16-Year-Old Harry Styles’ Previously Unseen ‘X Factor’ Audition Unearthed

Before there was One Direction, there was a teenage Harry Styles, who auditioned on the seventh series of UK TV singing competition The X Factor and impressed two of the three judges, including Simon Cowell. Though Styles’ a cappella rendition of Stevie Wonder’s 1976 hit “Isn’t She Lovely” is what viewers saw the young singer performing, Styles first came on stage with the Train song “Hey Soul Sister,” and the previously unseen footage of the pop star’s full audition has been released for the first time.

Videos by American Songwriter

After Styles first auditioned with the 2009 Train hit, only 16 at the time, Cowell asked to hear him sing without a track. “I don’t know whether it’s the track that’s throwing you,” said Cowell, “but can I hear something just you, without any music?” Styles then moved into the Wonder classic.

The full video, which runs more than six minutes, shows the young Styles in his pre-audition interview, joking that when anyone usually tells him he’s a good singer, it’s usually his mom. He also talked about his hometown of Holmes Chapel in Cheshire, England saying, “It’s quite boring. Nothing much happens there. It’s quite picturesque.”

When asked what experience he had, Styles said he was the singer in a band called White Eskimo at school, who won a Battle of the Bands competition a year and a half prior to his audition, which was a pivotal moment for the singer.

“Winning the battle of the bands and playing to that many people really showed me that’s what I wanted to do,” shared Styles. “I got such a thrill when I was in front of people singing. It made me want to do it more and more.”

Once on stage, Styles shared with the judges that he worked at a bakery as a server on Saturdays where the popular items were Viennese fancies and millionaire’s shortbread but white Coburg bread was not as popular. “What about donuts?” asked Cowell. Styles responded, “Oh, donuts are good.”

Styles also shared that he was going to college to study law, sociology, business, and “something else” before Cowell asked him what he was doing there.

“I always wanted to audition, but I was always too young,” said Styles. “I thought I’d give it a whirl this time.” Before singing “Sweet Soul Sister,” Styles added, “I think I could do it, but I think with your help I could be a lot better than I am.”

At the end of his audition, Styles got mixed reviews from the three judges with Louis Walsh giving him a “no” and Nicole Scherzinger and Cowell pushing the singer through the next round.

By 2010, Styles was a member of One Direction, formed after all five members—including Niall Horan, Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson, and Zayn Malik—auditioned on The X Factor as solo performers but were advised to work together as a group by Cowell, who signed them to his record label Syco Records.

“Singing is what I want to do,” said a coy Styles before his audition. “And if people who can make that happen for me, don’t think that I should be doing that then it’s a major setback in my plans.”

Photos: Lillie Eiger / Sony Music

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