the X-Factor opened the door for bigger gigs, but you want to do Wembley with a full band. You don’t want to do it with backing tracks and a four-person band playing along to those backing tracks. Yeah I did get some of the gigs, but it became a lot more difficult.”
Brookstein has experienced first-hand the ability to go from hero to zero in the eyes of the media, the false narrative that he was a pub-singer-turned-pop-star-turned-pub-singer-again was told to everyone who would listen from opposing sources until it became gospel with the public. “They [the press] would ridicule the gigs that I did. You can’t take some of these people seriously, but unfortunately, other people do. What they read in the paper influences people. It’s nice that a lot of time has passed now. It’s nice when people see me at gigs and they either don’t know who I am or they maybe remember and it’s better than they thought it was. They let the music do the talking.”
When X-Factor came to Dublin on April 9th this year, a meagre 200 people showed up to audition. This is in stark contrast to the thousands we have seen queuing for hours for their shot at the big time in previous seasons. In Steve’s opinion, this is due to the fact that so many past winners have been burnt, the public have caught on to the show’s ideals. “It’s obvious. The thing is, now they’ve pissed off so many people all around the UK. If you’re in Scotland, you remember Michelle McManus and Leon Jackson. In Newcastle they messed up with Joe McElderry. Anywhere around the country they’ve rinsed the public trying to get votes, only to see the person dropped within weeks or months or whatever. Now people know what it’s about.
“It’s the manipulation of the truth that I find really repugnant. Now people know that the risk-to-reward ratio is too high. Even if you win it, there’s a chance you’re going to come out of it looking like a dick.”
The Voice UK recently crowned a new winner in Stevie McCrorie, while Ireland is just weeks from knowing who will follow in Brendan McCahey’s footsteps in the RTE equivalent. While the levels of success of previous contestants on the BBC show haven’t been even close to their ITV counterparts, Steve believes that the foundations of the Voice are sturdier than those of the X-Factor: “It [The Voice] is built on the music instead of the hype.
“Look at Cheryl. Her last single crashed and burned. Cher Lloyd, she can’t get arrested now, Leona Lewis would be lucky to get another single out. It’s all hyped up and that’s the problem.”
Contrary to popular belief, Steve Brookstein is not entirely ashamed of the album Heart and Soul. He recorded one of his all-time favourite songs, “Dance with My Father” by his hero, the late Luther Vandross, and received some acclaim for his version of “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You” by Van Morrison. “Some of it is great. But you don’t make an album to do some good bits and some crap bits. When I think of Forgotten Man, there are a couple of things we could have done a bit better, production wise; we recorded it with live mics in a small studio.
“We would have had more time to spend in the studio mixing and mastering and that’s where it would have sounded a bit better. But I’m really pleased musically where I’m at at the moment.”
Steve Brookstein seems now to have closed the X-Factor chapter of his life. Unfortunately for anyone who may attend his future gigs in the hope of hearing his only number 1 hit, this includes washing his hands of his winning single, a karaoke-esque take on Phil Collins’ “Against All Odds”. “I very rarely play that song unless I’m paid extremely well!” he joked, as our interview drew to a close. “I don’t – it’s just – eh, just no.”
Image: X Factor © rocor, flickr.
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