He rose to prominence and impressed via the 2013 edition of ‘The X Factor’.
Just 14 at the time, Jai Waetford quickly garnered a legion of fans across the country, sailing through the competition without ever placing in the bottom three. He went on to place third, behind winner Dami Im and runner-up Taylor Henderson.
Clearly it wasn’t just the audience who was impressed, however, with Sony Music signing him to a deal in the show’s wake.
A couple of chart hits under his belt already, now 16 and (warning) with a learner’s licence now in his possession, Jai has recently released his new ‘Shy’ EP.
We chat with the performer about the new release and what the future holds, but we begin by asking him how he’s coped with being thrust into the spotlight at such a young age.
“It’s pretty crazy with all the interviews with newspapers and TV and stuff, but it’s been really good,” Jai admits. “You sort of have to adapt on the spot, which is hard. But when you’ve got a good team behind you and a good family, it’s all possible.
“I’ve got a cool fan base too. They’re super supportive and super reactive and switched on, so I’m lucky in that whatever I ask of them, they give to me. I know that they have my back and they know I have theirs, which is good.”
The recorded music industry can be a daunting place, even for artists with far more years under their belt. But Jai’s seemingly taking it all in his stride.
“You’ve just got to know who to trust and where to be or what you need to do to survive. It’s a dog eat dog industry, so it’s hard, but you’ve just got to keep positive and cope somehow.”
Though he’s experienced some success on the ARIA charts with his three EP releases thus far, Jai has yet to capture the attention of radio programmers across the country. He gives us his insight into what he perceives to be the reason.
“Not many older people are going to listen to a 16 year old. But I guess I just have to be patient and accept that to an extent, because there’s not much you can do about it,” he admits. “But again, there are times when you have to make a stand and try to be heard without coming across as being cocky or forceful. So yes, it’s hard, but it’s not like it’s going to stay like that forever.
“Age is a massive factor, because there are so many things that are limited and restricted by it. So I suppose I’ve just got to sit it out and wait for the right time. But I’m not in a hurry.”
Sooner or later, however, like many teen stars before him, Jai will make the transition into adulthood. How he does so, without everything turning into a Bieber-esque car crash, will require a deft touch.
“I think it’s all in the team around you and all in the commitment that you’re willing to give,” he tells us. “If you’re committed to your career and you know what you want to do, then it’s a lot easier because there’s insight. So you don’t really have to worry about what’s going to happen.
“Beyond that, I suppose it’s also in marketing and how your record label and you as an artist express yourself.”
Jai’s latest release is the ‘Shy’ EP. It comprises a hand-picked quartet of cover versions (Ed Sheeran’s ‘Thinking Out Loud’ and Sam Smith’s ‘I’m Not The Only One’ among them), along with the title track, which is an original and a Waetford co-write.
“I wrote ‘Shy’ in L.A. midway through last year with a guy called Rune Westberg, who’s really cool,” he says. “The other songs on it are covers I’d chosen off the charts that I thought would be pretty cool. I took them into Sony and they thought, ‘sweet, let’s get them down and we’ll throw them on the EP’.”
“It’s an awesome experience every time you’re in the studio,” he admits. “You start off with nothing and then finish off with a fully produced, fully recorded song that either you like or might be good for an album or it’s a hit. You never know. You have to ask others what they think.”
And he draws his lyrical inspiration from a range of different sources.
“It just has to be real. It’s what you feel or what you go through or what’s been happening around you. It doesn’t have to relate to you at all, but just so long as you know the story.”
‘Shy’ is a great little pop track that shows great maturity and is perfectly tailored to Jai’s audience; lyrically dealing with the singer’s affections for a girl. Its release was delayed to early this year, presumably so it wasn’t swallowed into the busy chart abyss that is the pre-Christmas period.
The track debuted at No.54 on the ARIA singles chart, but didn’t hang around the top 100 for long. To our surprise, Jai tells us that ‘Shy’ was never really meant to be ‘the hit’.
“I didn’t really want it to chart,” he admits. “It was just a stepping stone for me. I knew that it was cool, but I knew it wasn’t good enough to really rock it.
“So for me it was a stepping stone from ‘Get To Know You’ and it now leaves it open for whatever I want to do next. If I went straight from ‘Get To Know You’ to a smash single, I’d be kinda limited in what I could release.”
Now three EPs into his career, naturally there’s talk of that all-important debut album. But its contents, form and the timing of its release, for now, remain a little vague.
“An album would be awesome. I’ve got the content, but it’s just timing,” Jai reveals. “Because with an album comes a tour. So I’m just waiting. I think to release an album, you need a single which is a huge smash on the radio so that people really know who you are. So when the album comes out, they buy it. And then when the album becomes familiar, then they want to come to your tour.
“There’s a big process before that can all happen. It’s not just a case of releasing an album because I want to. So I suppose I’m just waiting for that moment and that one song that just really boosts my name and my profile so I can move it forward and successfully tour.”
Speaking of touring, Jai tells us it’s in that arena where being young has its advantages.
“Someone told me the other day that the younger you try and stay, the better. I think from 18 to 25, people buy one ticket to your show. But from 13 to 18, people buy three tickets; you’ll have a child, who’s not going to come to a concert by themselves, the parent and the friend. So trying to stay as young as possible might just be the best tactic.”
Jai Waetford’s ‘Shy’ EP is available physically and digitally now.