A fairytale story is the label usually given to Mary Byrne’s meteoric rise to fame, and for once the expression is any no way an exaggeration.
There she was, a check-out assistant at Tesco in Dublin, a 50-year-old single parent mother, who might sing at pubs at the weekend. “I’d play for friends and family,” she says, “and do a bit of karaoke. But I never did anything professionally.” Now, she bestrides the world of showbiz.
Even as she passed the bar-codes over the scanner in her Ballyfermot supermarket, Mary never lacked a sense of adventure.
So when the X Factor auditions came along, she presented herself along with thousands of others in front of Simon Cowell and his posse. Mary’s motto is – follow your dream.
“Even if you think it’s too late, still go for it,” she offers as advice to anyone embarking into the world of showbusiness. And week by week we saw Mary follow her dream in the X Factor, we watched as she grew in strength.
There were setbacks. She forgot her words once, was visibly upset onstage another time (homesick, and missing her daughter), and Simon Cowell obviously didn’t rate her.
“Simon was never that keen. But Louis Walsh was an absolute gem, always ready with advice, or just a bit of chat.”
Dark murmurings began to surface at the semi-final stage about the rules being changed to ensure that Mary did not advance to the final. She magnanimously dismissed the claims at the time, and today remains totally and utterly loyal to the show.
“It was a bonus upon a bonus upon a bonus to get as far as I did,” she says, describing the X Factor as her university degree for a career in music.
“On the X Factor I had the best people in the business giving me vocal coaching and training for the stage.
“Yvie Burnett, the show’s vocal coach, taught me how to get the best out of my voice. I’m still a belter, but today I don’t scream the songs. People tell me that there’s a lovely quality to my voice now.”
Although going out in the semi-final, Mary won the hearts of millions with her big, warm personality and powerhouse voice.
Unsurprisingly, given her warm personality, she has stayed friends with most of the contestants who were in the X Factor house that year.
“I still hear from Wagner, Rebecca, Sher …” she says. “I think they’re all doing well, earning a few bob.”
The Dublin women’s achievements are inspirational. Her first album has gone double platinum, she has performed in a sold out arena tour of Britain and Ireland with the stars of X Factor, and was guest performer at a concert in honour of Queen Elizabeth ll during the British monarch’s historic visit to Ireland last year.
Then she only landed the role of special guest artist with one of her own idols, American singing legend Neil Diamond, singing to an enthusiaastic crowd of 40,000 at Aviva Stadium, Dublin, in June last year.
While performing on the X Factor, Mary caught the attention of legendary Irish singer, songwriter, musician and producer Phil Coulter.
“He’s amazing. He’s really brought the best out in me.”
Her new album includes one of Phil’s song called, Thank God This Was My Life, which has been inspired by the story of Mary’s own life.
The album, entitled “…with Love” also includes some old favourites of Mary’s such as You Don’t Know Me and You Needed Me.
The album also features the song Scorn Not His Simplicity.
“When Phil suggested it, he told me that his favourite version of all time was by the late Luke Kelly of The Dubliners,” she says.
“He also mentioned that Sinéad O’Connor had covered it, and he loved her version too. When he then asked me to do it, I was worried that I’d never do it justice and that he wouldn’t like it.
“Well, I felt so proud when Phil came to me after my recording and said he really liked what I had done with it. He said it feels so honest, coming from a mother’s point of view.
Currently Mary is on tour in Britain with the musical Grease. “I couldn’t believe I was offered a part. I’ve never done any acting, but I seem to have taken to it like a duck to water.”
As regards the future, Mary is enthusiastic, but realistic. “I’d love to crack America, and I think it’s a possibility. I’ve been told that the Youtube clip of my X Factor audition has had over 3million hits in the US!”
It seems likely that the people of America will take Mary Byrne to their hearts, just as the Irish and the British have done. It’s partly her fairy-tale story; but that only gets you so far.
What has brought Mary to her current astounding level of success is her engaging personality, her presence on stage, her charisma, and a voice that not only hits the top notes like a laser beam, but is unlikely to be beaten in the wellie department by any other singer.
Mark my words, she’ll be probably appearing in opera at La Scala in Milan before long.
Mary Byrne’s album “…with love” will be available from March 5 through Universal Music Ireland.