Lola Saunders wouldn’t change anything about her X Factor experience. Well, maybe one thing. “I wish I’d never told them I worked in a fishmongers,” laughs the 20-year-old from East Boldon, who came 10th in the Saturday night staple ITV talent show.
“It has stuck ever since my first audition was on the telly. It’s the first thing people say to me now: ‘are you back gutting fish?’”
We may be talking on the phone, but I definitely heard an eye roll. “I wouldn’t care but I’m wasn’t even a full-on fishmonger,” she goes on. “I worked part time in a shop while I was at college. People think I’m some sort of pro-filleter!”
To set the record straight then, Lola has not returned to her job at Latimer’s Seafood Deli in Whitburn since she was voted off the show on Halloween Night, and has no plans to.
“Don’t get me wrong, work were absolutely brilliant and really supportive, but I’m not going to go back when I’ve got all these opportunities to do what I’ve always wanted to do.”
“I had a bit of time off over Christmas, but I’ve mostly been really busy ever since I came out of the show. My first gig was in front of 22,000 people, which was amazing. I’ve done lots of gigs since then and have been taken on by the same management as Ben (Haenow) and Fleur (East.) They came first and second in the primetime singing competition, for anyone who isn’t a regular viewer.
“We’ve been having loads of meetings about the future and I’m really excited. I feel very lucky to have come this far so quickly.”
Lola, who is the daughter of former Newcastle United player Wes Saunders, is the first to admit that when she stepped in front of the famous judging quartet last summer (Simon Cowell, Cheryl Fernandez-Versini, Mel B and Louis Walsh), she was more than a little wet behind the ears.
“I never gigged before X Factor. I sang at school assemblies and I went to a performing arts college for my confidence and I’ve always wanted to do singing, but I’d never got out under my own steam and performed.
“It’s so strange when you go around the corner and see the four judges sitting there. I’ve been a massive fan of the show and always dreamed of going on it... so when you’re on that X where you’ve watched so many people stand, it feels pretty weird.”
After impressing the judges with her rendition of Adele’s take on the Bob Dylan classic, Make You Feel My Love, Lola sailed through the next couple of stages of the competition, landing in the South of France to sing for Geordie judge Cheryl,in the hope of making it through to the live shows. Millions watched her cry as she was told there wasn’t a place for her in Cheryl’s final three.
“I had a gut feeling that I wasn’t getting through,” Lola says. “It wasn’t a great trip home.” Little did she know though that Louis Walsh would be offering her a lifeline - choosing her as Cheryl’s wildcard contestant for the live shows. “I couldn’t believe it,” she says. “So much had to happen so fast and I hardly had any time to prepare, but it was the most amazing experience doing the shows.
“Of course there’s lots to get used to - people telling you how to dress and what to sing and all that... but getting that platform to show people what you can do, and gaining all that experience is amazing.
“It’s kind of like I’ve done things back to front. Lots of people audition knowing exactly what and who they want to be. I found that out in front of millions of people.
“I’ve been doing songwriting and going in the studio with my own stuff and am also planning some collaborations with other artists. I can’t say who, but I can say I’m really excited.”
Although Lola, who recently performed at a fundraising night at The Customs House alongside comedians Jason Cook, Chris Ramsey and Sarah Millican, would have of course liked to make the final eight in the show who get to go on The X Factor Live Tour, - bound for the Metro Radio Arena on Thursday - she says she’ll be front and centre in the crowd, cheering on her old housemates.
“We really did all get on,” she says. “I’ve kept in touch with loads of people and have genuinely made great friends. I’ll be cheering them all on - and then taking them all out on the town afterwards.”
The X Factor Tour comes to the Metro Radio Arena on Thursday, February 26. Tickets available from eventim or by calling the box office on 0844 493 6666.