With two double-platinum albums under his belt in the U.K., British crooner and X Factor star Olly Murs, 28, is hoping to host America's next British Invasion. His U.S. debut album, In Case You Didn't Know, is out Sept. 25, with leadoff single Heart Skips a Beat featuring Chiddy Bang.
On the radio: Murs made his first visit to the States this spring to open for fellow Brits One Direction. But his most valued moment has been his first U.S. breakthrough. "The best part of the last few years, and this isn't being coy, is hearing my song on the radio in America," Murs says. "I've had a million amazing things happen to me in the last three years, but to hear your song in America is pretty special."
Sporting to singing: Growing up in Essex, Murs was raised on a diet of soul and classic pop. "Music was always around in my family. That's what my house was like growing up. Stevie Wonder, James Brown, Michael Jackson— those were the three main artists I loved and listened to a lot." Music was always an interest for Murs, but his passion lay in sports. Or so he thought. "I wanted to be a professional soccer player. That was my aim, but it never quite happened." He played soccer semi-professionally until an injury dashed his major-league hopes.
After working the phones in an office job, Murs jumped at the chance to audition in 2009 for The X Factor, the Simon Cowell-created music competition. "In the music industry, you've got to be noticed. When I saw an audition for The X Factor, I thought it was perfect for me."
Song-and-dance man: Murs dominated on the competition stage, making it to The X Factor finale, but his nerves almost bested him at his initial audition. "I felt like I was drunk!" he says. "Like I was in a different world, like it was all a blur." Fortunately, his cover of Wonder's Superstition wowed the judges, and he soon found himself a front-runner.
With no previous performing experience, Murs found an ally on the show in an unlikely person: the infamously tough Cowell. "If there's one person that could see if I had talent, or if it's going to be rubbish, Simon was the person I was waiting to hear from. And when he said (at the audition) that I was the easiest 'yes' he's ever given on the show, that was an amazing moment for me." When the aspiring singer lost the final faceoff to Joe McElderry, Cowell offered Murs a contract with his Syco record label.
Fast track to fame: Since The X Factor, Murs' career has skyrocketed, bolstered by hit single Please Don't Let Me Go in 2010. "The single beat Katy Perry," he says. "It was amazing!" His self-titled debut album sold millions, but Murs already had a new goal: avoiding a sophomore slump. "I decided to write my second album, and I was nervous because a lot of X Factor acts make second albums and they flop, so I was very determined." Murs evaded the X Factor curse, topped the U.K. charts with his second album, and soon snagged a gig hosting spinoff The Xtra Factor.
Looking back, Murs isn't bitter about coming in second place. "I'd like to think if they voted me first, I'd still have the career I've had," he says. "I've been quite lucky along the way, but I've also made my luck. The decisions I've made and the songs I've written have been for me."
The right Direction: This spring, Murs traveled across the pond to open for X Factor alums One Direction on their stateside tour. "The weather, the people, the noise — it was just insane. For someone like me who's never been there before, to suddenly have loads of fans screaming my name, I loved it."
Murs also witnessed the Beatlemania-esque fan fervor that followed the lads of One Direction around on their tour. "The fans are insane! Running after the bus, jumping from trash cans, just so infatuated with the guys. And the One Direction fans wanted to know who I was. American fans are brilliant." But the aspect of America that Murs was taken with most? "The buffalo wings. I really miss the food."