Words by Rosie O’Neill
Yvie Burnett went from Aberdeen to Hollywood after working with some of showbiz’s biggest superstars. After releasing her first book, she shares her journey.
I would say singing chose me rather than I chose singing. At school I was always very good at languages and I wanted to be an interpreter as learning languages just came very naturally to me, but I always had this voice and people just kept asking me to sing.
I always felt like my parents would have been very happy for me to go to university and do languages but I couldn’t not be a singer. I started working as a soloist opera singer, so I worked all over the place doing that.
Eventually I had a chance meeting with Louis Walsh and landed myself a job as a vocal coach on The X Factor. My children were young at the time, so it felt right to have a job in London rather than trailing off to do opera singing. There was no looking back from there – it became a career rather than just a one off job.
Getting my job at The X Factor happened completely by chance. My husband works in the music industry so he knew Louis Walsh and Louis had mentioned that they were looking for a new vocal coach for the show so my husband told him that I could teach singing. Louis said he would phone me to arrange a meeting and sure enough, he did exactly that. When my husband told me that Louis Walsh was going to phone me my initial thought was, ‘Yeah right, you’re winding me up!’.
Louis and I became best mates – we absolutely hit it off from day one. We shared a dressing room at The X Factor and we always giggled. To this day, we’re just such good friends. Louis felt that I was right for the job because I really knew about how to use your voice rather than someone who’s just had a wee bit of experience in singing.
I think with Louis, he has so many phrases that he uses and people think that’s just a bit of fun and maybe all he knows. But in fact, Louis’ knowledge of singing and selecting the right songs for someone’s voice, and essentially the music business, is honestly second to none. He’s an incredibly successful manager and has made a lot of money from what he does.
When I was working on The X Factor, the show was really in its prime. It was a time when everyone would talk about it, there was just such a buzz around it. I would be on the tube in London and people would always ask me who I thought would go out or win the show. I was right in the middle of this big bubble when it was the most exciting show on television.
I must say, I enjoyed every minute of working on a show like The X Factor. I never lost that excitement of walking backstage and hearing the countdown that we were about to go live to millions of people. I never lost the spark or the adrenaline of working there – it was honestly the best time of my life. I appreciated every moment I spent there, I never look back and think ‘Oh it was just a job’. It was totally amazing but it was hard work sometimes and I don’t know if people realise how much work truly goes into creating a show like it. I always said to the contestants, ‘You sing and I’ll worry’, and worrying alongside coaching meant I was often exhausted, but it was also exhilarating.
I grew very close to Sharon Osbourne, as well as Louis, during my time on the show. The thing with Sharon is, she is such a loyal person – if you’re her friend, you’re her friend for life. Olly Murs and Stacey Soloman were two of the contestants I was particularly close to while I was there. I just loved working with them and they prove that it pays to be nice. I particularly liked working with people such as Leona Lewis and Alexandra Burke, to see them grow and become superstars was amazing. You can’t beat working with truly talented people. I went through a lot with those contestants and look at them now, they’ve all gone on to do such amazing things. Shows like The X Factor can open so many doors.
I’m not going to name any names but during my time working on talent shows you do work with some difficult divas. Quite often, if you are a diva then that shines through to the public and you don’t last long anyway.
I do think talent shows can be harder for you when you’re classed as a ‘joke act’. They are often viewed as entertainment value, which isn’t a negative. It just means not only do they have to provide a strong vocal performance but they are expected to put on a huge production for viewers. They definitely have a harder time than anyone else on the show!
My time on The X Factor came to an end quite naturally. Simon Cowell wanted to shake things up and reinvent it, which he’s very good at. They changed everybody and everything, including me as the vocal coach. I was going through a really bad year at the time, my mum had died and I found myself very emotional. So when I was told they didn’t want me to do it anymore, I was really upset by that – I took it personally. Simon asked me to come back to the show as my replacement wasn’t working, but it just didn’t feel the same for me. In hindsight, I should have just ended on a high. I was pretty exhausted and in retrospect I should probably have said I was going to take a break for a year. I could have went back with a fresh mindset and ready to take on a new challenge. There was no big row and I would never say never about making a return.
The best male singer I’ve ever worked with is Sam Smith, he’s my favourite. He understands his own incredible voice and sings so passionately, so those two things combined really help to make a star. Not only that but he’s really nice too, one of the nicest people to work with actually. I like working with people who are nice and appreciative of you.
I also really loved working with Nicole Scherzinger, she has the whole package and definitely doesn’t get enough credit. People see Nicole as an all-rounder but her voice is unreal – I’ve worked with her on big diva tracks and on classical stuff, nothing fazes her. And she’s a really, really hard worker.
It’s an unpopular opinion, but I don’t think there’s a greater pressure on females within the showbiz industry to look good. Pressure is lessening for women in this industry as time goes on. There is more room now for quirky and out of the box acts, whereas there never used to be.
I have never thought to myself, ‘I’ve made it’. In my job, I’m always thinking about what I can do next to better myself, or my career. I think that’s part of being self-employed – you never know where your next job will come from so you’re always striving. I also think it’s a bit of Scottish thing.
People may assume I live a glamorous life, but I don’t at all! I always say I get the best of both worlds. I get to pop in and see what it’s like for the A-listers and spend some time with them, but I also get to close the door on that world and go home to cleaning the kitchen floor. The only thing extravagant about my life is my shoe collection – I say I’m not glamorous but if you opened my wardrobe to all those shoes, you might actually think otherwise!
Yes You Can Sing by Yvie Burnett, out now, RRP 14.99, John Blake Publishing.
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