Simon Cowell: UK music needs the 'next Zayn' (2024)

ByManish Pandey,BBC Newsbeat

Simon Cowell: UK music needs the 'next Zayn' (1)Simon Cowell: UK music needs the 'next Zayn' (2)Getty Images

Simon Cowell is desperate to find "the next Zayn" in music.

The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent boss reckons "the amount of UK artists breaking globally have fallen".

Those thoughts have led to him launching a search for the next big UK boyband - and Simon thinks being in a group can help artist's solo dreams.

Zayn started out as a part of One Direction - a group created on The X Factor in 2010 - and the Pillowtalk singer has since won multiple awards and made global impact as a solo artist, including in the US and among South Asian communities.

"For whatever reason, in the last 10 years or 12 years, there hasn't been one [boyband] from the UK which is crazy," Simon told BBC Asian Network's Haroon Rashid.

"I've always said to young people if you can get your mates together and form a band, it will give you a better shot.

"Rather than just posting your own stuff. As a solo artist online, the market is so crowded right now."

Simon's search will form part of a Netflix show, with the first set of auditions taking place over the weekend in Liverpool, and more scheduled in Dublin and London.

The queue in Liverpool did not see an overwhelming rush of people, instead a steady number of hopefuls who were optimistic of their chances.

Simon Cowell: UK music needs the 'next Zayn' (3)Simon Cowell: UK music needs the 'next Zayn' (4)Getty Images

One of those was Corvin Kelly who came from Scotland to "pursue my dream of being a pop star".

The 16-year-old told Newsbeat he’s a huge fan of 1D and Harry Styles in particular, and hopes to emulate him.

"I dream of filling arenas. I’d love to do that, make music videos and have fans."

He wasn’t alone with that thought.

Freddie Sullivan also made his way from Hertfordshire, with his parents.

"I just want to make it," the 15-year-old said, guitar in tow.

He takes inspiration from the Arctic Monkeys, Oasis and indie band The Royston Club.

"I love when it's all that raw talent. And it's not artificial.

"My biggest dream would be to be standing at Wembley, and hear the crowd sing my song back to me."

Simon Cowell: UK music needs the 'next Zayn' (5)Simon Cowell: UK music needs the 'next Zayn' (6)

Simon also revealed that Zayn initially struggled with nerves, but eventually "conquered" them.

The British Asian artist has broken through and made waves with both Western and South Asian audiences.

And that’s something Savan Kotecha is keen to find in this search too.

The songwriter and producer has been brought on board, and said he has "a personal stake" in finding acts from a South Asian background.

"One of the reasons I got involved in One Direction when I first met them, was the fact that Zayn’s Pakistani," Savan, who is from a Gujarati background, told Newsbeat.

'Being a doctor the safest path'

Savan's songwriting credits include hits such as 1D’s What Makes You Beautiful (about his wife), One Last Time by Ariana Grande, and The Weeknd's Can't Feel My Face.

He recalls his journey into the industry - starting with a childhood story of being in a high school band in the US and "secretly" sending out a demo tape to a record label as his family wouldn’t have approved.

"I remember getting a call [from the label] and he said 'I like your song and everything'," Savan said.

"[But] he goes 'No girl in Wisconsin will put an Indian guy on her wall, you should just be a songwriter'.

"So that's stuck with me for most of my life."

Simon Cowell: UK music needs the 'next Zayn' (7)Simon Cowell: UK music needs the 'next Zayn' (8)Getty Images

Having now spent a number of years in the industry and seen it evolve, Savan wants to grow the number of young South Asians in music.

But it comes with challenges, as creative industries are still not as common for them to follow.

"Why do they say be a doctor - because that's the safest path, right? They see examples of that in our culture," Savan said.

"We need to encourage parents to allow their kids to express their creativity, because it is possible. I'm an example of that.

"It's part of my mission at this point in my career to make sure that the 17-year-old me is represented."

He said that "unless people can start young", it’s not possible to "get our version of Beyoncé and Michael Jackson".

"The UK has historically had so much talent, it's been a great place for boy and girl groups.

"I think it's an amazing time to do it, and they're more than just pop music. To me, it's about building community."

Simon Cowell: UK music needs the 'next Zayn' (9)Simon Cowell: UK music needs the 'next Zayn' (10)

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