With a classic rags-to-riches talent contest fairy tale ending, Scottish jazz singer Leon Jackson surprised audiences across the U.K. by becoming the fourth winner of the hugely popular The X Factor. Born in Whitburn, West Lothian, in 1988, Jackson was brought up by his single mother and worked as a Gap clothing store sales assistant before his meteoric rise to fame. Astonishingly, he only discovered he could sing at the age of 18, after friends entered him in a karaoke competition. Inspired by contemporary jazz, and in particular Michael Bublé, Leon began practicing daily, and just months before he was due to start an architectural technology course at Napier University, he applied for ITV's The X-Factor. After getting through both the audition stage in Glasgow and the "boot camp" stage in London, Jackson traveled to Ibiza, where he was chosen by his mentor, Dannii Minogue, to compete in the live finals.
After a shaky first show, in which Simon Cowell argued he'd taken the place of somebody more talented, he quickly found his feet and soon emerged as one of the dark horses of the competition. Defying both the bookies and Cowell himself, he made it through to the final where he performed a duet with Kylie Minogue on a swing-style interpretation of "Better the Devil You Know." With nearly 60 percent of the vote, he triumphed over the favorite, Rhydian Roberts, and won a million-pound recording contract with Syco Music/Sony BMG. His debut single, "When You Believe," a cover of the Mariah Carey/Whitney Houston 1999 Oscar winning duet, became the Christmas number one and eventually sold over 400,000 copies. Like Leona Lewis before him, Simon Cowell decided against rush-releasing a debut album and it was a full nine months before his next single, "Don't Call This Love," written by Chris Braide and Carl Falk, was given its premiere. His debut album, Right Now, was released in October 2008. ~ Jon O'Brien