Mary Byrne Tours with Grease

The X-Factor star on how she's no beauty school drop-out after fame hit like greased lightning

There was a public outcry when X-Factor judges bypassed the public vote to eliminate semi-finalist, Dubliner Mary Byrne from the show, saving Cher Lloyd instead. Two years, a recording deal and a role in Grease (catch it at the Grand Opera House from February 14) later, Byrne is philosophical about being ousted.

‘It didn’t seem fair that they changed the format, taking the decision away from the people,’ she says. ‘But it is just the way the show works. I never expected to win anyhow. X-Factor is a young person’s show. I never even dreamed I’d make it on in the first place.’

In fact, Byrne never thought she was going to make it as a singer full stop. Her audition in Croke Park in 2010 came 20 years after crippling stage fright made her abandon the idea of a musical career. ‘I was fine when I was on stage, but I got so nervous before,’ she explains. ‘And I thought, “If I can’t enjoy what I do, what’s the point?”.’

Byrne admits that she still gets scared before performances. While waiting to go on she ‘says a prayer and can’t stop shaking’. What X-Factor taught her was that it was worth pushing through that fear. Byrne is ‘raging I didn’t work that out years ago’.

Byrne plays the teen idol Teen Angel in Grease, appearing midway through to seranade the hapless Frenchy with ‘Beauty School Drop-out’. She replaces fellow X-Factor alumni Rhydian, who was runner-up in 2007, and toured with the production in 2011.

A big fan of Grease – ‘I saw the film when it came out, and I have the video, the CD and even the original vinyl. They’re collectibles now’ – Byrne obviously enjoys herself in the role.

‘The whole production is so smooth and well put together,’ she chuckles. ‘Then all of a sudden this large lady in a white suit and white wig appears and starts singing. I think it’s very funny.’

No matter how much fun she is having, however, Byrne isn’t about to let anything distract her from her second chance. Since X-Factor, Byrne has released two albums. The first, Mine and Yours, did well in both Ireland and the UK, reaching No. 6 in the UK charts. Her second album, …with Love, produced by Ireland's favourite musician, Phil Coulter, is doing well in Ireland but has yet to be released in the UK.

‘I was really intimidated when I first met him,’ Byrne confides of her relationship with Coulter. ‘I mean, this was Phil Coulter. But he is very warm, very likeable. He’s become a friend.’

A friend and also a co-star. Byrne and Coulter are appearing together in a show at the Olympia Theatre in Dublin. Originally a ‘one night only’ concert, demand for tickets was so high that the theatre added five more nights. If everything goes well, Byrne hopes to take the show on tour around the country.

As for the future, Byrne is looking toward America. She doesn’t expect to ever become a superstar over there, but just having a presence would be 'phenomenal'. For now though, she is willing to leave that in the experienced hands of ‘Mr Phil’. In the words of Rizzo, after all, there are ‘worse things [she] could do’.

Grease runs at the Grand Opera House in Belfast from February 14 - 25, the Millennium Forum in Derry~Londonderry from February 27 to March 3, and Craic Theatre in Dungannon from April 21 - 28