Interview: JLS - Smooth operators

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ONE BY one the members of JLS bowl through the door, kiss me on both cheeks and murmur "babes" into my ear.

The glass box of a room where we sit, in the swish Kensington offices of their record company, Sony Epic, starts to steam up as the air thickens with a heady elixir of almost-manliness and expensive aftershave. It doesn't quite rival the moment when they rocked up to Glasgow's SECC for the Mobos in September in a convoy of four colour-coded Lotus Sports cars. But still, these are some smooth moves.

It's no wonder JLS are full of themselves right now. Since they were pipped to the post by Alexandra Burke in the X Factor final last year, they haven't come second once. On Sunday their new single took the No 1 spot from X Factor judge Cheryl Cole and this week their debut album goes head to head with Robbie Williams's last-ditch – sorry, latest – comeback. If I were one of the teenage girls waiting patiently outside in cars slapped with JLS stickers, wilting carnations in their clammy hands, I might faint at the sight of these four twentysomethings sucking on sports drinks. Come to think of it, I do feel a bit dizzy but that's probably the aftershave.

First up is Jonathan "JB" Gill, known to his fellow boyz-to-minimen as The Godfather – I'm guessing on account of his looks rather than his 22 years of wisdom. He flashes ultra-white teeth, silver rings, and a whole lotta denim. Next comes Aston Merrygold, a doe-eyed cutie pie with a fringe like flattened Astroturf. If this were Take That, he would be Mark Owen. Behind him is Marvin Humes – the only one who has been in a boyband before – and Orits Williams, who is credited with bringing JLS together and is the one who does most of the talking. So lightly is his cap perched on his head that you could pop a melon under there, a look so self-consciously "street" that the other three roll about laughing when they see him. "Babes," he says, undeterred by the giggles. "Let's go. You have our undivided attention."

Earlier this month JLS went back to the show that made them to perform their new single, a mildly horny, mobiles-in-the-air anthem called Everybody in Love. More than 15 million people tuned in to watch their return to X Factor and it must have been a big moment for the band. There JLS were, back on that stage, in front of those judges – but this time as artists in their own right. In the intervening months their first single, Beat Again, entered the charts at No 1, selling more than 100,000 copies in the first week, and they bagged two Mobo awards. Simon Cowell, who at one point was going to sign the band to his label, must have been kicking himself. "No way," says Gill, looking indignant. "Simon's over the moon for us. You've got to remember, we came from a show that he nurtured."

"It was absolutely incredible being back, a surreal experience well and truly," says Williams, while the other three continue to snort at his headwear. "When we walked in we tried to go to the contestants' area and all these people ran up and were like, 'No! This way boys!' They took us to the artists' area and we were in the Winnebago where Whitney Houston stayed. It was really weird."

It's a perfect example of how quickly everything has changed for these four boys who, two years ago, could never have saved up for the watches they're now showered with for free. Though their brand of electronic R 'n' B for tweenies is hardly groundbreaking, at least JLS can actually sing, dress, and speak for themselves. They wrote nine of the 13 tracks on their self-titled album and rumour has it that Michael Jackson wanted them to support him for his O2 Arena performances. "It would have been incredible," admits Humes. "I'm sure he knew of us." At the Mobos in Glasgow they did end up being approached by Jermaine and LaToya Jackson. "They came up and spoke to us," says Gill. "They said they loved what we did and would love to see us over in the States. We'd love to do something with them."

"LaToya said I look like her nephew," adds Williams. "It was weird. She pulled me back, held my wrist, and said, 'Listen to me – you stay humble and you stay nice and that's the key to success.' I think she really believes in us."

Their confidence knows no bounds. But thankfully JLS are good fun with it and so far don't seem to be taking themselves too seriously. "Sometimes you have to pinch yourself," says Williams. "We try not to take too much of it in because you don't want to start believing your own hype." Instead they laugh at each other. When Humes says, in all seriousness, that "our documentary captures the moment when we got to number one like you catch a fish in the ocean," my guffaws are drowned out by theirs. All in all they're a pretty silly bunch. When Merrygold has a stab at flirting, it's a little like watching Jiminy Cricket make eyes at you. And when a couple of Sony employees sashay past, the boys stop talking to drool and stare dreamily through the glass. I end up feeling like a harassed teacher trying to get her classroom in order.

JLS face screaming girls wherever they go now – most recently in Manchester, where they turned the Christmas lights on in front of a crowd of thousands. "In a year we've gone from being unknown to having thousands of people want to watch us switch a light on," laughs Gill. And Merrygold adds: "We do tend to have plans for how to get out of buildings these days." The first place they were ever mobbed was on the high street in Aberdeen. "Me and Orits got chased," recalls Merrygold. "It was lunchtime so we thought everyone would be in school. This bus full of girls went past, they saw us, started screaming and got off. That was it. We ran around the corner and there was an even bigger herd waiting for us."

"We love coming to Scotland," adds Williams. "Everyone is so passionate and excited." Humes adds: "I don't know what it is, but it has this vibe that is second to none." He tells me proudly that his nan is Scottish. Then Merrygold pipes up on exactly why their Scottish fans are their favourites: "They're not afraid to wreck a building or shut off electricity in a hotel to get to us. Our Scottish fans have been known to rip off the protective film on the windows at radio stations." They sound a bit sinister, I venture. "No, they're the most ambitious about meeting us," says Merrygold, positive to the end.

Doesn't anything get JLS down? Okay, they get a bit fed up when they're linked with every girl they talk to (they're all single). And stories claiming they spent 20,000 on partying when it was actually a buy-one-get-one-free deal on Champagne from the supermarket are annoying. But it all goes with the territory of being the biggest boyband of the year. They do want girlfriends but can't see it happening. "What we do can be lonely," admits Humes. "You get so many girls screaming at you and then you go back to your hotel at night and wind up in bed alone."

What makes JLS unique is the fact that Britain hasn't exactly had a glut of black boybands. They're the first one, in fact, to enter the charts at No 1. Is that important to them? "Absolutely," says Williams. "If it wasn't for black British boybands like Damage and The Pasadenas we wouldn't be in this position." Actually, they probably have X Factor to thank more for their success than the band who sang I'm Doing Fine Now. The fact is, prior to the show JLS struggled to scrape together the money to book rehearsal space. Now they count Dame Judi Dench and the Pet Shop Boys among their fans.

Do they worry about their credibility because they came from a reality TV show? "If the public felt we weren't authentic they wouldn't have bought our singles," says Gill. "You can't fool people these days. People like Dame Judi Dench wouldn't be supporting us and Taio Cruz wouldn't be wanting to work with us. These are artists who have come through the traditional way and if they didn't think we were credible they wouldn't show us any love."

&#149 JLS is out now on Epic.

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