AS singer Storm Lee trudged off the X Factor with Simon Cowell’s sneering comments ringing in his ears, it could well have signalled the beginning of the end of his musical career.
But the Edinburgh-born rocker – dumped from the talent show two years ago – has had the last laugh: singing with one of the world’s biggest stars in a Hollywood blockbuster film.
In the ultimate career U-turn, the reality show reject was called up to record alongside Tom Cruise in his new musical movie, Rock of Ages.
Storm, 39, real name Lee Gardner, recorded three songs with the star at a Hollywood recording studio. And while his vocal performance got a thumbs down from the British public during the X Factor live finals, movie producers liked him so much he ended up performing on 16 of the movie’s 19 tracks.
Ironically, one of the film’s highlights is a song he performed on X Factor – We Built This City on Rock and Roll – which at the time prompted Simon Cowell to brand him “someone who has failed to become a rock star”.
Today Storm, an ex-Evening News paper boy, insisted he‘d put the X Factor behind him: “Don’t let anyone tell you because you didn’t win X Factor you can’t have a great career,” he said, speaking from his home in Los Angeles.
“Words cannot describe how epic this project was to work on. I got to meet Tom Cruise when he came to the studio.
“He was so enthusiastic, it was amazing.”
Storm left Edinburgh aged 16 with just a rucksack and a one-way ticket to New York, where he hoped to find fame. He ended up searching in the gutter of Fifth Avenue for loose change, washing dishes for cash and living in an insect infested hostel with down-and-outs.
Eventually he made a career as a backing singer working with and meeting superstars including Dionne Warwick, Annie Lennox, Debbie Harry and Meatloaf. At one point he was nominated for a Latin Grammy for a song he wrote, and he joined the behind-the-scenes performers on hit TV show Glee.
He entered X Factor in 2010 in the hope of establishing a UK career so he could return home to Edinburgh.
However, his dream was shattered after his mentor Louis Walsh and the show’s stylists insisted on him wearing a series of lavish “glam rock” style outfits, sparkly make-up and brightly coloured hairstyles – resulting in a string of derisory comments from Cowell.
The experience, he said, left him so emotionally bruised that he nearly fluffed his audition for the Rock of Ages producers.
“My self-esteem had taken a battering,” he said. “I came back to LA after the X Factor feeling quite dishevelled by the whole thing. I had been through the wringer, told that as people hadn’t voted for me that my career was over.
“When I got a call for the audition, I didn’t know what it was for. I remember sitting outside the studio before it thinking that I didn’t want to be judged any more, I didn’t want to go back into a room with people tearing me apart, telling me my clothes were wrong, my hair wasn’t right, I’m too old.
“I went in and sang a few songs, then they asked me to sing We Built This City on Rock and Roll and I started to sweat because it has such bad connotations for me.
“Then they said to sing in an angry way, as that’s how it’s sung in the film, so I did and I got the job.”
In the movie, which stars Cruise as decadent rock star Stacee Jaxx and Mary J Bilge as a club boss, the song is belted out by Russell Brand and Catherine Zeta Jones in a street protest face-off.