Marcus Collins has been busy recording his debut album, which will be released next month. As he gears up for the forthcoming X Factor tour, the talent show runner-up tells Andy Welch why he's happier than ever and can't wait for people to hear his music.
This time last year, Marcus Collins was a hairdresser in Liverpool.
A hairdresser with a great voice and a certain star quality, perhaps, but nevertheless he wasn't fulfilling any of his dreams.
His 'journey', to use the correct X Factor terminology, hadn't yet begun.
Today, he's sitting in the office of his record label with his debut album ready to be released, making his way through a long list of promotional activities.
"I'm settling into it now," he says, chirpily. "At first, during the first few weeks of X Factor, all the interviews were so intense and journalists were always trying to trip me up. That seems to have stopped now, and interviews and TV things don't frighten me as much any more."
The relaxed way in which he conducts himself does point to someone comfortable with what he's doing, and it's a relief to discover the likeable, easy-going nature he displayed each week on the ITV talent show was no act.
This isn't his first stab at stardom. He joined boyband Eton Road, themselves a product of X Factor, in 2007, after they'd appeared on TV, but left after just 10 months.
"What I hoped would happen didn't, and we didn't have a great team around us by the time I joined," he says. "The well was running dry, and I had to decide to either jump and swim on my own, or go down with this sinking ship."
He opted for the former, and got by doing some songwriting with a producer friend (one was recorded by X Factor judge Tulisa, although she didn't know who he was until he told her), studying music at Southport College and cutting hair.
On to X Factor 2011, and Collins gave it one last chance. He seems to have packed a lot into his 23 years.
The Liverpool lad, who's sporting his trademark moustache and slick black quiff, hoped he would do well in the singing competition, although it wasn't until the third week of live shows that he "got into the swing of things".
"That was Rock Week, when I did Are You Gonna Go My Way?, with a massive production and energetic dancing."
Until that point, he admits his confidence had swelled and plummeted again depending on the judges' comments, leaving him feeling unsure about his talent.
"My mum pleaded with me not to audition again," he says. "The 2011 competition was the third time I'd tried, and I was so devastated the time before. I don't think she wanted me to face that again.
"But three seems to be my lucky number," he continues, smiling. "Third year of auditions and I got through, and things came together on week three. I passed my driving test on my third attempt as well. It's a good number for me I think."
Despite his mum's best advice - the pair are very close - he did decide to audition, and went a step further than he'd been on his two previous attempts, where he'd been rejected just before being allowed to sing before the judges.
Once through the initial rounds and past Boot Camp, Collins, along with the infamous Frankie Cocozza and fellow Scousers Craig Colton and James Michael, was picked by mentor Gary Barlow and glamorous assistant Robbie Williams to go forward to the live show.
It's clear that he and Barlow struck up a close friendship during their time working together. While certain mentors give the impression they wouldn't be able to remember most contestants' names once the cameras have stopped rolling, Collins is in regular contact with Barlow and gets regular advice from him.
"It was pretty odd the first time he came round for tea," he says. "Gary kept quizzing all my family, trying to get the gossip, but there isn't really any. Then him and my nan sat talking for hours. They could talk a glass eye to sleep, them two.
"Gary's a man of his word, though, and when he says he wants to help me with my career, he means it. You only have to look at all the charity work he's done to see that he'll go the extra mile to help people. I can learn a lot from him."
Perhaps the most steep learning curve for Collins so far has been the reaction to his debut single.
A cover of the White Stripes' Seven Nation Army, some music fans haven't taken to the idea of a beloved indie anthem being covered by an X Factor contestant.
"I've had plenty of abuse from White Stripes fans, believe you me," he says, clearly taking it with a pinch of salt. "I've quickly learned I can't please everyone, and a lot of people have got a lot of opinions on the song, shall we say.
"I like it, my friends and family love it, the people here at my record label love it, and if people don't like the version that's being released, there are plenty of other versions they can listen to instead - we've done a dubstep remix and some others.
"And, you know, if they hate my version so much, they can always listen to the original White Stripes version. Why are they listening to me if they don't like it? My covering the song doesn't detract from the White Stripes.
"And why are people kicking off about it now? That song came out in March 2003."
Rehearsals for the X Factor tour start next week, and Collins can't wait to perform in front of thousands of people. Having been in choirs and vocal groups since he was seven or eight, the huge crowds have been a long time coming.
"I've wanted this for so long, so I can't believe how quickly it's all gone," he says. "I started writing songs for my album the day after X Factor finished in December, I just couldn't think where the previous nine months had gone. I first auditioned in Liverpool in March.
"It's a really quick turnaround, having the album ready to go already, but I didn't want to sit around waiting for ages, spending a year in the studio.
"The first song I wrote for the record is called Don't Surrender, and I think that sums everything up perfectly. When I left Eton Road, I had to have the belief to go on, regardless of how many times I heard 'No'.
"Being a singer is all I've ever wanted to do, and I wasn't going to let a few rejections stop me."
Extra time - Marcus Collins :: Marcus Collins attended Sacred Heart School in Crosby, Merseyside.
:: While there, the school recorded a fundraising album, on which Marcus sang a cover of Sinead O'Connor's Nothing Compares 2 U.
:: His forthcoming album features a number of songs written and produced with Gary Barlow.
:: He didn't want to wait a year to record his album as he feared people would have forgotten about him.
:: He still lives in Liverpool, and plans to move to London this year, although he's worried he'll miss home too much.