George Michael: Edinburgh bound X Factor winner Joe McElderry pays tribute to iconic Wham singer
X Factor winner turned musical theatre star Joe McElderry is set to pay homage to one of the world's most iconic pop stars and one of his personal heroes at the Festival Theatre later this year, George Michael.
The 31-year-old will bring Freedom, his tribute to the late Wham front-man to Edinburgh on Monday, October 17 and reflects that it's a show that brings back memories of his time on the sixth series of ITV’s The X Factor in 2009, after he duetted with George on Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me with George Michael - a moment that has now been viewed more than seven million times on YouTube,
“To this day I still have to pinch myself that I got to sing with George,” says McElderry. “It was an absolute honour and privilege and is a memory that will remain with me forever. To now be taking the brand-new Freedom tour on the road where I will get the chance to perform and celebrate the music of this absolute legend is just fantastic. I can’t wait.”
It's clear the collaboration made a big impression on McElderry, as he remembers, “I sang Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me in around week eight of The X Factor, and it became my performance of the series. It was a massive turning point, and I topped the vote every week after. Looking back, it was the moment at which I won the show.
“When it came to the final, unknown to me, there was a lot of negotiation going on to get George on - and he eventually agreed. He was such a huge artist, he was so respected as a singer, a writer and producer, that the show were just as amazed as I was that it happened. So, I sang with George for the final of The X Factor and it was incredible.
“Even now, looking back - it’s mind blowing. I’ve done the material in concerts ever since, I’m always asked to sing Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me - it’s always been a real fan favourite.”
Celebrating George Michael’s back catalogue of Grammy award winning hits, Freedom will find McElderry performing hits such as Careless Whisper, Club Tropicana, Faith, Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me, FastLove and many more, all backed a full live band.
“It’s very much going to be me on stage, me in concert, so if you’ve enjoyed that before then please come along, it will be very ‘normal’ in that sense. It’ll still be my personality, having a chat between songs, but with a different focus on the music, and that will almost give it the feel of a show within a show,” he says.
Freedom came about after theatre producer Jamie Lambert saw McElderry in concert in London.
The singer explains, “I did a gig in London back in March 2020, the day before theatres closed for Covid-19, and Jamie was there. We were talking afterwards and he said, ‘Why not do a tour to celebrate George’s music?’ But you know what those conversations are like, you go off, carry on and they don’t often come to anything, never mind throwing a global pandemic into the mix.
“We never spoke of it again until early last year, when Jamie got in touch and said he thought it could be something very special so we started taking the idea seriously.George Michael was one of the best vocal artists of all time around the world. So when someone says do you want to sing those songs and go on tour, of course I’m going to say ‘Yes’… with bells on.”
With a back catalogue as extensive as George Michael's, deciding whhich songs to include in the show was McElderry's next challenge.
“You have conversations, write down the obvious ones and you’ve got a show, but you don’t necessarily want to do the obvious, so then it’s the tricky job of taking those out for the more obscure, and there’s definitely some sneaky fan favourites which we want to include too.
“My mum and my best friend’s uncle were massive George Michael fans, and saw him live lots, so I asked them too from his fans’ point of view. It’s going to be fantastic. These songs remind people of where they were at certain times and places of their lives, so you want to make them sing and dance along and take them back to those moments - there are a lot of powerful, emotive songs, some really heart-breaking lyrics, but then there’s also the ones which make you just want to get up and dance.
“It’s a blessing to have that music available to us and be putting it all together for a tour.”
For McElderry, that music keeps George Michael alive.
He says, “It may sound a bit odd, but I forget he’s not with us anymore because the music lives on so strongly, how can he be gone? His death was such a loss for the music industry. It is so, so sad that we’re in the position to be celebrating George’s music, without him here anymore. There’s no doubt in my mind, if George were still alive today, he would still be a major force in the music industry, still writing and producing, even if not recording and releasing music himself.”