Little Mix say they insisted on aftercare for contestants on their reality show, after seeing how the music industry treats young artists.
“We didn’t have that, really, on the show that we came from,” says Leigh-Anne Pinnock, referring to the band’s tenure on The X Factor.
“We want to make sure that they’re looked after properly and support them,” adds Jade Thirlwall.
The band have been open about the effects of fame on their mental health.
Nelson authored an award-winning documentary last year, explaining how cyber-bullies who criticised her weight and appearance chipped away at her self-confidence, leading to a failed suicide attempt.
Pinnock recently opened up about her personal experiences of racism within the music industry, while Perrie Edwards has revealed she struggled with anxiety and panic attacks.
Speaking to the Radio Times earlier this week, the band said they were essentially left to cope on their own after winning the eighth series of The X Factor in 2011.
“You do get thrown into it without a second to think about anything, which can be a lot to deal with,” Nelson told the magazine.
“We never had anyone checking on us to see how we were doing mentally, it was all just go, go, go. I personally don’t feel like there was anyone who cared.”
“When we won, we weren’t even allowed to spend time with our families to celebrate,” Pinnock added.
“There’s a lot more awareness now about mental health, but people still just see the pop, the smiles and the stage, and they don’t really understand what goes on. I kind of wish there was a lot more help along the way.”
Modest TV, which is producing the band’s talent show, Little Mix: The Search, confirmed that contestants have access to “a full-time welfare team and clinical psychologists” before, during and after filming.
Once they are living in “bubble families” for the live shows, they will also receive online meditation sessions, and socially-distanced workouts with personal trainers. Psychological support will also be offered after the show has gone off air.
A BBC spokesperson added: “Planning around care for members of the public taking part in and competing in our programmes is always a core part of our production process and we have BBC editorial guidelines to help protect those taking part.”
The plans cover everything “from initial casting through to pre-production, to after care beyond transmission,” they added.
Little Mix say they will get personally involved in contestants’ welfare, too.
“We can really be honest with them about the things they might go through along the way,” said Thirlwall. “[We] have been there and done it and can talk them through it and be a shoulder to cry on - which is so essential.
“Also in terms of social media, we can talk them through what it takes to grow a thick skin - because as soon as you step into the limelight, you’re going to be judged.”
‘Not too much ego’
The Search, premieres on BBC One this weekend, and sees the Brit Award-winners putting together a series of groups, who will compete for a support slot on Little Mix’s arena tour next year.
Contestants are auditioned in a pastel-pink studio, with Little Mix offering advice on diction and stage presence before deciding who goes through to the next round.
The successful singers then receive a crash course in vocal harmonies and choreography, before a make-or-break performance in front of a studio audience.
By the end of each audition show, Little Mix have built a brand new band from scratch - from a rap / R&B group to a traditional boyband, and a five-piece who play their own instruments.
In the opening episodes, some of the male contestants are staggeringly cocksure. “Can I come over and give you a kiss?” asks Adam, an electrician, who maintains direct eye contact with the band while singing Lewis Capaldi’s Hold Me While You Wait.
“I’m feeling saucy,” declares 25-year-old Promise at his audition; while another hopeful declares: “You guys are all way hotter in real life”. Adam, a waiter, even arrives at his audition with a tray of cocktails for the band.
“I’ve never seen confidence like it in my life,” says comedian Chris Ramsey, who will host the show’s live episodes. “Some of these guys are 16 and they’re winking at you, they’re working the room.”
“The eye contact was so intense,” agrees Leigh-Anne. “It was like, ‘Oooh, OK‘. But we love that, especially for a boyband. They need to be charismatic. Not too much ego, though.”
“There’s a fine line,” agrees Jade. “And you’ve got to make sure they’re teetering on the line and not stepping over it.
“But I think, as well, for us, as mentors, it’s really important we put them in their place if we’ve got any issues with them.”
Having been through the TV talent show process themselves, Little Mix took their role as judges very seriously.
“There’s nothing worse than walking into an audition,” says Jesy Nelson. “It’s terrifying - to the point where, my first audition, I don’t even remember it because it became a blur. I was that scared.
“So it was so important for us to make them feel as relaxed as possible.”
For Jade, it was important that the contestants who didn’t make it through the auditions weren’t left stranded.
“We got turned away quite a few times [so] we want to make sure that they’re looked after properly and support them.”
“We want to encourage them to try again and come back,” adds Leigh-Anne. “Just because you get one no, that does not mean by any means it is over.”
“We really do give advice and constructive criticism. I feel like they have a good experience on the show even if they don’t get through. It’s something they can take away with them.”
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The Search was originally supposed to debut on BBC One in March, before the coronavirus pandemic struck, effectively ruling out the live shows where the winners would be decided.
However, the auditions had already been filmed, and the bands were created months ago. With the show about to resume, Perrie says she hopes the contestants have used the downtime wisely.
“They could use it to get more chemistry and rehearse [or] record stuff for the fanbase they’re hopefully about to create. If you want it, you have to work hard for it now, no matter what the circumstances are.”
After five hit albums and record sales of more than 50 million, “hard work” is the band’s mantra. And it’s one of the three key things they’ve been looking for in their new charges.
“First and foremost, more than anything, is chemistry,” says Jade. “That’s what’s interesting with this show, is they’ve auditioned [and] they’ve got insane vocals, then they get put in a group dynamic and they just don’t click.”
“If you’re in a group, the dynamic has to just work,” adds Leigh-Anne. ” We were very lucky that we all just got on. It doesn’t always happen - which is the one thing I am scared about.”
“So there’s chemistry - and obviously you’ve got to be willing to work extremely hard.
And last of all? “No big egos.”
“If you’re going to work in a group, you can’t have one person who’s constantly wanting to be better than everybody else,” says Jade.
“When we first got put together we made a conscious decision to always be equal, and I think that’s one of the reasons we’ve lasted so long - there’s no-one trying to outdo anyone else”.
Little Mix: The Search startson BBC One at 19:00BST on Saturday, 26 September.