A quiet and unassuming Lancaster man says his life has been turned upside down by success on The X Factor.
Paul Akister says everything has gone “crazy” since 10m viewers watched him perform on the ITV talent show – and he’s even had to grow a “massive beard” to avoid being recognised in the street!
This weekend telly viewers will find out if the 24-year-old makes the final 12.
Success would put him through to the ‘live shows’ in front of a studio audience and the celebrity judging panel of Gary Barlow, Nicole Scherzinger, Sharon Osbourne and Louis Walsh, with the chance to earn a recording contract and a Christmas number one hit.
Such fame and possible fortune is far removed from Paul’s humble roots in Lancaster.
Born and bred in the city, he attended Moorside Primary School and then Ripley St Thomas, and discovered his love of singing at a very young age.
“I started when I was about four, just messing about with my sister Charlotte who’s really good too,” he says.
“Then I did a karaoke competition when I was 16 at the Dolly Blue Tavern (at Lancaster FC) and I won. With the money I won, I bought some equipment. I started doing the pubs, gigging all around the area, at the Trimpell, the Lord Nelson, everywhere really, and in Manchester.
“I love singing. I never stop. When I get up in the morning I go straight into my spare room and sing.”
His speciality, as we’ve seen on The X Factor, is the big soul ballad, influenced by his heroes Ray Charles, Al Green, Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye.
”I’m into all sorts of music. Except country. I hate country!”
Paul decided to enter The X Factor earlier this year but never expected to do so well.
“I thought I could only go so far doing what I was doing in the pubs and I wanted to excel in my career.
“I knew my voice was good enough to go further, so I ended up going.
“I didn’t think I was going to get far at all. I wondered if my image was good enough. I mean, there’s 90,000 people entering. It’s crazy.”
But Paul’s soulful and powerful vocals wowed the judges in the auditions round and at last weekend’s ‘Boot Camp’ at Wembley Arena, with Gary Barlow even saying he had the best voice in the competition.
“That’s mental,” laughs a disbelieving Paul.
“He’s always on TV. He’s so talented, and can play anything.
“The judges are a lot nicer than when they’re on screen. You get to know the real person. Louis Walsh is so different to how he is on TV, the kind of guy you could go for a drink with.”
Paul admits he really felt the tension of the competition on Sunday night’s final Boot Camp show.
After earning a huge ovation from the audience for his rendition of Etta James’ ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’, Louis Walsh chose him as one of his ‘top six’ in the boys category.
But in a twist brought in for this year’s competition, this didn’t mean Paul was automatically through to the next round.
He had to endure a nerve-wracking wait on stage until the other contestants had auditioned, knowing Louis could choose one of them to replace him.
“I was sitting there thinking ‘don’t be good!’” he jokes.
“No, not really. I prepared myself, knowing I could be taken off. I really thought I was going to be swapped with Nicholas (McDonald). I was looking over at the judges, looking at Louis, hoping he wouldn’t get rid of me. Crazy.”
Walsh did indeed decide to choose 16-year-old McDonald.
But after a tense few seconds, the Irishman picked Alejandro Fernandez-Holt as the unlucky lad to lose his place. This meant Paul was definitely through to the next stage; the ‘judges’ houses’.
“I was really excited but it was really draining as well. It really is Boot Camp!”
Paul says he’s been on a “downer” since returning from the highs of Wembley, such is the emotional rollercoaster of the show, and is struggling with a bad cold.
But he dragged himself off his sick bed to Lancaster and Morecambe College last Thursday, to sing for delighted students at a festival.
“The support there, and everywhere, has been amazing,” he says.
“Thanks to everyone.”
Paul has already jetted out to the south of France to film the judges’ houses shows at Louis Walsh’s £10.5m property near St Tropez.
But while the bookies have him as a 12-1 shot to win the entire contest, Paul remains tight-lipped on whether he makes it through to the live shows.
You will just have to find out by watching The X Factor this weekend!
Tune in to see Paul follow his dream on ITV1 this Saturday night at 8.20pm and Sunday at 7.10pm.