Matt Cardle shot to stardom as the winner of The X Factor in 2010, watched by an average of 17 million people. He has since embarked on a career as a singer, but this month made his musical theatre debut in the West End production of Memphis, playing Huey Calhoun, alongside Beverley Knight. Matthew Hemley spoke to him about his first taste of musical theatre and whether he has plans to do more.
How did the part of Huey come your way?
I was in the studio working on my new album when my manager called me to say he had just had a phone call from Beverley, saying Memphis was looking for a new Huey. I was like ‘And that has to do with me because… ?’. My manager said they wanted me to try out for it, but I was like ‘You’re joking?’. However, I came down to see it and fell in love with it and one thing led to another.
Did you have concerns about taking on a role in a West End musical?
The whole time I was being auditioned I thought ‘I don’t know if this is something I can do’. I knew I wanted to be able to do it but didn’t know if I could. I had seen Killian Donnelly playing the part, and he made it look so much fun. When they gave me the part Beverley said ‘You now have to believe in yourself. Other people believe in you, so you have to believe in yourself too’.
What did you have to learn to do the musical?
When I originally sang for the producers, the musical supervisor said ‘You need to clean up your voice a bit’. He didn’t think I could make it through a show singing the way I did. It wasn’t that I couldn’t sing the songs, but it was that I was using my own technique, which is not an every night technique. I had to take all of myself out of the role – all of my characteristics. My own style of singing was not conducive to singing seven shows a week. People say James Morrison has an interesting sound, but that sound doesn’t last eight shows a week. It’s why people get offended if you say ‘You sound very musical theatre’. It basically means straight, no thrills and clean. But it’s so your vocal chords don’t get tired. It’s all to do with efficiency of air. I have had a lot of vocal training but I will not continue singing like this – it’s just how I sing in the theatre.
Did you worry that people would question your right to play a role in a musical when you have had no training or background in the genre?
People may have judged me, and rightly so. It’s not like I came from a background where they could say they saw me in such and such and that I could act a bit. It was more like ‘Has he ever acted? He’s playing Huey? Really?’. No one ever said that to me, but I fully understand if people were thinking it. Now I’ve had the reviews and feedback, I feel like a wanker saying I’ve not had any acting training, but it’s the truth. I didn’t do it at school and the only acting I’ve done is lying to people about stuff. Like ‘Dad, I don’t know what the smell is. Those Rizlas are not mine’.
What has surprised you about being in a musical?
Just how much fun everyone is having. Off stage, people are stretching, poking each other and having a laugh – no one is sat there glum faced, waiting to go on.
Would you like to do more?
If it was the right thing, yes. But I truly believe I’ve been given the golden egg here. It’s one of the best shows in town and Beverley Knight is in it, so say no more. It’s the best company, the best crew and one of the best leading male roles around. What more could I ask for? I do love the music of Les Miserables though.
How do you think you will feel when the run ends at the end of October?
I will have career things to do, but not something every night, and it will be horrible leaving this. I asked Killian the same thing, and he said he didn’t want to leave the theatre or the company. Everyone is so wonderful.
Have you noticed any difference between theatre fans and your pop music fans?
A lot of my fans come to the stage door and stay and chat, but theatre fans usually just come up and say ‘I just want to say thank you, and well done’ and off they go. They’re very polite.
Born: Southampton, 1983
Agent: Nathan Charles Smith at NCS Artist Management
What do you wish someone had told you when you were starting out?
Don’t kill yourself over perfection. Strive for it, but know it will never be achieved.
What is your best advice for auditions?
Enjoy it and be yourself, and use your nerves to your advantage rather than letting them get on top of you.
Do you have any theatrical superstitions?
I am OCD. On opening night I could barely leave my dressing room for having to check this or that or touch this with my right hand or make sure I stepped on something.
Who are your influences?
Michael Jackson, Kurt Cobain, Kate Bush and Eddie Vedder.