Singer and actress Lucie Jones discusses Rent and Eurovision with Viv Hardwick and tries to avoid the haunting subject of nil points in the Ukraine

FORMER X Factor contestant Lucie Jones has certainly paid her dues as a performer over the past seven years and now has the double whammy of the hit touring musical Rent heading to York and the fate of the UK’s latest Eurovision Song Contest on her shoulders.

Eurovision seems the most popular starting point, particularly with the Ukranian hosts currently embroiled in a row with the organisers over banning Russia’s wheelchair-using singer Yuliya Samoilova, because she visited the annexed territory of Crimea, and the Brexit decision hardly enhancing our reputation with song contest voters.

Loading article content

Asked if she worried about a backlash worse than recent poor UK results, on Saturday, May 13, Jones says: “No, it’s a competition that’s all about music and unity and I’m going to go along and sing Never Give Up On You and give it my absolutely best shot. We will see what happens this year. I’m going to hope for the best.”

Jones, who finished eighth in X Factor in 2009 behind North-East star Joe McElderry, says she fell in love with the Eurovision song offered to her, which was written by The Treatment, the 2013 Danish winner of the contest Emmelie de Forest and Lawrie Martin.

“Singing in the Ukraine will be the highlight of my career. I’ve been rehearsing since my song was chosen in January and I’ll have more rehearsals when I get to the Ukraine. Then there is a lot of work to do for the performance and a lot of people to meet. I’m aware that I’m going to be singing this song a lot of times and, fingers crossed, I have every chance of a chart hit,” says Jones, who can’t reveal anything about her backing singers and stage performance just yet.

“I’m not supposed to tell anyone anything about it for now. I will definitely get some say in the costume that I’m wearing on the night. I need everything to be going my way and to feel comfortable. We’ve revamped the song since I performed it in January and we’ve released a music video and changed things again. Emmelie de Forest is the writer and she’s a previous winner and that appears to be a good omen. I haven’t talked to her much about it, but we’ve been focusing on performing the song naturally. It was a complete shock when my song was chosen. I didn’t expect to win. Now I need the next shock to be a top ten placing,” says Jones.

By complete coincidence, her current project Rent – based on Giacomo Puccini’s opera La Boheme – with its 1990s rock musical exploration of an impoverished New York arts community under the shadow of HIV/Aids may also attract fans of Eurovision, which has long had a strong gay following.

“I realise there are links, but I’m a performer and it doesn’t really matter if it’s a musical or Eurovision. My agent sent for an audition and I was lucky enough to get the part. Now I find myself on tour after a sell-out season at the St James’ Theatre in London. It’s been well-received,” says Jones who plays Maureen Johnson, a bisexual performance artist.

“I think my character is bonkers and great fun to play and I have a real laugh. We did a lot of research into beat poetry and that’s where her background lies and the piece that I do in the show, called Over The Moon, and I treat that as a performance piece and it’s different every night. It’s never the same and I never know what’s going to happen when I’m singing that song,” she says.

Twenty years on from the enormous impact of the late Jonathan Larson’s Broadway hit, why does Jones feel that Rent still has a message today? “I think it’s more relevant than ever, particularly with everything that’s going on the world. The music could have been written yesterday, it’s so contemporary. We’ve had a standing ovation every night and there have been people in tears at the end of nearly every show,” she says.

With the show featuring the life destructive nature of Aids, Jones’ character is one of the few to survive to the final scenes. “I think that people are still worried about Aids, but there is more education about it now because of shows like Rent. It has been brought to the forefront, partly because of people like Princess Diana and there were so many campaigns and charities which dealt with the subject. It’s nowhere as big as epidemic as something like cancer. There were fears that it would be the obliteration of millions of people, and it’s nowhere near that any more thanks to all the research. We have gained a lot of compliments on how we handle the subject in this show,” says Jones.

Having played Elle Woods in Legally Blonde at Leicester’s Curve Theatre, Molly in the tour of Ghost, Victoria in American Psycho, Meatloaf in We Will Rock You, plus Cosette in the West End’s Les Miserables, Jones is aware that Rent is quite a departure in terms of challenges. “I did research to find out about what life was like in New York at that time and what it was to be a struggling artist and living with Aids. I learnt old-school performance pieces and spoke to Jonathan Larson’s dad and got some advice about my character. I really went for this one big-time.”

Is she uncomfortable at all with her X Factor tag? “I don’t mind at all. It gave me the start that I needed and got my career going. I’m definitely where I am because of X Factor. I had a great experience, but I know everyone has different ones on X Factor and I thank the show for what happened to me. After I did the tour and, during that time, I met my agent and was asked to audition for Les Mis… so, maybe it was better not to be the winner,” she jokes.

  • Rent runs Tuesday, April 18 to Saturday, April 22, at York Theatre Royal. Box Office: 01904-623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk