Appearing in Hairspray is quite ironic for Marcus Collins. The 24-year-old singer has had a Top 10 album, toured the country and was the runner-up to Little Mix in the 2011 X Factor.
But before all that, Marcus was a hairdresser.
There’s not a musical around the world that’s better known for its love of big hair and hairspray, and the young Liverpudlian stars in it when it reaches the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, on Tuesday next week.
Running until April 20, he’s playing the part of Seaweed Stubbs. Picking up the phone, you can’t avoid his thick Scouse accent as he talks excitedly about the tour.
He says: ‘I’m enjoying it so much. Sometimes it’s difficult travelling around, but I’d rather be doing this than anything else. I’m very lucky that I have such a great job.’
Marcus very nearly won one of the biggest TV talent shows on the planet in 2011 and beat more than 200,000 hopefuls to the final. But his first interest was always musical theatre: ‘I took part in musicals when I was younger and it was always an interest of mine, but I was convinced that singing was enough me.
‘Then, as I grew up, I realised that everyone can be everything they want to be. It’s brilliant really. Being in Hairspray has pushed me to do more and give myself another discipline.’
He adds: ‘I need to learn how to dance, sing and act, as any good performer has the triple threat. Acting like this really is fantastic.’
Early last year Marcus released his first self-titled album which rocketed into the charts in the Top 10, and he still loves that side of his job. But being offered the role of Seaweed in Hairspray felt like an obvious choice.
He adds: ‘It was something I hadn’t done really. Part of the appeal of Hairspray was that I used to be a hairdresser too. I get a bit of a kick over that because I’m actually up here doing it.
‘I love working and the people I work with, it’s brilliant. I love that we get to perform every night. We’ve had standing ovations and everyone just feels it. We’ve just happy to be doing it, we really are.’
Marcus stars in the iconic production alongside stage and screen star Mark Benton as Edna Turnblad, while EastEnders actress Lucy Benjamin plays Velma Von Tussle.
The musical itself is all about overcoming prejudice in 1962 Baltimore: ‘There’s a lot of prejudice and black people can’t sit next to white people. It’s realistic because it was like that then.
‘Seaweed is the main black guy who is basically one of the coolest in the school and his mother runs Negro Day on the Corny Collin’s Show, which is the X Factor of the 1960s Baltimore.
‘It’s predominately white people but his mother instils her belief of equality in him. He’s a frontrunner for integration.’
Marcus, as Seaweed, goes on to meet Tracy Turnblad, who soon turns the small town upside down when he teaches her some dance moves and she performs them on TV.
For Marcus, travelling across the UK with the cast is half the fun, as he explains: ‘Everyone is like family to me at the minute. We’ve gone out with other casts from other shows for different nights out, and we’ve had a few drinks, but there is no-one quite like this.
‘I can’t really explain it. We look after each other and we’re close, which helps. I think it shows and helps the show move along. When we’re not supposed to be rehearsing we find ourselves going over scenes and trying out new ideas to the director.’
Without spending his teenage years in musicals, Marcus believes he would have struggled to audition for the X Factor, the show that made him famous.
He explains: ‘You have to learn to have confidence in your craft and in performing. It was important for me to start in musicals I think.’
But Marcus knows that without the X Factor he wouldn’t be doing the job he loves so much: ‘People who voted on the X Factor accepted me, and, even though I came second, really believed in me. I wouldn’t be here without it, I would just be where a lot of other aspiring singers are.’
Many of the stars who leave the show end up with big careers after, and the acts who come second normally do just as well as the winners. But Marcus just sees it as a life changing experience.
He says: ‘The X Factor was stressful, fun and eye opening. I wouldn’t change it for anything though and it was a fantastic time.
‘Performing in front of 100 people and a couple of cameras is very different to performing in packed out theatres. But I started out in musicals really, so I imagine I will finish with them too.’
And after appearing in the series, Marcus brought out his first album in record time: ‘I didn’t think I was capable of working so fast!
‘We recorded the album so quickly, but I was so happy with it. I’m still working and hopefully will release another album at the end of this year or the next.’
It seems that the next year may well be as busy as the last, as Marcus has many plans in the pipeline.
He explains: ‘I’m opening up my own salon in Liverpool which I’m really excited about.
‘I’m also hoping to spend some time with my family after the tour finishes and maybe do another show.’
Marcus adds: ‘I want to get going on my new album too and have it released at the end of this year or maybe the start of the next.
‘The crazy thing is, it feels like there’s so many opportunities for me.
‘I’m really lucky and I feel very blessed to have had so many people who have helped get me where I am.’
· Marcus Collins is starring as Seaweed Stubbs in Hairspray at the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, from Tuesday until April 20. Tickets cost £20 to £45 on (023) 8071 18811 or go to mayflower.org.uk.