On the eve of the Boisdale Music Awards, Boisdale Life met up with breakthrough country music star Megan McKenna, who at the time of writing was No. 1 in the UK iTunes chart
It’s late afternoon in Boisdale of Canary Wharf and under normal circumstances, a quieter moment on the restaurant floor, but not today, the place is humming. Rehearsals are in full swing for the Boisdale annual Music Awards. The flamboyant Earl Jackson has just finished his sound check, Alexander Armstrong is striding towards the stage, as the glamorous Rebecca Ferguson swaps notes with Jools Holland and Imelda May in the wings. Plenty of potential interviewees for Boisdale Life magazine one might think, but it’s the diminutive ‘Boisdale Newcomer of the Year’, I have arranged to meet today.
Her name is Megan McKenna and her newly released singles, ‘High Heeled Shoes’ and ‘Far Cry from Love’, sit respectively at number one and number two in the iTunes chart. Megan is truly a post-reality-TV star, epitomizing a cultural shift in the path taken to achieve commercial success, in todays’ entertainment industry. If you want proof that the rules have changed for millennials, take a quick look at her CV.
In 2015, she appeared on the reality TV program ‘Ex on the Beach’, followed by ‘The Only Way is Essex’ and last year ‘Celebrity Big Brother’. Whereas once the doors of Celebrity Big Brother were opened wide to musicians who had previously held fame (think of all those 80’s popstars getting things off their chests in the Diary room), Megan McKenna is the first to have transitioned the other way. Frankly it’s unprecedented. Just let this sink in; Megan McKenna knocked global superstar Taylor Swift into third place in the charts! Megan is the first, but she won’t be the last.
I asked Megan how she accomplished this feat and more importantly, was she surprised? “I didn’t believe it at first; I didn’t think it was real! I thought I had a good following from my fan base but didn’t expect to be that high in the chart. It’s such a nice feeling to know I have that support.” I’d argue Megan has quantifiable support in spades and here are the numbers to corroborate it; 300,000 Facebook followers, 618,000 followers on Twitter and a whopping, 2million followers on Instagram. Indeed, Megan posts a picture on Instagram as we interview… cue 53,284 people clicking that heart emoji.
That level of support does not materialize overnight and many fans of Megan will recall her 2009 appearance on Britain’s Got Talent aged just sixteen. I asked her to explain why the singing career had an eight year hiatus? “I’ve always been singing and I trained in musical theatre. I never actually wanted to go down the reality route, that wasn’t my plan. When I was 22 I got contacted on twitter by an MTV scouter, who wanted new people for a reality TV show. I was in a bit of rough place with myself; I had a crappy job and had just come out of a long term relationship. So I thought to myself, I’m just going to do it. I went to Mexico and filmed for a month and when I got back my life had turned upside down.” So reality TV has been good to you? “Yes, from doing that I got Big Brother and TOWIE and it all picked up from there. Some people ask me if I regret going on reality TV. I definitely regret some of the things I’ve said! When I google myself, sometimes it’s not the nicest thing to see. But everything happens for a reason and without reality TV I might still be in the estate agent job.”
Megan recently appeared in an ITVBe program, called ‘There’s something about Megan’. More specifically, she travelled to Nashville, Tennessee, to cut her teeth performing in the home of country music. I wondered why Megan had chosen country music in the first place and began a quick-fire Boisdale Life ‘musical questions’ round. “My mum loves country music and from a young age I used to do auditions, where afterwards people would tell me my voice was very country.” What about Elvis, are you fan (NB. Regular readers of Boisdale Life will know we have a penchant for Elvis). “I’m not joking… people say I look like Elvis! When I see pictures of him I see a resemblance, maybe Elvis is in my genes.” Are there categories of music you don’t like? “Hip-Hop and if I’m on a night out R&B, I find it very hard to dance to it, it’s not really my style.” What about Taylor Swift? “I’m an old Taylor Swift fan; I like her old stuff, like ‘Teardrops on my Guitar’ and ‘Our Song’, that’s proper country.” Finally, who would you like to most duet with? “Carrie Underwood, she’s my idol, I love her sound, the way she is, I love to sing her songs.” Is it on the cards? “I wish!”
I wanted to return to the question of celebrity. No doubt Megan is a savvy brand-builder; just to get your own show commissioned is no mean feat and whatever you think of reality TV, Megan has used this as a platform to prompt bona fide chart success, which should be applauded. I wondered if Megan liked being famous, after all it’s the currency she trades in? “Ninety percent, yes, but there is that small percentage, where if I do the tiniest thing wrong, I get abuse. I might say something in the wrong way and my twitter explodes. Oh my god, am I not allowed to make a mistake? I try not to read it and actually since I’ve been doing music, it’s all been very positive.”
We end the interview on food and drink, it’s Boisdale after all. I ask Megan if we’ll see her on Celebrity Masterchef anytime soon? “Well, I love home cooked food, I make a really good Thai red curry, or a good Lamb shank in red wine sauce.” So Megan’s in the kitchen cooking a curry, who does she invite to dinner that night? “Jonathan Cheban, because he’s a food critic and he’d put all my food on his snapchat! My best mates Maddie and Amber would come, let’s invite Elvis why not, and Pia Mia, I love her and she’s friends with Jonathan, so he’d have someone to talk to. Also Miley Cyrus, Liam Hemsworth and Pete my boyfriend.”
I admit I had to google some of these dinner guests afterwards and if I’m really honest, I had to google Megan before we met! In the same way Megan enjoys Taylor Swifts ‘old’ work, I think I definitely prefer Megan’s ‘new’ work. There was a great moment at the Boisdale Music Awards when Megan met fellow country music singer Catherine McGrath, who indeed helped pen Megan’s single, ‘High Heeled Shoes’. The song was produced by Nick Southwood, who had this to say of Megan, “I think Megan is one of the most technically gifted singers I’ve worked with, she has a lovely tone, coupled with the ability to connect emotionally with her songs and tell a story. She is an exciting talent.” After watching her perform, I agree – Megan is the real deal when it comes to singing – she produced the standout performance of the night, amongst some excellent company. On that note, I’ll end with one final observation of my time with Megan… she’s utterly charming.