When I sat down to speak to former X-Factor star Tabby Callaghan, I had no idea what to expect. Once christened “Sharon Osbourne’s Golden Boy”, the Sligo native oozes personality, decorating his sentences with just the right amount of expletives to assure you that he is not the average reality television contestant.
Tabby finished third in the 2004 competition, behind G4 and friend of Young Perspective; winner Steve Brookstein. He was mentored by Sharon Osbourne, who appeared so close to him in his fly-on-the-wall documentary “What Tabby Did Next”, that Brookstein to write in his recent autobiography that Osbourne looked like she was considering adoption.
Since 2004, the King of the Town singer has been involved in various different projects, and is now “gigging a lot”. “Right now, I’m cleaning my studio, believe it or not!” He jokes. “But you just mean in general obviously. I’m just gigging at the moment. Four or five nights a week, you know?”
In Getting Over The X, Steve Brookstein shed a sliver of light on what happened for Tabby post-X-factor, but points out that it is Tabby’s story to tell. Tabby said, “To be honest with you, I’ve a vague idea of what he’s [Brookstein] referring to, but that side of it… I’m not really bothered going into it because there’s not really any benefit from going into it.” Speaking about the Getting Over the X, Callaghan admits he hasn’t yet read it, but understands exactly what is said. “The thing is that everything he’s saying in that book, I already know from personal experience. I perceive events from the view of being there. Really it’s a world that’s full of tyrants.
“He’s talking about events that went on between myself and Sharon Osbourne and all that crew, and all I’ll say on that matter is that everything is not what it seems.
“Here’s how honest I’m going to be with you, I realise that there were a lot of rows about a few of us in it [X-Factor] and I realise that trying to fight the machine is a waste of time!
“You don’t have to discredit the story; you only have to discredit the person. Steve even says in the book that he went from being ‘Smiley Steve’ to ‘Brookstein’. I saw that happen and I kind of had foreseen the way that was going to go. There were times when he was speaking out about certain things when I thought he might have been better off to walk the other way, because if that machine’s not behind you, it’s in front of you.
“The thing is, it’s David and Goliath, man! You’re not going to beat that system by taking it on head-first. The only victory there is really, is personal victory – victory where you succeed in your own self.”
After a little more prompting and probing, Tabby admitted that behind-the-scenes was sometimes an extremely dark place to be. “Personally, there were elements of it that gave me a terrible sickening. I was sickened by the nature of how people can be and the way they can do things in order to protect their own interests and that side to human nature. I made a decision then that I wasn’t going to bother with that bulls*** any more.
“I came out of it unscathed in a way because I didn’t receive the negative press Steve did. I’m sure Steve spoke about this, but imagine – there’s twenty papers, and they need to fill up their columns with all kinds of stupid stuff… In order to get those [headlines], they have to have access to the X-Factor. They have to play nice with them. That’s why with regards to Steve when they call him a ‘flop’ or ‘angry Steve’ etc, I knew that was going to happen. I f***ing knew it! Even before he said the first thing, I remember thinking to myself ‘why is he even trying to take it on?’
“As a man I commend him for at least trying to [fight the X-factor machine]. But if you want to succeed in that world you have to find a way around it.”
Tabby admits that not only does he not watch the show now, but he never properly did, saying “I haven’t watched it in about ten years – I didn’t even watch the one I was on! That sounds mad but, when I did it I knew I was taking a big risk. I’d had a long, credible history with music. I knew it was going to kind of put a stain on what I was doing, but I just wanted a break.
“It’s something I did, but it’s certainly not something I’d be sitting at home watching. I can’t stand the violins and the classical music in the background and the tear-jerking songs to psychologically provoke people into voting. When you understand it, you see it differently… Personally myself I’d have no interest in watching that s**t. People come up to me asking, ‘oh what did you think of, I don’t know, whoever, last week?’ and I’m going ‘who is that?’
“I went to London because I was performing at the Royal Albert Hall last year and I met Emma Bunton and there were a few other X-Factor people – I didn’t recognize 99.8% of them. I felt terrible because I was like ‘who’s this person, who’s that person?’ I felt like in Terminator when T1 meets T2, the old model meets the newer one and it’s such a weird feeling.”
“It’s like everything; it’s over the honeymoon phase now. People know now. They’re not tuning in for the talent. 90% of the emphasis is on the judges. 10% is on the contestants. Just look at Louis Walsh, he’s more famous than any of his acts. That’s the way it’s gone now in music – the manager is more famous than the artist. And when the manager is more famous than his artist, there’s something wrong. Saying that, Louis Walsh is a really good manager for what he does. If he’s behind you, you’re laughing.
“But that’s the state now of music. The whole music industry is f***ed, man!”
When his X-Factor journey ended, Osbourne decided she was going to give Callaghan the gimmick of the next Bon Jovi, a vibe which didn’t sit well with the Irishman. His view is that a lot of promises were left unfulfilled. “Look, at the time they were going to do this that and the other. We have an expression: if you’re aunt had balls she’d be your uncle! I had a lot of promises made to me and none of them were fulfilled. But what was the point in trying to put that across? I had to bite my lip for 4-5 years pretending that everything was sound when it wasn’t. It affected me terribly the way it all went, I came away very jaded. My way of dealing with it wasn’t to take them on full-on, I just turned around and walked the other way.”
One question a lot of the 2004 viewers may be asking is when was the last time Tabby has spoken to his former mentor? “The last time I spoke to Sharon Osbourne was about… I don’t know. It was a good few years ago, maybe 7 years ago.” And are they still on good terms? “I don’t know, I genuinely don’t know. When the whole thing started I knew she had a genuine liking for me. I know she cared [more than Louis and Simon]. Listen, we had major plans, like ‘this is what’s going to happen’. This wasn’t in front of cameras or in the papers now, I stayed in her house a few times after I finished in the show. Then something changed instantly. Overnight there was a change.”
But overall, Tabby hasn’t necessarily got a bitter outlook on his stint in reality television, telling us that in his view “The positives definitely outweigh the negatives.
“There were a lot of things that I thought were very s****y, but they’re things that, like I say, I’m not willing to go into because I don’t see the benefit. Maybe down the road I might write a book and put my point of view across. But the thing about it is, there’s a dangerous side to that too. When you’re put into that world and elevated to such heights, it’s a conveyor belt. That conveyor belt moves on and the next batch is in and you’re gagged and tied up in contracts. It’s a very slick system.
“What you’re dealing with there is disposable consciousness. It’s ‘onto the next, onto the next’. You’re dealing with a machine that needs the stories in the papers. None of them are going to write about the truth anyway. It’s a soulless machine. It doesn’t care. That’s the thing with music now – it’s not happening from the bottom up, it’s going from the top down!”
Does he miss the millions tuning in to watch his performances on live TV? Do the modern-day pop videos make Tabby long for a position in the limelight? “No no, I don’t look on it that way, because hand on heart I’m not a product of my failure to succeed. What I am right now is a product of my decision, which was 4 or 5 years ago to just walk away from that world. But I’m not saying I’m gone totally from it…”
The title of his fly-on-the-wall “rockumentary” after the show was What Tabby Did Next. Almost eleven years since he graced our living rooms via ITV’s broadcast, he can tell us just that. “I just kind of walked away because art with passion is dead, man! I lost heart in what I was doing. I wasn’t enjoying trying to pursue the right kind of success so I just came back home and got back playing gigs. I needed to try and find my passion for music again.
“At Christmas, I did a spot at the Royal Albert Hall, to a full house. But here’s the weird thing. 4 days later I was back singing with drunks falling on top of me! Proper rock’n’roll.
“What I learned was you win people over one by one. Sure it was fantastic. I got phenomenal publicity out of what I did. I got to do phenomenal stuff and it was brilliant and all that. But I went back to gigging because I needed to find why I’d started. I don’t know how I feel about the whole thing to be honest. I’ve shed that skin.”
To wrap up our interview, I asked him about what would happen if he were to release a book in the vein of Getting Over The X. “Let’s put it this way, they’d be running for the hills, man!”
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