Behind the smiles…

This is something I’ve been considering writing for a while, now. And with the beginning of the new series of The X Factor starting last weekend, I thought this would be as good a time as any. Get comfy, this might be a long one.

A lot of people who have been following my Sophie Callahan Photography Facebook page will already know that last year, my brother, Sam Callahan, was on the UK’s X Factor and came a very respectable 7th, out of 350,000 contestants. And I can’t thank those of you who supported not just me, but Sam and my family, through everything. But for those who didn’t already know, here’s Sam doing his thing on last year’s show…

What it was really like…

Everybody who talks to me about X Factor, when I go to shoots or meet new people, says ‘Oh wow, did you get to go and watch every weekend? I bet that was amazing!’ and it made me realise that nobody really understands what not only the contestants, but also their families go through throughout the show. And why would they?

Let me tell you; Yep, we trudged up there as a family, every Saturday and every Sunday night. And it was Hell. On. Earth! Seriously. If you ask Sam, he’ll still tell you that it was the most amazing experience he’s ever had. And I don’t doubt that for a second. He’s a tough cookie, he’s endlessly positive and he got to live in a mansion, made friends for life and met Robbie Williams! Of course he enjoyed himself. He also never sees the bad in anyone or anything. I swear the boy walks around in rose tinted Raybans!

But for us, the families, left at home, it was a living hell for six long months. From the first audition, through to bootcamp, with that hellish six-seat format, to waiting for him to come home from judges houses and then the circus of the live shows! And Sam got a notoriously tough time whilst he was on the show. Now, there’s so much that I can’t/won’t write in this post. Some things are best kept private and some I’m just not allowed to discuss, but let me tell you, it was hard!

Why X Factor?

Let me give you a little background about why Sam decided to audition. When Sam was approached about going on the show, he was already forging a career as a singer/songwriter/musician and had over 20,000 Twitter followers and an army of ‘Callafans’, as they proudly call themselves. As far as I know, this is the biggest following anybody has ever entered the show with. So, with X Factor being such a maker or breaker, it was a huge risk. He was adamantly against it to begin with. Determined to make his own way in a brutal industry. But the reality of it is, doing it on your own, like Sam was, is expensive. Gigging up and down the country for no money, promoting yourself and your music, trying to get in front of the right people… it costs a small fortune and whilst things were going well, my parents and Sam were running out of money to get him where he needed to be. His bar job, his pizza delivery job and his brief stint in Nando’s weren’t going to cut it. But he had a lot to lose, so it was quite a reluctant decision that he eventually came to, after many a long, late night heart-to-heart, to give the show a shot. I also just need to mention that we’ve had friends go through the process before, so we knew what it was all about, we knew how cut-throat it could be if you weren’t one of the favourites and we also knew how much it could propel your career if you were one of the lucky ones.

Unfortunately for Sam, he wasn’t one of the lucky ones. If you watched it, you may have noticed that X Factor didn’t have a ‘joke act’ last year, but it seemed that Sam ended up being the controversial character. He split opinions, he hit headlines and people either loved him or hated him. Gary Barlow, sadly, wasn’t Sam’s biggest fan.

Cue the migraines!

Now, this is where we come in. Sam’s tough. He takes criticism on the chin and he brushes it off. He’s polite and respectful, he’s resilient and he’s bloody determined. Me, not so much. If someone criticises me, fine. Whatever. I’ll deal with it. But, have a go at someone I love and I’m baying for blood. Have a go at my baby brother, when he’s slugging his guts out, on national television, in front of millions, whilst I’m sitting in the audience and can’t do anything about it, while his little face drops and he politely smiles and says thank you, to snide remarks about his performance…? Cue a god-awful migraine! I walked out of that studio on week four, after Gary Barlow had ripped Sam to shreds, after he’d sung Relight My Fire (a song so far from being suited to Sam’s vocal range and genre, it’s laughable) and my head was pounding so bad that I couldn’t see more than ten centimetres in front of my face, and the rest of the night is a blur. And then the next day, you turn on the television and it’s everywhere you turn. And then Sam calls us to tell us that next week he is singing another song he didn’t choose. And so it begins again!

Sam wants this career. He wants the limelight and he’s prepared to deal with the negatives… we weren’t. It was a steep, painful learning curve for us.

Sam Before The X Factor

Sam is a rock pop artist. He’s edgy, he has a gravelly tone to his voice and he is supremely talented. Yeh, I’m biased, but really, he is! He’s dyslexic, so writing an essay is painful, but he’ll write you a song in an afternoon and his ability to hold the interest of a huge crowd is awe inspiring. Yet, it was said on numerous occasions that he was only on that show because he had a good body. So, here’s a little background on his musical career.

  • When he was eleven, he won a scholarship to Sylvia Young Theatre School.
  • When he was twelve, he played the part of Kurt Vontrappe in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sound of Music, at the London Palladium.
  • When he left school, at aged sixteen, he auditioned and was chosen for a band, managed by Geri Halliwell and Simon Fuller.
  • Upon leaving school, he also received four full scholarships, to the top music colleges in the country.

At no point, with any of these accomplishments, did he flash his abs to get the part. He’s been writing music since the age of thirteen, he taught himself to play guitar, keyboard and drums, and he’s known, without a shadow of a doubt, that he wanted to be a ‘rock star’ since he was eight. So the insinuation that he entered X Factor on a whim and can’t sing a note, was so incredibly frustrating. If it had been a different story and Barlow, and the other judges, had said ‘Sam, that was amazing. You’re going to be a huge success and everybody is going to love you,’ after each of his performances, you can guarantee that the nation would have been singing from a different hymn sheet about him.

What’s Happening Now?

So, that, along with a tonne of stuff I can’t write here, is part of the reason it wasn’t as fun as you might think it was. It has given Sam some amazing opportunities and he is in a great place right now. He is writing music he loves, and I can’t wait for everybody to hear it, because it’s freakin’ awesome and so totally him. He is in the studio with Justin Timberlake’s producers, and set to go to LA and record with Bon Jovi’s producer and guitarist, Richie Sambora in the near future. As well as releasing his first single before the end of this year and a full album next year. So, if you ask him, he’ll tell you he’s glad he did it and that it was a great platform. As for me? I’ll be cowering in the corner, trying to shut out the fear that The X Factor theme tune induces every time the damn adverts come on! Seriously, mention live shows, a lump lodges in my throat and the tears just automatically well up in my eyes! Just watching this video of him singing Iris makes me feel physically sick. This is Sam’s ‘save me’ song, the night he was booted off the competition. You can hear us shouting for him in the audience…

So, what did I learn from the whole thing?

A lot!

It hindered my business hugely, because for six months, my entire family could do nothing but eat, sleep and breathe X Factor. We virtually shut our doors and kept ourselves to ourselves. I dropped my business like a stone, hardly working at all, our social lives were non-existent and we walked around like zombies, with red-puffy-crying eyes.

But I definitely think that, in the long run, my business has benefited from the things that I learnt from the process, and mainly from Sam. I learnt a lot of lessons that I will now always apply, not just in my work, but in life in general. It’s made me a stronger, more resilient, but also less trusting person.

Here are the things I will always carry with me…

  • You have to surround yourself with people who believe in you.
  • If you work hard, you can achieve anything, no matter who or what is trying to get in your way.
  • It’s okay to dream big. And to chase those dreams, too. I have big plans for my photography next year.
  • To avoid haters, you have to do nothing, say nothing and achieve nothing.
  • ‘You can be ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there’ll always be somebody who doesn’t like peaches.’
  • Positive thinking will keep you sane, when things get hard, and that positivity attracts more of the same. Equally, negativity attracts negativity.
  • Never judge anybody, unless you really know them. So many people got Sam so badly wrong.
  • Everybody you meet has their own story to tell and their own struggles to overcome.
  • People are sheep. And they will believe what they are told to believe.
  • Stay humble, no matter where life takes you.
  • Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.’  – Sam might not be able to belt a ballad like Beyonce, but give him a rock song and he’ll blow your socks off and give you a show you won’t forget in a hurry.
  • It’s so important to tell people how special they are and encourage people to do great things and be the best that they can be.
  • Most importantly of all, work hard and be a nice person! It will get you a long way!

I’m going to end with this, because it’s impossible for me to say this too many times…

I am so inexplicably proud of my brother. On the night he left the competition, we were all in the bar, at the studios, surrounded by crew, researchers, dancers, other contestants and families, waiting for him to finish his Xtra Factor interview. He walked in and every person in the room turned and broke into spontaneous, rapturous cheers and applause. One of the ladies that has worked on X Factor for it’s entire duration told us that has never happened before. He was loved and respected. He was polite and gracious and dignified, even on the night he left. He always has time and a smile for everybody that he meets, or that comes up to him in street, or whilst we are at restaurants.  He works tirelessly, his work ethic is unlike anything I have ever seen before and he has endless enthusiasm, even after each knock back, each critic and each spiteful hater. He never lets haters get him down, he says it’s their problem, not his. He is one my best friends in the whole world and you will never meet a stronger, more positive, kinder, or more genuine person. His love for life is infectious and he makes people just want to be around him without even knowing it. That is more important than any recognition for his abundant musical talent, and he just makes me want to burst with pride. He’s just turned twenty a lot of us could learn a thing or two from Sam. I am so proud to call him my brother.

Specialist equine portrait photographer, blogger & vlogger. Essex based, travelling throughout the UK.