■ The 2014 X Factor runner-up, 32, on her new reality TV podcast and why contestants need post-show counselling
Why are you doing this podcast about reality shows?
Hits Radio wanted to do a podcast with me and asked me what I was passionate about. For ages, I’ve always wanted someone to do a show about the reality of reality TV. I’ve always been intrigued about it and I’ve experienced it first hand.
Did anything any of the guests reveal shock you?
Yes. I’ve only done X Factor and I’m A Celebrity, I’ve never done a structured reality show such as Geordie Shore or Towie so I loved hearing about that from Vicky Pattison and Vas J Morgan. I’m fascinated by how it works when people supposedly run into each other on the street and have a conversation. It was interesting to learn how much is real and how much is produced.
Aren’t they told what to argue about in advance?
They said the producers have a storyline in mind loosely based on the reality. So there’s almost a dual structure. There’s a lot of focus on the narrative and the edit — some people feel the narrative has so much power the producers can shape the story, others feel there’s only so much power the producers have and ultimately you have the final say.
How did your experiences of X Factor compare with Janet Devlin’s, who appears in one of your podcasts?
It was different in a lot of ways but also very similar. She did it when she was very young. She describes it as ‘What’s more trauma on top of trauma?’ Her opinion was if you’re already broken X Factor won’t hurt you too much but if you’re pure and innocent, she wouldn’t recommend it. She’d come into the show with some issues in her life and the X Factor helped her face them.
Didn’t they make her stand on a rooftop until she cried about how much she wanted to win?
Yes, and that’s an experience we share. I had an experience of sitting with a producer for an hour as I wasn’t crying yet and they weren’t getting the emotion they wanted out of me.
What emotion did they want? Desperation?
They wanted to see tears and see some sort of hunger — or get the sense that if this didn’t work it would all be over. In some ways, it is like that. I was trying to get in the music industry for years before X Factor. If it didn’t work I couldn’t really go back and say, ‘Hey, millions of you saw me on X Factor and that didn’t work for me, so now do you want to invest in me anyway?’
Do you agree people should have post-show support or counselling?
One hundred per cent. I’d had experiences in the industry and I was older — but the next year I was brought back in to talk to the new contestants. They were so young and had never done anything in the industry before. They didn’t know what they were about to face. I wanted to warn them. The X Factor is so intense — you’re learning everything in front of the nation. It’s emotionally draining and it’s tough. You’re being judged on a national scale and being left with no support can be damaging for people.
Did you suspect the X Factor producers wanted you to win?
No. JB from JLS and I spoke about that. There are things they can plot but a lot of things can change. Going into the live shows my odds were 66/1 to win. No one could have predicted how far I’d get from my auditions. Others were favourites in the audition rounds but they crumbled under pressure. People can be favourites among the production crew but that can change.
But if you get an extravagant production, with dancers and pyrotechnics, doesn’t that give you an advantage?
Those things can go well and they can backfire. Janet and I discuss that — you have to barter for a say in your song choice. There are so many variables and no one can predict how the audience will react. Janet talks about the ‘eyes to camera’ moment, which is fascinating — if there’s a week you don’t get ‘eyes to camera’ where the audience can look into your soul and connect with you, you’re on the back foot.
Did anyone regret doing their shows?
Vicky had a lot of regrets with Geordie Shore in terms of what was shown and how much she shared with the public. But she recognises without that start and shows like I’m A Celebrity… she wouldn’t have the success she has now.
You first did X Factor as part of act Addictiv Ladies — what went wrong?
I was just 16, I was in a group with my friends from school and we did it to get some feedback from people in the music industry — we didn’t think we’d go all the way to live shows. That was a shocker. We were out of our depth and got sent home the first week. I was convinced I’d never do that sort of show again but I came back and did it again ten years later.
■ The Reality Of Reality TV with Fleur East is available now from all podcast providers. Fleur also presents the Hits Radio Breakfast show