Interview: Melanie Masson on the X Factor

Melanie Masson thought her shot at the big time has passed until the producers of X Factor came calling. Now there’s no stopping her

Melanie Masson. Picture: Colin Hattersley
Melanie Masson. Picture: Colin Hattersley
Melanie Masson. Picture: Colin Hattersley

Melanie Masson always had the X-Factor. Long before the talent show was a tiny twinkle in Simon Cowell’s eye, and the Glasgow girl found herself immersed in the razzamatazz of the reality show and on a path that will see her release her first album in the new year, she was belting out classics for family and friends.

With parents who were in the business it was almost a foregone conclusion that the singer from Cathcart would wind up centre stage. Her father was a jazz musician who did the musical arrangements for greats such as Shirley Bassey and Ella Fitzgerald when she visited Scotland, while her mother taught dance and drama.

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“I was obsessed with music and singing from a young age. Our house was always full of music and links with the theatre. I grew up with it so it didn’t seem an unfeasible career option. My parents did say, ‘go and get a real job’ but when they realised I was serious, they encouraged me. For me, it’s always been about music.”

After school it was straight on to Queen Margaret College in Edinburgh where she studied drama and singing, gigging and doing session work throughout so she didn’t struggle to find work when she graduated. Musicals and gigging followed and a move to London, where she was snapped up by the record label EMI.

“It was really exciting, exactly what I wanted. My whole goal had been to make an album and release music. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite the fairy tale I hoped it would be. I was a very young girl with a massive voice and I don’t think they knew what to do with me. They wanted me to be poppy and light and I’m not. I wanted to do soul music, Aretha Franklin, Janis Joplin, because that’s my voice. I did do a single that went to about 70 in the charts but my heart wasn’t in it.”

After three years, the label dropped Masson, 45, although as she says, “there were no fights. By that stage I didn’t care. I’d learnt a lot and worked with good people and just thought, what’s next?”

What was next was going on the road and with her huge voice and big work ethic and she went from singing with Norman Cook, aka Fatboy Slim, Leo Sayer and Stereophonics, to musical theatre in the West End. “Oh, I supported Pink too, how could I nearly forget that?” she laughs. She also starred in the Rise and Fall of Little Voice with all of its Bassey, Piaf and Lulu classics, and Peggy Sue Got Married. Along the way Melanie Masson got married too.

Her husband Forbes, the actor and writer, who celebrates his 50th birthday today, can also belt out a tune, as we know from his Victor and Barry 1980s Fringe days with Alan Cumming, with whom he went on to create the trolly dolly jollity of High Life, before getting all serious on us as an associate artist with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Melanie and Forbes also share a wicked sense of humour, and when they met at a friend’s dinner party in 2000, they hit it off straight away.

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“I thought he was gorgeous but I was going to Geneva and he was going to do EastEnders. Then a few months later he saw me in something at the Palladium and was sweet and said I was amazing. Actually, he said I looked like Roller Girl, you know in Boogie Nights because I had pigtails and a tight T-shirt. Anyway, two days later he invited me out for a drink. I walked in and saw him and thought, that’s the man I’m going to marry. It was instant.”

Marry they did and by 2006 Melanie was pregnant when one of her sessions hit the charts. That’s when she found herself having to make a video six months gone but not wanting to confess her condition for fear of cancellation, hence the email, sent to Melanie in error, from the wardrobe department: ‘The thing with Melanie is she has great legs but she’s got a really fat stomach.’ I had to tell them.”

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Now the couple have two children Rua, six, and Ramsay, four, and although the kids go everywhere with her – to the X Factor set, to Pride in Glasgow earlier this month and were front row at her one-off Edinburgh gig last week, a life on the road every night wasn’t for her. Masson started up Fairy Flutterbyes and Little Rockabyes children’s singing classes, which is when the X Factor 2012 auditions came up.

“I went along but when I got the call to go on the show I didn’t know what to do. There wasn’t anyone else on it who sang like me. I do soul and blues with a real edge, emotional, soul songs, not holding back, and that’s how I always wanted to sing, with all my heart and soul. Forbes said, ‘what have you got to lose? What’s the worst that could happen? Get booed off and they hate you?’”

As we know, they didn’t and her audition rendition of the Janis Joplin classic, Cry Baby, won her a thumbs-up from Simon, Louis, Tulisa and Kelly, and Masson was “massively honoured” when her single of the song was endorsed by the Joplin estate. A huge hit with the panel, Masson lost out in a sing off with boyband District 3.

“It was all worth it, an incredible experience. And I do have lots of younger fans, so I did find an audience for what I do.”

She also found a mentor in Gary Barlow, who keeps in touch and gives her advice, along with his co-panellist Louis Walsh.

“Gary Barlow is gorgeous, and I say this as a happily married woman, even more so in the flesh. He’s very funny and has a very sharp wit. He’s been great and knows the business inside out. He keeps in touch and still mentors me.”

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X Factor also gave Masson the chance to make the album she always wanted, full of Joplin, Fitzgerald and Franklin classics as well as some of her own songs, one of which she debuted at her Edinburgh gig; a soulful, raw and tender ballad about love and loss. She’s also working on a TV show which is being written for her at the moment and comes out in the new year, on which she will not be drawn.

“Noooooo, don’t ask me,” she laughs. “When it comes out you’ll go ‘of course’. Then there’s the show she’s working on with Forbes, also a secret, and the live X Factor performances on the horizon.

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“My life is completely hectic and everything is a million miles an hour, but I love it. Luckily I’m good with crazy.”