Some of the best pop bands of the past two decades have come out of talent shows.
Some members auditioned specifically to be in a band, others were carefully recruited by celebrity judges and industry-savvy producers. Most have split up or re-branded, with many of the former members making the rounds in the reality TV circuit. But they’ve all left their mark on hearts and dancefloors (ideally light-up) across the UK and beyond.
Here’s a look at their dramatic journeys:
Hear’Say – Popstars (2001)
Before Girls Aloud conquered the British pop scene, there was Hear’Say. The OG reality TV pop band was formed as part of ITV’s first Popstars series in the UK. The group consisted of members Myleene Klass, Kym Marsh, Danny Foster, Suzanne Shaw and Noel Sullivan.
Hear’Say were catapulted to fame overnight, with debut album Popstars becoming the fastest-selling album in UK chart history at the time of release.
Hear’Say’s success may have been short-lived (they split in 2002), but “Pure and Simple” will always hold a special place in our hearts.
Girls Aloud – Popstars: The Rivals (2002)
Cheryl Tweedy, Nadine Coyle, Nicola Roberts, Sarah Harding and Kimberley Walsh became a pop phenomenon after Girls Aloud won ITV’s Popstars: The Rivals back in 2002. The show pitted them against boy band One True Voice, but they stood no chance against instant anthem ‘Sound of the Underground’.
If it weren’t documented on the now iconic talent show, it would be hard to believe the legendary girl band almost never was. Kimberley Walsh and Nicola Roberts originally didn’t make the cut, but were asked back following the exit of fellow contestants Hazel Kaneswaran and Nicola Ward.
Girls Aloud went on to achieve 20 consecutive Top Ten singles in the UK, seven certified albums and five Brit Awards nominations before splitting in 2013, leaving fans and fellow band member Nadine devastated.
JLS – The X Factor (2008)
JLS are the only band on this list that entered the talent show fold as a fully formed group, though Ortisé Williams, Aston Merrygold, Marvin Humes and JB Gill originally called themselves UFO (Unique Famous Outrageous).
The name UFO was already taken by another band, so the quartet had to change their name to JLS (which stands for Jack the Lad Swing), before they could be on the 2008 edition of The X Factor. They finished second, narrowly losing to Alexandra Burke.
They amassed huge success in the UK charts before splitting in 2013.
One Direction – The X Factor 2010
Much like Girls Aloud, One Direction were a lucky strike and boy did Simon Cowell strike gold.
Harry Styles, Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson, Niall Horan and Zayn Malik auditioned individually for The X Factor. None of the boys made it past bootcamp stage as solo artists, but they were called back and asked to stay on as a group, earning third place in the competition.
Nine years later, One Direction have won too many awards to keep track of (and that’s including seven Brit Awards and 28 Teen Choice Awards), embarked on four world tours and inspired an entire subgenre of fan fiction. Zayn Malik left the band in 2015 and the remaining members are currently on an indefinite hiatus while they pursue their solo careers.
Little Mix – The X Factor (2011)
Just one year after One Direction laid the foundations for pop world domination, Little Mix made their X Factor debut as Rhythmix. Half-way through the show, they rebranded as Little Mix to avoid conflict with a Brighton-based charity already named Rythmix.
Much like the 1D lads, Perrie Edwards, Jesy Nelson, Leigh-Anne Pinnock and Jade Thirlwall didn’t start out as a group. They weren’t even put in the same group to begin with, but they were eventually shuffled into the current line-up by judge Kelly Rowland, going on to claim The X Factor crown.
Eight years later, Little Mix have released five record-breaking albums and is still going strong.
Fifth Harmony – The X Factor US (2012)
Though UK talent shows seem to have the upper hand when it comes to birthing iconic pop bands, the US does have some worthy offerings, including girl band Fifth Harmony.
Ally Brooke, Camila Cabello, Dinah Jane, Lauren Jauregui and Normani Kordei all auditioned for the solo category of the 2012 edition of The X Factor US. No doubt inspired by the success of One Direction and Little Mix, Cowell invited them back to perform as a group which was originally called Lylas (Love You Like A Sister). The public eventually chose the band’s name, and Fifth Harmony finished third in the competition.
Sadly, Camila Cabello left the group in 2016 and Fifth Harmony has been on a hiatus since 2018.
Union J – The X Factor (2012)
Union J’s rise to fame is a rather convoluted journey. The ninth series of The X Factor saw members JJ Hamblett, Jaymi Hensley and Josh Cuthbert audition as Triple J, while soon-to-be fourth member George Shelley performed as a solo artist.
Both failed to make it past the judges’ houses, but were asked back following Rough Copy’s exit on the condition that Triple J incorporated Shelley as a member. They agreed and reached the competition’s semi-final.
Shelley was replaced by Casey Johnson in 2016, but he also left the band a year later. Despite all the backstage drama, the band reached number 6 on the UK Albums Chart with debut album Union J and released EP “Who Would’ve Thought” earlier this year.