As part of Bad Boys Inc. in the 1990s, Matthew James was a typical boy band heart throb, but he was also forced to hide his sexuality from his adoring fans. Now that's he's grown up, and can be open and proud about being gay, he's embraced his music again, and this Friday night, he'll be vying for a chance to represent the UK at this year's Eurovision Song Contest.
How did you come to be a finalist for representing the UK in this year’s Eurovision?
I was approached by a good friend of mine who’s in the music industry. ‘A Better Man’ had been selected as one of the final six Eurovision UK contenders. They needed a singer who could make it their own. I heard it and fell in love with it. It feels great to sing and I feel a connection to the song which I think you can hear in my vocal performance.
What can you tell us about your song 'A Better Man?' - and what we can expect from the performance?
The song is a contemporary ballad about finding ‘the one’. Someone who makes us feel alive, inspired and the best that we can be. It’s core message is love! It has a journey both lyrically and musically. From the gentle first verse into the heart pleading middle eight when I get the chance to sing my socks off. I get really excited as the song builds and it’s such a great song to sing. It feel natural and sits comfortably with my voice and sound. It’s not the easiest sing, but then I like a challenge. It has to have that big belty ‘Eurovision’ moment for me. So by the last chorus I’m channeling Whitney to blast out some big notes!
What do you think about the others entries in the competition?
There’s a great mix of music in this years competition. The BBC have really worked hard at pulling all this together and looking across the UK for great acts and great songs. I’m excited to hear everyone sing their songs on Friday at rehearsals as we’ve not seen each other perform live yet.
How do you think your chances stack up for winning the heat?
I have as much chance as any one on Friday’s show. We’re all in with a chance. It’s about people being inspired to actually pick up the phone on Friday night. 'A Better Man' is a song that people can definitely connect to people through the lyrics and the cleverly crafted melody. There’s an amazing team of writers and producers behind the song. I’ve given it my all and hopefully will do the UK proud on Friday. Then who knows I’d love to be performing it on my birthday for the UK in Sweden too!
With this new process of the public choosing the entry, do you think the UK might finally be in with a shot this year?
I think there needed to be a change with the rules and regulations and it’s good that this has been addressed. I’m a firm believer if things are meant to be then they will. I can see myself going all the way with ‘A Better Man’. You have to believe in yourself, the song and find that connection between you and the audience. We’re in with as much chance of winning as any country. I’m lucky to have a lot of friends across the world, so maybe that will help! [laughs]
What do you make of the new voting system, where the judges’ and public scores will be awarded separately?
I think it’ll make for great TV and an exciting climax to the show. There’s pros and cons with the new rules and it’s not going to appease everyone. But it’s a definitely a step in the right direction!
As a gay artist, have you got much support from the LGBT circuit?
Us LGBT folk stick together! We know how to look after our own. I’m grateful for all the support from LGBT industry people and fans alike. Eurovision fans are passionate about what they love…and also what they loathe. They’re honest and I respect that. I’m not here to please everyone with what do. I’m hear to reach out to those who feel compelled to vote on Friday because they like both the song and my performance. I am here to do my best and having the LGBT community behind me just eases the load.
Do you think being a gay artist will help or hinder you when it comes to Eurovision voting?
Eurovision has such a huge LGBT following. I have no fear as a gay performer who’s out and openly comfortable with who he is. I feel like I'd be a good ambassador for both Eurovision and the LGBT world.
You made your name as part of Bad Boys Inc. Were you out at the time, or was there any pressure not to be?
I was completely shoved back in the closet. I came out to my parents when I was 19. Friends and family knew that I was gay and I’ve only had support ever since. I was told the day I joined Bad Boys Inc that I had to keep this a secret. It feels bloody Victorian right now - I’m so glad to see progression and acceptance. We still have a long way to go. Homophobia is completely unacceptable. We are fairly lucky in this country that more and more people are supportive of friends and family who come out. I’m still horrified by the way people are treated across the globe just for being gay! Looking back I regret in some ways that myself and David were forced to hide our sexuality in Bad Boys Inc. But it’s made me stronger and more determined to make anyone feel that i’s not wrong to be who you want to be. A lot of songs that I have written address this issue and the struggle I had with myself trying to keep things a secret. There’s a demo of mine on YouTube called ‘Day By Day’ that does just that.
And finally, why should everyone be picking up the phone for you this Friday?
As I said before I do think that I would be a great ambassador for the UK this year in Sweden. I’m a huge Eurovision fan. I wanna do the UK proud and get us back on top!
You can vote for Matthew during Eurovision: You Decide, this Friday, February 26 from 7.30pm on BBC Four.
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