Janet Devlin, After X Factor

The girl from Gortin on stage fright, looking forward to the live tour and that feud with Kelly Rowland

Janet Devlin is a walking contradiction. Born and bred in the quiet rural village of Gortin, the 17-year-old tells me she's a 'city girl at heart'. She's self-effacing, yet single-minded, desperately timid, yet bold enough to stand up to The X Factor's team of stylists when they attempted to give her an image overhaul. 'I didn't want to be dressed up like a doll,' she says defiantly.

It was this determination to have a say in not just her look, but her song choices as well, that earned Devlin the reputation of a backstage diva. Newspaper reports surfaced of a feud with her mentor Kelly Rowland, who apparently became increasingly fed up with her refusal to play the game.

At the start of the 2011 series, Rowland was Devlin's biggest fan, and singled out the pretty Oirish pixie as the one to watch. 'Okay everyone, this is Ireland's sweetheart, Janet Devlin,' Rowland gushed, as she unleashed the Tyrone teen onto the nation.

By the end of the series, however, it was a very different story. 'It's okay Janet, you've another song coming up,' Rowland just about managed through gritted teeth after an unsatisfactory performance from her little colleen.

But the girl from Gortin insists there was never a fall-out with the former Destiny's Child star. 'I got on well with Kelly,' she maintains. 'She was a good mentor. She was always supportive of me. She was supportive of all her girls.'

Indeed, I point out, Rowland has certainly been supportive of Amelia Lily, the teenager she cast out on week one, but who later returned in a public vote. 17-year-old Lily has since confirmed that she has recorded a duet with her former mentor, which she plans to include on her debut album.

So has Devlin heard from Rowland at all? 'No,' she replies. 'But what is there to say? If I go and do something significant, then I'm sure I'll contact her to let her know.'

It all looked so promising to begin with. From that first audition, when she stepped shyly onto the stage wrapped in a chunky knit before impressing the panel with her gentle rendition of Elton John's 'Your Song', Devlin was the front runner to win.

The judges immediately fell in love with her: the soothing lilt, the unassuming style, the endearing lack of confidence. But the latter was to prove her downfall. During several live shows, Devlin's crippling nerves got the better of her. She forgot her words and, on more than one occasion, looked like she was going to pass out with fear. 

Devlin admits she found the whole process stressful, and that she still struggles with pre-show nerves. 'You'd think by now I'd be getting better. I'd like to say I'm getting more confident, but the truth is, I'm not really. I don't know why I'm like this. It's just the way I am. It's not my fault. I don't want to freak out, but I still do.'

It's difficult to equate this nervous, stressed-out singer with the young girl who uploaded videos of her performances onto YouTube (above), and sang her way around Northern Irish talent competitions. But then the uploads were done from the privacy of her bedroom, and the talent competitions attracted several hundred spectators at most. 

Devlin says she never thought for one minute that when she auditioned for The X Factor, she would land a place in the finals of the biggest show on television. 'Myself, mum, one of my friends and my brother went over to Liverpool for the audition,' she recalls. 'To be honest, it was like a wee holiday for us. We had a few days to do other things as well. I never really expected to get through.'

According to Rowland, that famous first audition will go down in the show's history as one of the most memorable. Expectations were high. With the judges praising her from day one – Gary Barlow said he believed the contest would be won by a girl from Northern Ireland – the pressure was really on.

But Devlin seemed to cope well. It later emerged that for those first few weeks, she had topped the public vote. Did this surprise her? 'Absolutely. When I got bad comments from the judges, I was never shocked. I was always prepared for them. I was more shocked when I got positive comments. I was always expecting to be in the bottom two, and when I was voted off in week eight, I was ready to go.'

Devlin lost her place in the show when she came up against the much-maligned Misha B in the sing-off. By that stage, she insists, she wanted to leave. She had fallen out of favour with the public, the judges were increasingly unimpressed with her performances, and some sections of the press had labelled her a one-trick-pony.

No wonder she was happy to go. But Devlin is quick to point out that she has no regrets about competing in The X Factor. While acknowledging it may not have been the ideal platform to showcase her folksy-style singing, she says she appreciates the opportunities it has given her.

'I am so grateful for the experience I had on The X Factor,' she says. 'I have no regrets at all about doing the show. It was a lot of hard work and it was stressful, but look at the chances it's given me. I mean, getting to perform at Wembley. Things like that don't often happen to a girl like me from a small village.'

Speaking of Gortin, Devlin came under fire closer to home for her less-than-complimentary comments about the village where she grew up. In The X Factor footage, she was heard describing her home as 'bleak'.

She also said she 'wanted to grow as a person', but felt she could not do that in Gortin. And she complained that there was so little to do there that she spent much of her time locked away in her bedroom, reading, writing or strumming her guitar.

But Devlin wants puts the record straight. 'I love Gortin. It's home, but I think I'm a city girl at heart,' she says. 'The thing is, when I go away, and then come back, I realise what a beautiful place it is. I think I appreciate it more. But it is quiet.

'It's been lovely being home over Christmas and catching up with my friends again, hanging out in the same places. But I was always going to go to move away if I went to university, to Manchester or Liverpool or somewhere like that.'

Although university is no longer on the cards, certainly not in the foreseeable future, Devlin is still planning to relocate. She has London in her sights and hopes that by moving she can further her music career. After the upcoming X Factor live tour – which will see her reunite with Marcus Collins, Amelia Lily and Little Mix, amongst others – Devlin plans to start working on her debut album.

In the immediate aftermath of her eviction from the live television shows, Devlin was approached by several record companies eager to snap her up. She won't give away too much about her record deal until after the tour, and isn't too sure what direction her music will take. But she says it won't be 'terribly poppy'.

One imagines that Devlin will be happier in the confines of a recording studio, co-writing her own material, than performing live in front of millions of people. But she knows that she will have to overcome those nerves eventually if she wants to make it as a musician.

As we wrap up the interview I ask if she would do anything differently, given another chance. 'It's funny. When I watched my best bits back, I got all teary, because I realised just how far I'd come and how well I'd done to get to week eight,' she replies. 'But if I had to do it again, I'd try to be calmer. I just wish I didn't get so nervous.'

The X Factor live tour will come to Belfast's Odyssey Arena on March 9 and 10.

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