Matt Cardle isn’t afraid to admit he owes the X Factor a lot.
After taking the crown on series seven of the singing show back in 2010, Matt shot to fame. His debut single, a cover of Biffy Clyro’s Many of Horror – renamed When We Collide – debuted at No1 in the UK Singles Chart. It was the second biggest-selling track of the year, selling a whopping 815,000 copies in just two weeks.
A painter by trade, Matt's life was transformed forever as by June 2012, his debut single had sold an impressive 1million copies – the fourth single ever by an X Factor contestant to reach that milestone.
Matt didn’t stop there. His first album Letters debuted at No2 in the UK Albums Chart, and after parting ways with Simon Cowell’s record label Syco in 2012, he’s collaborated with ex-Spice Girl Melanie C, and attracted combined album and single sales of over 2million.
But appearing on the show meant his music lost a lot of its "mystery", Matt admits.
"X Factor was hell," he exclusively told Daily Star. "I don’t like having my photo taken, and I had to stand there and pose all day every day. I’m in the wrong game!
"I think one of the most powerful things that music has is mystery, and that’s really important to me. Mystery can be a huge part of why people get interested in an artist or a group, because it’s the unknown. You think ‘who’s this’ and you hear the music without knowing who they are, and then you can gradually find stuff out."
Matt continued: "Whereas with me and what happened in 2010… people saw my dad, people saw my nan, people saw my friends.
"I was so exposed and there was absolutely zero mystery whatsoever. So the music – it’s another little step to try and gain back a bit more of that mystery."
Now making an epic comeback with two brand-new singles, Matt hopes to regain a bit of that elusive secrecy.
The cover artwork for his latest releases is as mysterious as it gets.
Matt had the single covers for both his singles – We’re The Butterflies and Purple Crayon – designed by his upstairs neighbour Aurelie Freoua.
The colourful abstract pieces are a far cry from the monochrome photoshoots that emblazoned Matt’s first studio album – and there’s a reason behind it.
"I didn’t want to do a photoshoot because I just don’t feel comfortable being on camera," he explained. "For every album I’ve released there was always a big photoshoot around the cover. I thought to avoid that by working with an incredible artist that happens to live upstairs to me.
"We chose one of her paintings and took sections for each of the singles."
Matt recently spoke out on FUBAR Radio to express the need for a "duty of care" for people appearing on reality shows, and admitted the X Factor "used" him.
"We all know what’s happened with some of the people from Love Island and things like that," Matt told FUBAR Radio. "There really is a duty of care to protect because those shows use people.
"It’s as simple as that, you know. Like everyone else on that show was being used, as was I even post [X Factor]."
He isn’t the only one to raise it – a string of former contestants spoke out last month, including Cher Lloyd, Rebecca Ferguson and Jedward.
Jedward posted to their Twitter page earlier this month: "Simon Cowell thinks he’s the Mafia leader of the music industry when in reality he’s nothing but a bad facelift."
"The fact that every contestant has to act like their judge mentors them! When in reality all they care about is their pay check!" another tweet read.
The singing duo followed up with: "There’s a reason Syco is called Psycho! 1D and Little Mix are legally f***ed in contracts and can never speak out so we are!"
However, former One Direction member Louis Tomlinson apparently refused to confirm any of the allegations after the Irish duo shared a screenshot of a direct message they’d sent.
Louis replied: "You guys have lost the plot hahahahaha you must be high."
But that’s not to say some good didn’t come out of Matt’s experience on the show.
Former mentor Dannii Minogue has been "really supportive" of his endeavours since splitting with Syco.
"She’s always there pushing stuff that I’m doing, giving it a nudge on social media," Matt said. "My old manager Nathan [Charles Smith], who was looking after her in a managerial sense for a long time, is always saying 'Dannii’s asking after you’. She’s been absolutely brilliant."
"I bumped into Harry Styles in a local [pub], actually, a couple of years ago now. He was there for a friend’s birthday, but obviously he’s in LA now so I haven’t spoken to him for quite a while.
"Everyone is so busy doing their own stuff, and life goes on I suppose."
Matt’s latest singles candidly explore his struggles with valium addiction, and were co-produced with his girlfriend Amber Hernaman during lockdown.
"I’m very lucky to have such a great set-up at home," Matt said. "It’s a blessing and a curse really, because I’m home all the time and you’ve got this equipment looking at you as if to say 'why aren’t you using me?'
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"I’m always writing, so me and Amber started talking about it, I started producing the track a little bit, and we worked on the lyrics together. So it was all born from that.
"It’s all been very much in-house. I’ve had a couple of outside musicians on it, including the drummer for Liam Gallagher. I think the next album after my EP will be back to normal and we’ll be back in the studio."
Both We’re The Butterflies and Purple Crayon are available to stream now, with a full EP due out later in the year
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