INTERVIEW | Danyl Johnson, Whitney stopped me halfway and said, “No, that’s not how you sing it”27th January 2017
He’s noted as being one of Simon Cowell’s all time favourite auditionees, but the public interest in Danyl Johnson wasn’t, sadly, just about his singing talent during his time on the X Factor. It was all about who he was or wasn’t having relationships with. Within weeks of his first appearance on the show, the press had made up their mind that he was bisexual and that he fancied all four of the judges, Dannii, Cheryl, Simon and Louis. THEGAYUK’s editor Jake Hook took some time to talk with Danyl about one of British TV’s most awkward moments (the time that Dannii Minogue seemingly outed him on live, national TV), why Whitney Houston was not impressed with him and why having a dog helps you when you’re single.
Jake: So, since the X Factor, where have you been? What have you been doing? What’s going to be happening in 2017?
Danyl: I think Donald Trump is going to be taking over the world. It’s a different world in 2017. I think everyone thought 2016 was going to be tough, but 2017 looks even crazier.
Since the show? It’s been seven years, which is crazy to even think that it’s been that long. It’s just we finish the show, we go on tour, we play our own shows.
I thought, ‘I need to go and find myself’. Normally when people want to do that they want to go to India but I thought I wanted to nd myself musically and see what I was doing so I decided to go to Nashville and just work with some amazing musicians and some really good music people, people that I like, not just randoms.
I did that for a little while, came back, played some more shows. I was bouncing around record deals with some lovely little labels and things just didn’t come together. Especially when you do a show like X Factor, it’s such a platform and you do get skipped to the head of the queue. Sometimes when you get skipped to the head of the queue, it doesn’t mean your name’s on the door. It can be a little bit of, “ugh, God another one of those people.”
I just felt, not lost, but just kind of like, “What am I doing?” It was really easy for me to just play shows. Because of what Simon said, about me on my audition, it has systematically made me still work to this day, which is lovely. I cannot really complain about that.
Jake: Obviously, Simon Cowell was incredibly nice, he was very, very complimentary about your voice…
Danyl: Yeah, crazy.
Jake: That must mean quite a lot to a singer to hear that, but when you see someone like Honey G getting praise off someone like Simon Cowell, does it diminish what he said about you?
Danyl: It does at times. The thing is, everyone gets really uptight about these, the enjoyable acts, but they’ve always been in the thread of X Factor. They have always been there. From Chico to Jedward, to Wagner to Honey G right now. They’ve always been there. The X Factor is not just about singing,
it’s about having something that people are talking about. Undeniably, every single person is talking about Honey G. I’m not pro-Honey, I’m not anti-Honey, I just understand what she’s doing. I was very close to Jedward in our year, we saw some of the most horrible hate thrown towards them and that was before Twitter was big, and we felt like they were like our little brothers.
It is really hard when someone is getting pelted. They have no say about anything and all these people are like, “Why is she here? Why is he there? Why are they there?”.
Jake: Would you ever consider doing something like Celebrity Big Brother or I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here or something like that?
Danyl: I enjoy watching them, and I think that it is good trashy entertainment. Who doesn’t like to just sit there and watch TV programs like that? I’m not the best when I’m tired and hungry and I feel like they do that to you to get a rise out of you, and then sometimes there are slightly antagonistic people on the show and they can truly press your buttons. I don’t know if I could do that to my family again. You never know how it’s going to work out. Then you have to deal with the fallout of it. I kind of like being the forgotten person of X Factor a little bit and people remember one or two things about me. Maybe my audition or maybe a performance, or Dannii Minogue. To maybe ruin it by doing another TV program, scares the hell out of me.
Jake: Can we talk about the Dannii Minogue thing? I re-watched it the other day, and it’s probably the most awkward moment of British television… ever when she suggested that perhaps you should have changed the gender references in the song you were singing to male pronouns. It was a tumbleweed moment. Very awkward. What was that moment like for you?
Danyl: I’ll tell you a tiny bit of the back story… I’m singing, “And I am Telling You” from Dreamgirls, I actually haven’t ever seen the musical or the film or knew the song that well, but they thought, “Guy singing a girl song, perfect”. Ultimately the line is “You’re the best man I’ve ever known.” In the newspapers, my sexuality had already been completely and utterly microscoped. [There were] so many stories about who I was dating or not dating. I remember saying to Dannii’s people, ‘should I sing the actual line?’ They said, ‘do it’.
In my mind, I was thinking if it was week seven, maybe, but as it was week one, so I sang, “You’re the best girl I’ve ever known”. People are very open-minded these days, but it’s live in front of a lot of people.
Dannii said what she said. I felt like she never did it on purpose. I don’t think she felt like she had done anything wrong; because of that reason, I cannot really take it to heart.
Now a lot of people have rewound that moment. There was so much speculation about what I said underneath my breath. So many people thought I said, “F*ck off ”. But I was a primary school teacher, so I wouldn’t say that on live TV. I said, “I’m not ashamed”.
That night Stephen Gately (Boyzone singer) died…
Jake: I remember. So what happened between you and Dannii?
Danyl: I went down to Dannii’s dressing room the next day, no one was there, everything was o because everyone was completely devastated. She was a bit upset, and I said, “What’s the matter? Are you okay?” She apologised to me. She was reading stuff on Twitter and someone tweeted, “Every time you out a fairy, another fairy dies.” That stays in my mind and why Dannii was upset. It was like my life was the weirdest thing.
A couple of months beforehand, I’m in a classroom teaching kids, then one moment I’m standing in Dannii’s dressing room watching her reading messages on Twitter. It was the most surreal moment ever. It was never intentional. It was taken completely the wrong way. I didn’t really take it to heart. I don’t think it’s the same story in her book, but oh well…
Jake: Was it tough for your family to have your personal life splayed out on the front pages of national papers?
Danyl: The one thing that I found the hardest and my family found the hardest, is they [the press] try to completely decimate any niceness that I had in me. It’s tough if you’re ever depicted as not a nice person, for whatever reason, no matter what you do. The one thing I know is I never ever spoke back. I never was disrespectful. Behind the stage, I might be upset, but in front of people, I just held it together.
Family wise, I think they just slowly, slowly saw me not be me at all. If I could go back in time I would whisper in my ear, “It’s not real. Just go out. Just take it for what it is.”
Jake: Is it easy to turn o knowing that people are saying stuff about you?
Danyl: You can’t stop it. It’s like kids on a playground. You cannot stop it. They’re going to say anything, but if you can switch off for a bit. If I knew there was an article in the newspaper coming out I would just stay o social media. I just wouldn’t look at it. People liked to come to me about it, but I just wouldn’t look at it. I think sometimes we are so sensitive as people in this day and age, we are so sensitive, and there’s some really horrible hateful things that people say, but you know what? It’s just words. I can block you. Or I can send you a smiley face.
Jake: So just don’t engage with it?
Danyl: I love freedom of speech. If you don’t like something that’s fine, now that we live in a day and age where people write it down, I don’t know what that’s going to mean in the next 5-10 years for people who have done that. I think it may come back on them. I think that that may stop people from getting jobs. There are companies who want to have your codes to go and look through your Facebook. You only find that out later.
I think there’s a lot of education that needs to happen with social media, I think that the whole world is a little bit slow on it. I love social media. I love it. Like you, you must love it as well? It’s instant gratification. You put out an article and you see if people love it or hate it.
Jake: Do you know what? The bigger we’ve become, the more criticism we’ve got.
Danyl: 100%. And… they would never say it to your face, they would never say it. If they did, well done. I feel like I said, I like people’s opinion. If you can split opinions, have people that love you and people that hate you, you’re doing okay. The worst thing to ever be is to be stale and everyone is a bit indifferent. You have to have people that hate you to have people who love you. The only way it ever works.
Jake: We are living in those times. If you look at big commentators of the moment, you’ve got Katie Hopkins, we’ve got Donald Trump President Elect. Who is one of those people who can whip up a storm in a sentence, or even a Tweet sent at 3 AM in the morning.
Danyl: It’s hilarious. You can write a Tweet right now, or on your page, and you could be in the national news tonight if you wanted to. That’s the power of all of it. It’s weird because people do hang on to things. If you want to be like Katie or like Donald or anyone like that, you want to be those people, it is easy to do it, but you need to be able to fight back. You need to have the answers back as well, and these people are up there because they systematically have answers. They know what they’re saying. Right or wrong, by the way.
Jake: Okay, right. Let’s talk about the biggest pop moment for you on the show… Whitney Houston.
Jake: Obviously, she was known as a massive diva and I imagine was probably someone that you were quite keen to meet?
Danyl: Who wouldn’t?
Jake: She wasn’t a fan of your take on a song of hers, was she?
Danyl: No! I got given, “I Didn’t Know my Own Strength” which was o her latest album.
Jake: Did you choose that song or was it chosen for you?
Danyl: I had never heard of it in my entire life.
Jake: Okay, right… Did you get a sense of what the song meant to her?
Danyl: No sense of what that song was about at all. I listened to it and got a taste of it, it’s really di cult for anyone to sing a diva song. Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, any of those people, it’s really di cult to sing their songs, especially if you are male. For you to be able to do any justice to these songs, I only know, and knew in my mind, that I am not a classic singer. I am an entertainer that can hold a tune. When I get given the ballads like Whitney, it doesn’t sit naturally for me. Obviously, I try not to be too di cult and so I say, “Okay, I’ll give it a go!” They may be right and it may be a fantastic choice.
Anyway, we’re at the Dorchester [hotel] and Whitney is in the room and I’m the last of the day and kind of feel already like it’s not going to go well, so I was like, “Oh crap!” so I sang the song, and she just wasn’t impressed. In any part of it. She stopped me halfway and said, “No, that’s not how you sing it. You sing it like this.” She then sang it to me. Whitney Houston is in front of me singing me a song. People pay millions for that to happen.
Jake: Did you feel it was a bit of a stitch up?
Danyl: I felt a little bit let down and a little bit left out to dry, but it’s just a show. You have to remember with these shows, it is not about you, it’s about a TV show. As soon as you figure that out, it’s fine. You’re standing in front of a legend like that and no matter if you get on or not, it doesn’t take away every single thing she’s ever done. It doesn’t take away the fact that I’ve been in a room with her and I sang for her. She is a legend. I just wish I could have sung a different song. Obviously, it’s good TV if Whitney Houston is unimpressed.
Jake: Yeah. Another awkward moment of television history.
Danyl: That was week 2. Week 1 was Dannii, week 2 was Whitney Houston, week 3 I was in the bottom 2!
Jake: Okay, moving on from the X Factor. Who’s the person you most admire in life?
Danyl: Probably my sister. She’s always been kind of grown up, even though she’s my younger sister, she’s actually like my older sister. Don’t tell her I said that, but there’s an element of maturity and she’s always there [for me]. Even though families have disagreements and that stuff, you always come back together. She’s a great mum and even when things are tough she still pulls everything together. If I ever become a parent I would definitely take a lot from her. She’s super awesome, but an everyday person that I know and can connect with.
Jake: What age were you when you came out to your family?
Danyl: I was 17.
Jake: Did you tell your parents first? Who was the first person you told?
Danyl: Probably some boy. (Laughter) Probably my sister even though she was young. She was mature enough to just be like, “Okay”. I told her and, I have been really, really, really, lucky on that front. Friends, family, work colleagues, no one’s cared.
I have friends that haven’t come out now and they’re older and they haven’t told their parents and I’m like, “How come you haven’t told them?” They’ll be like, “We’re just not that close”. You know what? What a great way to be close, and to actually let them into your life. Even if they find it a little bit di cult, I’ve always said that if your mum or your dad told you that they were gay, would you be okay with it straight away or is it going to take you a little bit of time? You have to think about it the other way. Sometimes it can be a shock. Sometimes it’s not obvious. Especially if you are gay. You’ve got loads of girls hanging around you, you’ve got Spice Girl posters up in your room, your dad thinks you’re a stud (laughter).
Jake: How old do you think you were when you first realised you were gay?
Danyl: So young.
Danyl: 8? 9? I didn’t see too many differences between boys and girls. I remember just not fancying people much because I was way too young, but I was very tactile as a kid. I would hug everyone, from my best friends, girls, I was just a tactile person. I have been since I was born. Then, nothing happened, but in your mind, you start thinking in a slightly different way.
Jake: Was that di cult for you? That’s quite a long time, from 8 to 17 not to talk about it. Did you talk about it with friends or did you keep it inside?
Danyl: I guess I did talk about it. It’s one of those things that you grow up, and it’s not talked about, it’s just is what it is. Everyone is experimenting, especially at a younger age. There’s always outlets, and this is what’s scary now this day and age. I think you can just figure out yourself and you can do it in your own time, and now these days there are so many means. There are so many ways to be able to chat with people and people understand you, but then there’s a pressure with it. I didn’t give a crap what I looked like until I was about 16. I didn’t care. I just put on clothes and went out of the house. These kids don’t feel like that anymore.
Jake: What would a 16-year-old Danyl Johnson be like now, with selfies?
Danyl: I feel like, what we are doing is we are trying to value ourselves by how many people tag, like, share, message, all that stuff. We evaluate ourselves on that stuff. I don’t know why. If we actually say to each other, “Why are you doing that?” You would say, “I don’t know, I have no idea!” There were some days where you go, “I look okay” so I can take a little cheeky picture for Instagram, I can manipulate it as much as I want, and that’s what I look like in my profile picture today. At the same time, I do feel pressure. Beforehand, I probably wouldn’t have cared, I wouldn’t have bothered. There’s an element of still being in the public eye, there’s an element of making me feel like, “Oh he’s let himself go!”
Jake: If we do stories on the site like, “Guess what he looks like today”, people love those stories. The craziest one was Charlie Hunnam, from Queer as Folk. Obviously, it must be difficult for someone like that when they’re introduced to the public consciousness as a really young, very cute, very twinky guy and then he grows up into a man and he has some wrinkles and he has a beard, and people lose their sh*t over it.
Danyl: It automatically makes all of us feel old as well. I remember sitting in my bedroom watching Queer as Folk with the sound down and being like, “This is what my life is going to be like.” I totally binged all of that.
Danyl: I feel like I tried to be like Stuart, but I’m just sh*tty. I cannot do one night stands. I’m particularly sh*tty at doing that.
I cannot just randomly hook up with people. I have to actually know them and know their middle name, and know what school they went to and how many brothers and sisters they have. It’s just f**king stupid stuff. I think I can name every single person I’ve ever slept with. Their surname and what their dog is called. Just because I need to have a background on people. I cannot just sleep with weird people.
Jake: There’s the perception about the gay community that many of us are sex crazy. Even Robbie Williams was quoted in Attitude saying he wished he was gay because then he could have sex on tap. It sounds as though you’re not that kind of person…
Danyl: I’ll probably get in trouble for saying this, but if you are a woman you can get sex whenever you want. If you are a gay man, you can get sex whenever you want. If you’re a straight man, you can’t. It doesn’t work that way. There’s a control with it. The majority of women like to be wooed and I feel like I’m a little bit like that too, I like to be wooed. Not like presents or anything but conversation and I like it if they’re into the same things as me. That is what really gets me going. At the same time, if you do just want to have sex, and you’re gay, you can.
Jake: So you’re a relationship man?
Danyl: I’ve only just come out of a relationship myself, and not in a horrible way, we still talk, but there is a loneliness when you’re not in a relationship. I have a dog, so I bypass that a little bit because I always have company and I can get out and go for a walk.
I don’t know if I came up with this myself, maybe I didn’t. I’m a sports person. I support my local team winning. If we could treat our long-term partners like we treat a football team, we would never break up. You never stop supporting your football team. No matter if you lose 10 nil every single week for a year, you would never stop supporting them. You would be annoyed with them, you’ll be angry with them, you might not want to talk about it, but you would never stop supporting them. If we could nd out what that little bit of whatever is, and put that into relationships, we would just all be happier, I feel. Relationships are work. If people think it’s not, then they’ve never been in a proper relationship. It is work. It doesn’t have to be hard work, it’s just work. You have to put the effort in.
Jake: Are you back on the dating scene or are you taking time out for yourself?
Danyl: At this moment I’m talking to some lovely guys and I’ve been on a few dates. I am still single. It is a scary thing to jump back into the single world and it’s a scary thing because I jump in with two feet.
Jake: Obviously you know what it’s like before fame and after fame to date someone. Is it ever weird?
Danyl: I’ll tell you what is quite funny – none of them mentions it.
Danyl: None of them mentions it at all. When we go out I will probably be stopped and probably have someone say, “Oh my god what are you doing here? Oh my god can I have a picture?” Then I look at my date like, “Did you know?” They’re like, “Yeah, I knew, I just didn’t want to say anything.” I went on a few dates with an actor before I did X Factor, and I couldn’t get it into my mind being okay with all the attention on someone else. I’ve been out with some people and some of them nd it so hard to be the person that’s ignored or to be the person that has to hold the camera. It’s the hardest thing.