Little Mix say they could've done with more support & will give it to artists on new talent show in dig at Simon Cowell

THEY found fame on The X Factor but this Saturday, Little Mix reignite their feud with old boss Simon Cowell by launching their own rival to his talent shows – and insist it will be kinder to contestants.

Perrie Edwards, Leigh-Anne Pinnock, Jesy Nelson and Jade Thirlwall, who were crowned X Factor winners in 2011, will judge BBC1 contest Little Mix: The Search themselves and promise it will be a world away from the ITV ratings giant.

Hosted by comedian and Strictly Come Dancing star Chris Ramsey, it will see wannabes audition in front of the girl-band panel then get put into bands who will battle it out to be crowned champions.

The winners also claim the coveted prize of supporting Little Mix on their Confetti tour next year.

But Perrie, Leigh-Anne, Jesy and Jade believe they have a major advantage over X Factor guru Simon — whose Syco label they joined after that show — because they know the terror of auditioning and can try to put the wannabes at ease.

In a subtle dig at Simon, Jade says: “We’ve lived it so we know exactly how it feels to be on this kind of show.

“We’re sitting there knowing how they feel and trying to make sure they are in an environment where they feel fully supported. That’s what’s different. We’ve learned a lot over the years from our ­experience — about how we would like this show to be run.

‘A No doesn’t mean its over completely’

“The key is how authentic it is. I’d like to think, when people watch the show, they can see how natural it is — the four of us just having a laugh and using our platform to help somebody else.”

Perrie adds: “We’ve never seen anything like this before. It’s fresh, it’s different and it’s current. It’s just fun.”

Little Mix will also mentor the winning band and help them find the right management and label rather than be forced into a deal.

But The Search may not be fun viewing for Simon — from whose label Little Mix split in 2018 amid creative differences.

The girls had been so crucial to Syco that, less than two years after they left, it shut down.

After The Sun told last October how the girls had signed a deal to make their new series, Simon rushed out rival show X Factor: The Band — claiming he had come up with the concept first.

It was a ratings disaster but Little Mix — now one of the most successful girl groups ever, with more than 50million records sold worldwide — want their programme to be a much nicer experience for everyone involved.

Following the deaths of several people who have struggled after appearing on reality TV, contestants on The Search will get aftercare following their auditions.

Reflecting on Little Mix’s own journey, Jade says: “We could have benefited from a bit more support along the way.

“It was really important for us to make sure that our contestants had that in place. It’s essential.

“That’s the difference between somebody not wanting to get on stage again because they feel like they’re not good enough, or them thinking, ‘Actually, I’ve had an amazing experience and these people still believe in me, even though I might not have made it this time.’

“It means the world to someone to show them a ‘no’ doesn’t mean it’s all over. So it was important for us to make sure the contestants are looked after, whether they get through or not.

“Our team call them up for a while after they’ve been on the show — call in on them, see how they’re doing — and we will support everyone who’s been on because we’ve been through a similar experience.

‘We’ve had so much fun doing the show’

“We wanted it to be that, when they walked into that audition room it felt as comfortable as possible.”

Jade says: “We’re big touring artists so to have the opportunity to support us on tour is massive and I hope we really help elevate their career.

“We’ll also be with them every step of the way after the show. We’ll help them find management and a label. We want to make sure whoever wins the show really has a choice in how they want to be managed.”

But the fact Little Mix have been in the contestants’ shoes has made the saying ‘No’ to youngsters at audition all the more excruciating.

Leigh-Anne says: “At the beginning, I’ve got to be honest, I really didn’t feel I should be doing this because I felt my emotions taking over.

"But the more I did it, the more I sort of had to build that shield, that thick skin I guess, and not take it home and let it fester in my mind. It’s the saying ‘no’ — that’s what was really hard because we’ve been in their shoes and had no’s.

"When you want something so much and all you want is your dream to come true and someone says ‘no’ . . .

“Even though we know they have potential, maybe they are just not ready at that time — and we’ve handled it so well, giving constructive criticism. It can be heartbreaking.”

Asked if rejecting certain contestants still haunted her, Leigh-Anne says: “Yeah, but you have to keep thinking, ‘They don’t just come and audition and it’s completely over’.

“They get regular care and advice from us, and hopefully they’ve had an amazing experience."During their nine years as a group, Little Mix have scored four No1 singles, performed six headline tours and released five Top Five albums — with their sixth record, Confetti, due out on November 6.

They also have real staying power, unlike countless other pop groups who have been torn apart over the years by internal bickering.

'Quite a few divides'

Impressively, they have become close friends — despite never having met each other before The X Factor auditions. But when it came to hearing hopefuls on The Search, cracks started to show as the girls fell out over contestants.

Perrie says: “I am shooketh (shocked) about how much we disagreed. Like, I wasn’t expecting the disagreements and it to be split — two people loved someone and two people not, or one person to be on the fence.

“I just thought we’d be in sync, like we always are. But we were looking at each other and I couldn’t read Jesy’s face. I was looking across to the other girls and I couldn’t read Jesy and I was, like, ‘I can always read you, what are you thinking?’ It was weird, the dynamic is not what I expected.”

Jade says: “I remember there was one audition with me and Leigh, there was a guy that we were both really passionate about and he didn’t get through and the rest of the day I was fuming. No, the rest of the week we were fuming,” Leigh-Anne interrupts. “It’s so hard. There were quite a few divides, to be honest, which I don’t think we expected.

“But we are all different people — it was always going to happen. I just feel like it’s so hard to hide your frustration. When I’m watching it back, I can see my face is so angry.”

But while the girls could not always agree on the contestants, they were in tune with each other when it came to how they reacted when they did like someone.

This was something they only realised when they watched the audition footage later. Jesy laughs: “It’s funny when you watch the show, it becomes very clear that we had certain facial expressions that we pull when we like someone or we don’t like someone.

"We all do the same thing, it’s mad, and I don’t know if it’s because we’ve been together and we’re so in sync as a group that we’ve just become one person. It’s so funny to watch.

“When we like someone, we all lean forward. When we’re not sure about someone, we all look at each other’s faces to see what they’re thinking. We all bring something completely different to the table and that’s why it’s entertaining and that’s why it’s different.”

To promote the new show, the girls have shot a video recreating famous BBC moments — including taking it in turns to enact the EastEnders’ “You’re not my mother!”, “Yes I am!” slanging match between Zoe and Kat Slater.

And despite the on-screen disagreements, drama and a bit of despair for the failed contestants, Perrie insists the show will be worth the wait — it was originally due to air in the spring but was delayed by the pandemic and lockdown.

She says: “It was an emotional rollercoaster, something different than we’ve ever done before.

“I think we all just loved it so much.

“We had so much fun. It was nice to be on a different side of things, because we’ve obviously been in the position they’re in.

“It was nice to be in the judging role and the mentor role and just be there to find the next big group. It’s just epic.

“Who’d have thought, nine years ago, we’d be sat here doing this?”

  •  Little Mix: The Search starts on BBC1 this Saturday at 7pm.

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