• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

X Factor star Nicholas McDonald gears up for album debut

Reality TV, a long-standing misnomer.

Which part of the show is the reality, you have to wonder, especially with the likes of The X Factor? The lights, the make-up, the autotune, the finely honed back stories of the contestants - there is little reality here.

But here is Nicholas McDonald's back story: a young Scottish lad, just "sixteen" (imagine it in Sharon Osbourne's hyper-nasal squawk), with a potentially life-threatening heart condition that caused him to have a cardiac arrest aged eight (he says this casually when it comes up in conversation) and a particularly fine singing voice, confidently deployed, that took him to the final of the ITV show.

In a year marked out by its blandness, McDonald became recognisable on the tenth season of The X Factor for his Scottishness - he is from Motherwell in North Lanarkshire - and his youth. He turned seventeen mid-series, and his age was constantly remarked on. In week five, McDonald mentioned live on air to Dermot O'Leary that none of the show's weekly themes had happened in his lifetime, and he was quite right.

When I meet him he is chewing a sweet and sits glued to his mobile phone, which remains on the table while we talk. He could be thirteen or nineteen, but is entirely teenage boy - slightly bored, reticent and eager to get away. He is also very tired.

The X Factor Live Tour, an annual event that exposes the show's finalists to arenas around the country, is well under way and the touring schedule is taking its toll. Despite a night back at his mum's, McDonald confesses he stayed up too late playing video games and forgot he was up early to go to Yorkhill Children's Hospital in Glasgow where he was to meet young patients.

Despite the early start, this was important to McDonald, who suffers the rare heart condition Long QT Syndrome. At the age of eight, while playing football, he collapsed and was taken to hospital. "I had a heart attack. I don't remember it and I don't really think about it." The condition is controlled by drugs and McDonald insists it doesn't affect him day-to-day.

But the heart condition has had a profound effect on his path in life. It put a stop to a longed-for career in football, which surely made his route to singing smoother - it is far easier to choose between two loves when the choice is narrowed fro you.

His mum, Eileen, who has been his stalwart throughout, was the one to guide him towards a career in music. "My mum noticed I had a good voice and she made me sing at my little sister's fourth birthday party," he remembers. "I didn't want to, I was twelve, but she wanted me to. I always wanted to play football but my mum was really keen on my singing."

School also seems to have played a part in his determination to perform. "School has always been very supportive. It was my primary school that put me through for Britain's Got Talent and my high school has been so, so supportive in getting me singing. I never thought a year ago I'd have fans. A year ago my mum was my fan."

And at this he laughs. It's true, though. A year ago he was a pupil at St Aidan's High School in Wishaw where, when he returned for a visit with The X Factor camera crews in tow, he was mobbed by friends and fellow pupils. The school was supportive of his ambition and kept his place open for him, should he need to return. But, as he survived the vote week by week on the show, it became clear he wasn't going back to school, not with Sharon Osbourne's shriek: "He's only sixteen!"

He was twelve when he entered Britain's Got Talent. Auditions were held in the SECC, next door to The Hydro, where McDonald will make his homecoming debut. It's an intimidating stage with an already impressive pedigree: Rod Stewart, Fleetwood Mac and Arctic Monkeys, to name a few.

Coming back to Scotland is exciting for him. He saw Calvin Harris play the venue - and the crowd "was crazy". "It was weird thinking that I was going to be playing in there. Beyonce played in there, and there are only a few people who have done shows in there. I'm not nervous, more excited because it's my home crowd, it's in Glasgow and that's all I've wanted to do."

Released later this month, his debut album, In The Arms Of An Angel, is a mix of new music and covers. His "winner's" single is there, Superman, and, a little predictably, A Thousand Years (Christina Perri), Someone Like You (Adele) and Flying Without Wings (Westlife). His own songs, Answerphone and Smile, he says, reflect the direction he wants to go in. Pinning him down to exactly what that direction might be is a bit trickier. He wants to be "like Bruno Mars". OK, and what's Bruno Mars like? "Fun, upbeat, like that."

McDonald intends his second album, planned for release in December, to be self-penned. Well, semi-self-penned. He will work in a studio with a co-writer. It will be interesting to see what he has to write about. Not politics.

As a young Scot, which way does he plan to vote in the referendum? "I don't really know what that is, to be honest." There's a pause. "Well, I know what it is. But I don't know much about it."

When is he eighteen? "November". The SNP has lowered the voting age so McDonald and his peers can vote. Should they have lowered the voting age? "Yeah, yeah, they should."

So is he representative of his peers, not fully understanding the vote? "Young people should get the vote. I'll try and read up a bit on it, if I have the time. It's just busy all the time."

It's not the most confidence-inspiring answer. Still, he's only seventeen. Wait, I'm Sharon Osbourne. Nicholas McDonald has turned me into Sharon Osbourne. Here's the problem with these reality stars; they have little to say. They just want to sing, which is nice, but lots of people just want to sing. Unless they become teen-crush fodder - JLS, say, or One Direction - so many of them make headlines for a little while then fade, only to perform at store openings or charity dos.

The week before I meet McDonald there has been press coverage of youth unemployment and how young people get a hard time in the media for being lazy delinquents. Does it bother him that his youth is constantly remarked on and does he think young people get a hard time? "About what?" Well, with unemployment being high, with coverage of gangs and deviant sexual behaviour and the like?

His answer is a bit of a tangent. "When I go up to Yorkhill and I speak to the young people there, I'm better than a footballer because I've been in hospital and I know what they've been through, so I can talk to them about that and it means more. I can show them that you can get through your illness and go on to do big things."

He is laden with bags of gifts from Yorkhill, goodies from his fans. There is a glitter-encrusted Irn-Bru bottle that McDonald is loath to open.

I'm reminded of Irn-Bru again at the show. McDonald is shot up through a trap door onto the stage and bathed in blue and orange light. His fans scream for him, as he performs Take That's Greatest Day while jogging around the auditorium and they light up for Adele's Someone Like You.

On stage McDonald is transformed, though still a little rough around the edges. He's more fun than Sam Bailey, who walks like a builder and admits she sings Emile Sande's I'll Be Your Clown to her children, which seems age-inappropriate: "I'd be smiling if I wasn't so desperate."

At the end of our interview he asks how much I think a taxi to his hotel would be: "I hate paying for taxis." I say I'll drop him off in the city and he remarks how nice it would be to have a taxi account. For an X Factor finalist, it's not much to ask. Perhaps after his second album he'll have taxis galore.

Outside the Hydro, the tour bus is waiting to whip the new stars to their next venue. It's even better than a taxi, the gleaming black bulk of stardom on tour, and someone else is paying.

In The Arms Of An Angel is released on RCA Records on March 17

Contextual targeting label: 
Arts and Entertainment

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

217971