PROFILE: James Arthur’s Nearly “Impossible” Trek To America

He's got the hit Factor.

He’s got the hit Factor.

James Arthur‘s life has changed significantly in the past few months. The 25-year-old born in Middlesbrough, England was in and out of bands and projects for most of his teens before deciding to tryout for the U.K. version of The X Factor. He was picked up by mentor Nicole Scherzinger, formerly of Eden’s Crush and the Pussycat Dolls, and he won the competition, beating another member of Scherzinger’s team, Jahméne Douglas. This was back on December 9 of last year. It was only just the beginning.

As in any singing competition, Arthur had a winning single to record, which for that season of the show was a remake of Shontelle‘s “Impossible”, which made her a hit in the U.S. for a hot minute before disappearing off the radar. It just missed the top ten on the Hot 100, though it crept in there on the Singles Chart in the United Kingdom, so it was already recognizable to most people before this new cover came out. Arthur’s version of the song was made for download almost immediately after his win on the show. No surprise there. It shot straight to #1 in countries like Ireland and Scotland, and spent three non-consecutive weeks at #1 in the United Kingdom with first week sales of 490,000 copies. It has since become the largest-selling winner’s single in the history of the show, with download sales over 1.3 million copies in that country alone. “Impossible” is also currently a Platinum-certified hit in Australia, where it recently peaked at #2 on the ARIA Singles Chart. (It’s top 5 on iTunes there currently.) It’s been great for the franchise, but it’s also been great for the singer himself. He’ll be putting out a followup single in Europe in May, no title determined yet. However, he’s not quite done with his first smash… yet.

There are now signs that James Arthur‘s hit overseas may be impacting North America this summer. The song is already being pushed to adult contemporary radio in Canada. It’s been added to four stations in Montreal and one in Ottawa in the past few weeks. Weekly detections currently put it just below the top 50 on Canada’s AC format chart with about 40 spins in the past seven days. This is small compared to the dozens of other current songs that are played on radio there every week. However, it’s a start, and an important one at that. A lot of Canadian releases that originate from overseas tend to make their way into the United States at some point or another. What I’m saying is, prepare yourselves. We may have another round of “Impossible” playing on our airwaves here in the next few months.

Should he successfully make it over here, he would only be the third X Factor winner to break the American market. We had Leona Lewis several years ago of “Bleeding Love” fame, a number-one hit back in 2008, but she’s been long gone from our shores after her second album was a dud. We now have Little Mix‘s “Wings” at our CHR format and it’s picking up a bit of steam, so perhaps they’ll be able to go ever higher. These two are, of course, in addition to the many finalists from that show who have come the United States. Some became big, like Cher Lloyd, Olly Murs and One Direction. Others faltered, like JLS and Rebecca Ferguson. Point is, it can go either way with these kinds of artists, but with the hype he currently has from the U.K., I’m guessing his label thinks that he could do pretty well here. I agree.

While it’s odd to hear an already popular and commercial song switch perspectives from female to male, Arthur has a good take on the song. His raspy and rough vocal make it an emotional experience, which is dramatized just enough without being too sappy. The arrangement itself is also augmented into a pop/rock feel, which does well against Arthur’s more soulful tone. It’s not dated in any particular way, it’s just pleasant. There will likely better songs on his album, but Arthur does all he can with his version of the song to turn it into a full-fledged power ballad that is honest and pure to the core. With slower songs doing well at the moment, it’s best to strike when the iron’s hot, and James Arthur is still boiling at the moment. Hopefully that’s the one thing that will make this trip to America a little less “impossible” and a lot more plausible.

Buy the music video for “Impossible”. (U.S. only – only the video is available here.)

Who will be the next X Factor finalist or winner from the United Kingdom to make it across the pond? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter: @AdamFSoybel.

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