Olly Murs is living a pop star’s dream: He’s touring North America with One Direction, which is currently the biggest boy band in the world. The One Direction tour means that Murs is performing to thousands of adoring, cheering (mostly female) fans at every show. Murs has several things in common with One Direction, besides having a reputation for being charming and having loads of charisma. They are former finalists on “The X Factor” U.K. (Murs came in second place in 2009; One Direction came in third place in 2010); they were mentored on the show by “The X Factor” executive producer Simon Cowell, who signed them to his Syco Music label; and they are represented by the same management company (Modest! Management) and U.S. record company (Columbia Records, which is part of Sony Music, just like Syco Music).
But something that Murs hopes to have that One Direction currently has is a big hit on the U.S. charts. Although Murs has had several No. 1 hits in the U.K. and has two multi-platinum U.K. albums so far (2010’s “Olly Murs” and 2011’s “In Case You Didn’t Know”), his first U.S. album won’t be released until sometime in 2012 on a date to be announced. In the meantime, Murs’ first U.S. single, “Heart Skips a Beat” (featuring Chiddy Bang), has been released, and he has taken his act on the road to win over fans in North America. He’s also been busy writing songs for his third U.K. album (which should be out before the end of 2012), as well as maintaining his career as a TV star in the U.K., where he co-hosts “The Xtra Factor” with Caroline Flack. On June 8, 2012, Murs called me from San Diego to chat in this candid conversation.
There are some conflicting rumors about when you’ll be back on “The Xtra Factor.” Can you set the record straight about when you’re returning to the show?
I’m going to be back for the live shows [in October 2012]. Because of the “American Dream,” I’m trying to do my best over here, and I’ve got commitments over here. I’m writing my third album as well in the U.K.
I’ve got loads of commitments, so I just told [“The Xtra Factor” producers], “Unfortunately, I can’t make it until the live shows.” And they’re happy for me to do that. So yeah, I’ll be back in October.
Is your first U.S. album going to have the same track listing as the U.K. release of “In Case You Didn’t Know”? Or will your first U.S. album be a combination of songs from your 2010 self-titled first U.K. album and “In Case You Didn’t Know”?
It’s going to be a mixture of the two albums, definitely two [songs] from the first album: the first two singles “Please Don’t Let Me Go” and “Thinking of Me.” And then there’ll be a mixture of songs from [“In Case You Didn’t Know”], so we’re picking the best ones from that album.
Will there be any bonus tracks that are exclusive to the U.S.?
No, it’s just going to be songs that were on my first two [U.K.] albums that we consider the best songs starting off my career so far.
Is your first U.S. album going to be self-titled or will the title be “In Case You Didn’t Know”?
It’s going to be “In Case You Didn’t Know.”
What’s the hardest song you ever wrote, and what’s the easiest song you ever wrote?
The hardest song I wrote was the song about my [twin] brother [Ben], which is called “This Song Is About You.” That song was basically about the problems I’ve been having with him for the last three years, in terms of us having a bit of a falling out in the last three years. We don’t talk anymore. He sold a big story in the U.K. press about me. So that was a song that was really hard to write. At first I didn’t want to do it, but I felt like I needed to.
The easiest song I ever wrote was “Dance With Me Tonight” because it was quick. We just felt the vibes really quickly. We probably wrote the song in about three or four hours.
How did you first hear about Chiddy Bang? Whose decision was it to feature Chiddy Bang on the U.S. version of “Heart Skips a Beat” instead of keeping the U.K. version of the song that features Rizzle Kicks?
It was the record label’s decision. I knew Chiddy Bang anyway. The “Ray Charles” song was a hit in the U.K., and we liked the song. And we were just looking around the market to see who would fit the record well.
Obviously, “Heart Skips a Beat” was a huge hit with Rizzle Kicks. It’s a shame that Rizzle Kicks couldn’t be on the record in the U.S., but obviously we felt that with the U.S. market, it would be better to have American rap act on the song. So we decided that Chiddy Bang was the perfect choice.
You’ve been writing songs for your third U.K. album. What’s the latest update?
It’s going really, really well. I’ve been working with the same guys for a long time. We’re about halfway or three-quarters finished, which is really exciting. I’ve got about two months more of writing and more studio work. I’m hoping that by August or September , we’ll have a single planned and already finished and a new video. And then we’ll be set for the end-of-year madness.
The songs we’ve written so far are really exciting and big. I’m really, really excited. It could be the best album I’ve done so far, hopefully. The two albums I’ve done previously have been such big successes in the U.K., and I’m hoping the third album will be just as big.
Can you say any of the titles of the new songs?
No. [He laughs.]
You’re very close to your parents. Have they or will they be visiting you on your North American tour?
No. I think if it was my own tour, then I think I’d invite them over. But since I’m supporting the boys in One Direction, I’m happy to stay where I am at the moment. My mum and dad are missing me, of course, and I’m looking forward to seeing them when I get home. I look forward to seeing my sister. I haven’t seen my sister for a while. And my grandparents. I miss my whole family. They’ll see me in a few weeks, so they’ll be fine.
So you finally moved out of your parents’ house and you’ve gotten your own place. How’s it going so far?
I’m really excited about it. I’ve got a bit of work on it. The interior is all done. We’re just sorting out the exterior at the moment, like the garden. I’m really excited about it. I haven’t really been there, which is a shame, but I’m looking forward to spending more time at home in the next couple of months.
Speaking of being close to parents, if you were to compare yourself to One Direction’s Harry Styles, Niall Horan, and Louis Tomlinson, who would you say is the biggest mama’s boy?
I think it would be between me and Harry. Harry is very close to his mum, isn’t he? Harry is the biggest mama’s boy.
If you had a party in your hotel room with One Direction, what would you and the One Direction guys be doing?
In America, obviously it’s a bit difficult because drinking-wise, they [the guys in One Direction, who are all under age 21] are not allowed to because they’re not old enough. We haven’t really spent much time together. I’ve been out with the boys once. In Chicago, we chilled out in one of guys’ rooms and were just chatting away and having a laugh and playing games and mucking around.
As you know, fans loved the acoustic “Heart Skips a Beat” video that you made with Niall Horan in the Toronto hotel room. Are there any plans for you to record any songs with Niall or any of the other guys in One Direction?
No, but I’ve always said that music is a funny old thing. You never know, but I don’t think so. The boys in One Direction are working on their own material. The friendship is there though. We get on really, really well. I’m sure if there’s an opportunity. So you never know, but I don’t think it’s going to happen at the moment.
You had an injury from Soccer Aid this year. How are you feeling?
I pulled my hamstring, which is still quite sore. It’s getting better now. It was a bit of a nightmare, unfortunately. It was a pain in the ass. I was really hurt in my leg.
But at least you helped England win Soccer Aid this year.
Yeah, I played really well, so I’ll take that. I pulled my hamstring, but it’s recovered now, so I’m all right.
Who surprised you the most at Soccer Aid this year?
Will Ferrell was the biggest surprise for me. I didn’t expect Will Ferrell to be as good as he was. He actually was a really good player.
You’ve said that you wanted to become a professional soccer player if you weren’t a singer. Who gets hotter women: athletes or musicians?
I don’t know, but I’d definitely love to be a sportsman. I’ve always wanted to be a football/soccer player. I love singing. I love performing. I love my job. It’s amazing, but if there’s one thing I would have loved to have done besides music it’s to be a football/soccer player, definitely. I’d actually quit my job now to be a soccer player.
Who would be on your dream team?
I’d just have the whole of Manchester United.
When you’re on tour and you go to a city that you’ve never been to before, what do you generally like to do in your free time in that city?
We’re doing a thing online with the fans, called “Olly Checks In” And basically, at every different location we go to, we get the fans involved and they tweet and tell me what to do. And I’ve got a little film crew and they’re videoing everything that I’m doing. It’s really cool.
Do you think you’ll do another “Life on Murs” documentary TV series, or was that just a one-off thing?
It was a one-off for me. We’d love to do something more in the future with TV, but something maybe a little more serious and less tongue-in-cheek and funny. That’s the plan, hopefully in the future. We’ll see.
That [“Life on Murs”] documentary, the fans at home in the U.K. received it pretty well and they loved it. So I’m hoping we’ll do another [Olly Murs TV show] in the future.
Speaking of getting love from fans, you’ve said that being on tour with One Direction is going to improve your love life. Since you, Harry Styles and Niall Horan are the single and available guys on this tour, what would happen if all three of you were attracted to the same girl?
Well, I know Harry is the most popular one on the tour. I’ll be happy to take what I can get on tour with girls. I’ll let Harry take what he needs. And, of course, Niall as well. The girls in the U.S. know Harry and Niall more than they know me, so I’m definitely third on the list.
Come on now. Don’t sell yourself short. What about women in the U.S. who want to hang out with a man who’s old enough to legally drink alcohol or go into bars? You’ve got that advantage here in America, don’t you think?
Yeah, that is an advantage. We’ll see what happens.
What do you think about the change in “The X Factor” U.K. judges’ panel, since Kelly Rowland is no longer on the show? Do you have any thoughts on who will or should replace her?
I want Cheryl [Cole] to come back to the show. She’d be amazing to have back on the judging panel. I think it’s a shame that she didn’t come back.
Have you heard anything about who the frontrunner is to replace Kelly Rowland?
I don’t really know what the plan is. Kelly was great last year. Kelly was a great judge to have around, and she was really fun. But I think now that she’s not coming back, it would be great to get Cheryl back, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. We’ll have to see who Simon [Cowell] decides to pick.
Jedward made an appearance at “The X Factor” auditions this year in Manchester, England, as guest co-hosts of “The Xtra Factor.” What did Caroline Flack have to say to you about working with Jedward?
I spoke to her on the phone the other day. And she had a very good time with the boys.
I heard that many contestants, especially female contestants, really miss seeing you at the auditions this year.
Aww. Well, I can’t wait to go back.
And finally, even though you’re not yet done with the One Direction tour in North America, what can you say has been the highlight so far for you?
I’d say probably Chicago. It’s a great city to go to and an amazing skyline, but also just the reaction from the fans has been just incredible — 15,000 people in the arena singing my songs. That was pretty special … I’m having a ball. I’m having a great, great time.