Picture this: the year is 2010, celebrities were just figuring out what Twitter was, Emma Watson had chopped off her luscious locks, and Glee was your newest obsession. Who could have guessed than in the middle of all this, one of the biggest boy bands of the century would be born. As a Londoner, I remember it well. It was X Factor season, and my friends and I were amped for weeks of Simon Cowell insulting everyone in sight, and Cheryl Cole looking like a TV goddess. As the auditions started, I found myself ~drawn~ to a few talented and charming teen boys. Particularly, I was already crushing hard on a curly-haired crooner named Harry Styles.
I wasn’t alone. During the Judges’ Houses portion of the show, when the contestants stay in the judges’ homes, the girls of Britain let out a collective sob when not one, but all five of the gorgeous boys, who had all auditioned as solo acts, were axed before the main show even began!
Then, suddenly, Simon blessed us with the miracle we have come to know, love, and obsess over today. He called the boys back and told them that he didn’t think any of them were talented enough on their own (I disagreed, as do the record sales of the boys’ solo albums), but he thought that together, as a band, they had what it took. He was right. And so, One Direction was born. This was X Factor history being made, no one had ever come onto the show as a soloist and somehow ended up in a band with people they had never met before. Would it work? What if they all hated each other? Was this crazy scheme ever going to be a success?
Well, I don’t need to tell you. I have never experienced a season of the X Factor like that before or since. At age 15, I was sure I had found love. Too bad every other teenage girl in the country thought the same thing, about the same boys. Harry was always my favorite. With his cheeky smile and natural charm, he was a heartthrob in the making.
All the contestants were living in a mystery house in London together, but let me tell you, it didn’t remain a mystery for long. Within weeks of the live show starting, frenzied fans had found the house, and to my delight, it was in walking distance from where I lived. So began many a casual drive by with my friends, in hopes of catching a glimpse of any of the 1D boys.
I remember, one week’s show opened with a clip showing the boys making a trip to Topshop on London’s Oxford Street. Video footage showed them being swamped by girls. People were already comparing them to the Jonas Brothers, and even the Beatles, that’s how crazy the fans were. When one of the judges asked which member had received the most attention from girls, the resounding answer was “Harry.”
Still, the whole band were attracting major attention all over the UK. Friends would turn up to school proudly brandishing pictures on their phones that they had snagged with their favorite member. It wasn’t too hard to catch them back then, so loads of my girlfriends had stories of conversations they’d had with Liam or Zayn out and about in London, or autographs they’d managed to get.
By the time the final rolled around in December, tensions were running high. I felt sure that One Direction would win. They had the fan support and the talent. I squealed along with my friends as they performed a romantic rendition of “Your Song” and sang a duet with Robbie Williams. Then, shockingly, before the final two acts faced off, One Direction was eliminated. I was devastated, I’m pretty sure I cried. Luckily though, One Direction’s story was only just beginning.
As soon as the final was over, we were delighted (although not particularly surprised) to find out that Simon had signed the band to his label. By September 2011, their first single “What Makes You Beautiful,” was released and made it to the top of the singles charts in the UK. It was official, One Direction had made the difficult leap from TV show contestants to bona fide pop stars. A month later, they had signed a US deal with Columbia Records and began their worldwide domination.
Now, of course, the boys of One Direction are international superstars. To me, though, they will always be the lovely boys from the X Factor who took the UK by storm, and bought the girls of Great Britain together like nothing I had ever seen.