Entertainment Music

Tuesday 12 December 2017

JLS taking their chance

Founder Oristé Williams wouldn't let JLS be anything other than the best, he tells Ailbhe Malone

JLS, from left, Aston Merrygold, Marvin Humes, Ortise Williams and Jonathan Gill
JLS, from left, Aston Merrygold, Marvin Humes, Ortise Williams and Jonathan Gill

Ailbhe Malone

JLS are, hands down, the biggest boy group in Europe. Despite being runners-up in the 2008 series of The X Factor, the quartet have steadily increased in momentum. Five number-one singles, and a 3D movie later, they're releasing their third album, Jukebox, today.

Riding in a taxi to a vocal session, Oristé Williams is not surprised by their success. The founder member of the group, Williams put JLS together -- then named UFO -- in 2006. They went on to enter The X Factor, eventually losing out to Alexandra Burke. By the time this article is in print, JLS will have returned to the X Factor studio to perform their new single, Take A Chance On Me.

"It's a pretty weird sensation going back there, but it's completely changed now," Williams remarks. "For us, it's like going to perform on a television show. And the judging panel -- everyone's different. The only person still there from our time on the show is Louis. He was our mentor. We don't see him much, he's always very supportive though. He did a lot for us on that show. He's one of the most successful managers in the country -- he managed two of the biggest boy bands in the world. He mentored JLS and Jedward."

Williams is X Factor gold. The handsome 24-year-old entered the music industry as a means to help his mother -- who has Multiple Sclerosis. His goal was -- and is -- to raise enough money to find a cure for the condition. As well as doing a degree in music business, he also worked part-time at Deal Records while scouting JLS members.

It's difficult not to get carried away by Williams's enthusiasm, and hard graft. Each statement is a self-contained cosmos of positivity -- bookmarked by a shout-out to the JLS fans. He views the group as just that, a team -- not a collection of individuals -- and is reluctant to emphasise his part in its inception.

"Yeah, I'm the founding member, but it was the work that all of us did at the beginning, that's important. Our chemistry gave us the foundations we needed to survive in this industry -- or to survive a show like The X Factor.

"We are a team -- we're definitely equal partners. Everybody likes to talk about how the band was my initiative, I put the band together and it was my vision. But, at the end of the day, it does take a team to make something work. There's no dead weight in JLS. Everybody works equally as hard."

However, it's difficult sometimes to break through the patina of positivity. When I mention that Williams sounds a lot older than his 24 years, he laughs, and then says: "I never take anything for granted. I've had to look after my family, and I took on the 'man of the house' role. It's always been very important for me to make sure that I'm on top of everything."

Just as quickly as he began to answer, he then swerves back into a stock mention of gratitude, and the fans. "I love what I do. I get to sing and dance for a living. We've got so many amazing, supportive fans and I really want to make sure that I do my best all the time to make them proud. Our fans always seem to have my back."

When I push harder, Williams finally opens up, admitting that he feels that it's "hard to let control go sometimes". He's the business brains in JLS -- a group that has fingers in many pies. As well as the music, the touring and the merchandise (including a range of JLS-branded condoms), the group have also set up the JLS Foundation, which is dedicated to raising awareness of safe sex and family planning. This is all alongside Williams own side-line as patron of the National MS Society (he was awarded the Inspiration award by the charity in 2010).

"I know that if things are in my hands, then I can make the best of them. And when they're not in my hands, I don't like leaving the control with somebody else. I think I trust myself," he reflects.

"Everyone in the group is focused and hardworking, I just like to take it to that extra level. The boys call me a workaholic, and I know that's true. I do stress about work. It's the way I always have been. Last night I could hardly sleep. I was up at four in the morning thinking about new ideas. New things, all sorts. I've always had things on my mind, and on my brain. I don't stop, really."

I mention that the added pressure of being constantly well-behaved in the public eye can't help with his sleepless nights, and for the first time in our half-hour chat, Williams' hackles raise. Promptly, he retorts: "I don't try to be good in the public eye -- I don't think any of us do. I think we are ourselves. Whether that's defined as good or not."

But his charm returns to him swiftly as he continues and reverts into familiar territory, explaining: "A long time ago, maybe I was different in terms of not being ready to expose as much of my life. But I've reached the stage where I felt my story can inspire others, and I've got nothing to hide -- I've got nothing to hold back. So, little by little, I've started to open up more, and feel more comfortable."

JLS have long-spoken about their 10-year plan (10 albums, one a year, before they even think of slowing down). With a flawless charm offensive, and a genuine likeabilty, there's no reason why their plans won't come to fruition. Williams assures us that: "I'm super determined, I can't lie to you. I've got so much energy in me." It's hard not to believe him.

Jukebox is released today

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