British singer Olly Murs despises sweaty handshakes and has a penchant for pork pie hats. He purchased his first hat—or “two for 12 quid”—before his audition for television talent contest The X Factor. “I thought a straw hat would look quite cool,” he tells us. “It was probably the best thing I ever bought.” Worn with a boyish grin, they are now his signature—an appropriate accompaniment his sunny pop songs.
The X Factor was Murs’ entrée into the music world. Before auditioning, Murs lived with his parents just outside of London in Essex, worked in an office, and sang in a covers band. “We used to sing Oasis, a bit of Ne-Yo, Usher, Kings of Leon,” the 29-year-old recalls. “Anything that was remotely cool and people would sing along to, that was kind of our vibe.” As a child, Murs wanted to be a professional soccer player. “I wanted to be David Beckham,” he says. “I was never good enough to but that was what I wanted to do.” It was only after a knee injury that singer reconsidered. His first public performance was on a karoake machine at his local pub, The George. By the time he stepped onto The X Factor stage to sing Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” he was fixed on a new career path: “To be a pop star, be famous, sell records, and be an international superstar.”
Murs did not win The X Factor, but then neither did One Direction, whom Murs has supported on tour. He is not embarrassed about his manufactured beginnings, explaining that “if people like your music, it doesn’t matter where you came from.” And with four U.K. number-one singles, two number-one albums, and over four million Twitter followers, people certainly like Murs’ music. As an artist, Murs describes himself as “fun, energetic, having a laugh, having a good time” and “a nice guy.”
The next step is clear: to conquer North America. Not every British pop star succeeds (see: Robbie Williams), but Murs seems to be on the right track, incorporating chart-friendly American rap acts such as Chiddy Bang and Flo Rida into his debut US album. “What we’re trying to achieve in America is obviously success,” states Murs. “[But] at the moment I’m enjoying coming to America because no one knows me.”
EMMA BROWN: What’s your favorite One Direction Song?
BROWN: Do you come from a musical family?
MURS: Yes, I suppose I do. They’re not musicians, but they love music, and when I was little we had lots of parties and lots of things going on. My dad is a big music fan; when I was growing up [there were] lots of pop acts that I liked and he was very much a David Bowie sort of fan. He likes Madness, he likes Paul Weller, Queen, The Beatles, a bit of Elton John and he was like, “You should listen to these, it’s better,” and I was like, “No, no. I want to listen to pop music. I want to listen to things on the radio.” Luckily, as I got older I got influenced more by cooler music.
BROWN: What’s the first CD you ever bought?
MURS: Back in my day, it was vinyl. The first bit of vinyl I bought was Michael Jackson’s Bad.
BROWN: That’s quite respectable.
MURS: Another one I got was also Meat Loaf, “I’d Do Anything for Love.” That was the other choice.
BROWN: Do you remember your first crush?
MURS: Yes. It was a girl that lived close to me. She was a gorgeous looking thing. The problem was she was too tall and she dumped me because I was too small. I must have been about 11.
BROWN: I feel like that’s a common problem at that age. Where did you learn how to dance?
MURS: By watching TV—by being around music and dancing myself. I suppose I’ve got a natural rhythm. When I was little, I used to just dance a lot and have some fun. I’d never been taught to dance. I’ve never been to dance school. I do my own little dance moves.
BROWN: Did your label ever try to get you a choreographer?
MURS: It depends what we did. For a TV performance, it’s a big, big show and people want to see me do something different. Choreographers do something amazing and give the song something completely unique and different. We have done that in the past, but nine times out of 10 normal shows, I’m just doing my own thing.
BROWN: I heard that you lived with your parents until last year.
MURS: Yeah, I bought a house last year. I was living at home until about 27 and decided it was time to move out and move somewhere else, so that’s what I did. I wanted it to be the right thing to do. I didn’t want to buy something out of my price range; I didn’t want to be stupid with my money, so I decided to stay at home. Luckily, my mum and dad were amazing. I just saved some money up and was sensible and when I [found] the right house to buy, I did. I always miss home; everyone misses being at home.
BROWN: What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?
MURS: The worst job I’ve ever had was probably when I worked in a jam factory. I didn’t quite enjoy that job; it wasn’t really for me. I worked there for a couple of days—I was a young lad at the time.
BROWN: What did you do there?
MURS: I made jam. I made marmalade.
BROWN: Do you know how to make jam now?
MURS: I don’t know how to make it now, no. I didn’t really know how to make it then, and that’s probably why I didn’t stay there. It wasn’t really for me, it wasn’t the best job in the world. The people were nice, it just wasn’t my cup of tea.
BROWN: What’s the last thing that made you laugh?
MURS: The last thing that made me laugh was my little nephew. He’s only two, and when he watches me on the telly, he actually calls me Olly Murs. When I’m sitting next to him, he just calls me Olly. I think that’s really funny because I’m the same person, but he [acts] like I’m two different people, which is quite funny. I go, “Who am I, Louie?” and he goes “Olly.” And I go, “Who’s that on the telly?” And he goes, “Olly Murs.” He can’t get his head around it at the moment. I saw him yesterday and he kept doing it, it was making me laugh.
BROWN: Have you ever been star struck?
MURS: I got star struck meeting some soccer players. I’m a big soccer fan, so any soccer player that I meet, I always get star struck. I’ve met a lot of big stars—Justin Timberlake, Michael Bublé—and I don’t ever get starstruck, but when I met famous ex-football players, I just got completely starstruck.
BROWN: Who should we be watching out for in the World Cup next year?
MURS: I think the team to watch in the World Cup is Germany. The player to watch, I would probably say Neymar.
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