‘I never really got much of an explanation’ - X Factor winner Ben Haenow on his experience with the show and Simon Cowell’s label
- Credit: Stan Gerards/Eminence PR
We caught up with X Factor 2014 winner Ben Haenow ahead of his headline Norwich show this week.
Having previously sung in the band Lost Audio from the age of 15, Ben Haenow, a British singer/songwriter from Croydon, auditioned for the eleventh series of The X Factor in 2014.
It was his friends and family that persuaded him to take part in the show, as a solo act, which he subsequently went on to win.
'It was a crazy experience,' explains Ben Haenow.
'I'd been in bands and been up and down the country playing at different pubs and clubs and trying to do it that way. All my friends and family said why not so I just went on their advice really.'
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Haenow's time on the show was a bit of a whirlwind; from getting four yeses at the audtition and getting through to bootcamp to singing at the judges' houses and making it through to the live shows.
'It took a while for it to all sink in really. At the time you're just going through the motions. It's incredible but none of it really hit home until afterwards.'
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'Getting to go to America and sing at Simon Cowell's house was just mind blowing.'
'It all goes by so quickly that you don't know what to make of it. Particularly doing the judges' houses, the flight out seemed longer than the time you spent there.'
From week four all the way through to week 10, Ben Haenow was at the top of the public votes on the show.
'I didn't find that out until after the show had finished. I think if you found that out then it would definitely play mind games with you.'
'To find out afterwards was just incredible, to know that I had that sort of support, when every moment that you're on the show you're thinking 'I'm going home'.'
After winning the show, and around his 30th birthday, Ben Haenow announced that he was being signed to Simon Cowell's label, Syco Music. Shortly after, Haenow was flown out to LA where he recorded his debut self titled album.
'From the second you win that show you go straight up to an after party that evening and then go and do two weeks worth of TV promo.'
'After that I was straight off to LA and stuck in a room with these people that had written some of the biggest songs that we've heard - it was a scary experience.'
'You class yourself as an amateur songwriter and then you're in there with all of these professionals. It was a learning curve for me to get in and write with these people and I think it really helped me craft my songwriting moving forward.'
Kelly Clarkson was one of the singer/songwriters that Ben Haenow was lucky enough to work with on his hit single Second Hand Heart.
'The first time I met her I was basically bowing down and saying 'thank you so much for being on the song' and she was like 'it's an incredible song and it's really good to be part of it'.'
'She was an inspiration to me as she also came off the same sort of show in America. To still be so grounded, nice and humble was a really great thing for me to see at the start of my career.'
After the release of his self titled album it was announced that he was parting ways with Syco Music, despite the record having been certified with gold sales in the UK and several other countries.
'I thought the album had done well, it achieved gold sales in the UK and got into the Top 10 of the album charts. Realistically for me that was a win and it was going alright, but for them I guess it wasn't.'
'I never really got much of an explanation, they were just like 'we think we've come as far as we can and we're going to part ways with you'.'
'It wasn't a choice of mine but at the time you don't get a choice in it – it's essentially like getting fired.'
'The first single that came out went platinum and the single with Kelly was doing great. There was no real feeling from me that it hadn't gone well, I was really chuffed with it. I guess I felt a little bit hard done-by by them and I don't think that they gave it quite enough of a push.'
Going from recording an album in LA, with the backing of a label, to suddenly being dropped and having to work as an independent artist had quite an effect on Ben Haenow.
'I'd been in bands for years before but in that one night of being on The X-Factor more people knew who I was than had ever known me before.'
'To rise that quickly and have the winning, the going to LA, meeting all those people and the song with Kelly Clarkson to then all of a sudden having the rug pulled out from under you. My confidence was knocked and in some respects I felt like I'd let a lot of people down.'
'It was a bit of a rubbish time and I definitely came down off that high pretty quickly. It took a while to build that confidence back up again.'
'Being independent was quite a scary thing because everything is on you at that point. One thing I did realise I still had behind me was the support of the fans and the people that still wanted to hear the music and come to the shows. It was the following that I took from The X Factor that really helped me carry on.'
Ben Haenow didn't let this experience stop him from doing what he loves - writing and performing music.
'People get dropped and picked up by labels all the time. I think that as a person that came into the music industry through a TV show, it was quite easy for me to lose hope.'
'Once you get past that and realise that actually the reason that you won the show wasn't just because the label were there looking at your music it was because of the millions of people sitting at home.'
The X Factor has seen many contestants over the years fighting to win with very few managing to maintain the level of global success that the show first gave them.
'Most of the people that have come off that show and had a following and a career out of it have not been the winners – people like Olly Murs and Little Mix have done fantastic out of it.'
'Winning comes with its own pressure, you're on that rollercoaster and you've got a time frame on you. The process you go through after sometimes doesn't help the artist to get out there.'
'If you don't win then you get time to sit back and think about what you're going to do and have a bit more time to craft the songs.'
'You go on that show and they know that next year they're going to have another bunch of people and another winner come along, it's almost like a conveyer belt.'
'As much as there were a lot of great people in the team around me, I also felt like there were a lot of people just riding it as another product rather than giving you the care and attention that you needed.'
It was with the aftercare from the show that Ben Haenow seemed to struggle with mostly.
'The fact that you release one song and then for a year you don't release anything - that was my main problem with it. You're not even on the radio or TV, you do that for the first week and then you kind of get locked away in these studios.'
'As much as it's great to go and write your songs, if people don't hear from you for a year then by the time you come around again half the people have forgotten who you are. That side of the aftercare and the way that the label works is pretty poor.'
Since leaving Syco, Ben Haenow has gone on to release his second album, Alive, which was independently produced and released.
'This album was all me really which was a scary prospect. To have complete creative control was also kind of liberating and I think that it helped me to write an album that was lyrically more reflective of how I felt - it showed a bit more truth to the kind of artist that I wanted to be.'
'It's easy now to release your own music, whoever you are, with all these different platforms and social media. It's more difficult promoting it for sure but making the album was kind of an easier experience for me on my own, on my own terms.'
'It felt easy to write the songs and I didn't feel any sort of nerves about letting people in to my experiences. It's more the business side of things that was scary rather than the artistic bit.'
With his UK tour already underway, Ben Haenow was just excited to get out there and perform his new music.
'I've done three tours with my band which were a bit more in your face and energetic. This time we are doing something more stripped back. I just wanted to get out there and play some stuff and put a bit of a different spin on it.'
Once this tour is complete, Haenow will look at the potential of releasing another album.
'I've met a few more people and collaborated with some great producers from the UK and some great songwriters. I'm just trying to get a body of work together and then maybe get another album out.'
• Tickets to see Ben Haenow on April 25 are available for £12 advance from Epic Studios' website