Inside Little Mix’s meteoric rise to fame from first band to win X Factor to Jesy Nelson blackfishing row & split

IN 10 years they have transformed from X Factor hopefuls to Britain’s biggest girl group since the Spice Girls. 

But after selling 60 million records worldwide, scooping two Brit Awards and amassing a combined fortune of £54 million, Little Mix are set to disband next month after their Confetti tour

Kelly Rowland had the bright idea to put the X Factor hopefuls in one big groupCredit: Rex Features

Over ten years Little Mix has become the most successful band since the Spice Girls

Over ten years Little Mix has become the most successful band since the Spice GirlsCredit: Rex

Following Jesy Nelson’s explosive departure in December 2020, trio Leigh-Anne Pinnock, 30, Jade Thirlwall, 29, and Perrie Edwards, 28, are now all exploring solo projects

Their rise to fame has certainly been meteoric since they auditioned for – and won – The X Factor in 2011, the first band to do so.

From humble beginnings as hopeful contestants to the ongoing Jesy Nelson row and blackfishing accusations, we chart the rise of the most popular UK girl band over the last decade. 

Humble beginnings 

In 2011, four Brits walked into X Factor’s series eight auditions, dreaming of glory.

Unknown to each other, Jesy, now 30, Jade, Perrie and Leigh-Anne impressed the judges, earning the go ahead they needed to reach the first “bootcamp” challenge. 

Romford-born Jesy Nelson wowed the judges with her punchy rendition of “Bust Your Windows”. 

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Then 20 years old, Jesy worked as a barmaid in Dagenham and had already brushed shoulders with fame, attending the same theatre school as Rita Ora and featuring as an extra in movies About a Boy and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. 

But after failing the first stage of the bootcamp challenge, Jessie was put together with 17-year-old Perrie Edwards, from South Shields, in the group Faux Pas and given another chance to stay in the competition. 

The daughter of two singers, Perrie completed a BTEC in Performing Arts at Newcastle College before entering the show. 

The fair-haired singer impressed judges with her first audition singing “You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morissette, before teaming up with Jesy and two others for bootcamp. 

Clubbed together in another group, Orion, were fellow X Factor hopefuls Leigh-Anne Pinnock, from High Wycombe, and South Shields-born Jade Thirlwall. 

Born in Laygate, Jade attended South Tyneside performing arts college where she honed her passion for singing. 

The determined teen auditioned for X-Factor three times, beginning in 2008, before breaking through to the live rounds in 2011. 

And before starring on The X-Factor, Leigh-Anne Pinnock worked as a waitress at Pizza Hut. 

Leigh-Anne was raised in High Wycombe to mum Deborah, a teacher, and dad John, who was a mechanic. 

Of Barbadian and Jamaican ancestry, Leigh-Anne become head girl at her school Sir William Ramsay and joined a choir run by presenter Jay Blades when she was just 14.

I like them together, they look fricking great

Kelly Rowland

And while neither of the X-Factor teams were given the green light to proceed to the live rounds, judge Kelly Rowland had a bright idea

Pulling the girls out of their respective groups, Kelly decided to test the girls out as a foursome.

And when the quartet sang together, ex-Destiny’s Child singer Kelly saw a glimmer of something special, saying: “I like them together, they look fricking great together.”

Joining forces to become first Rythmix, and then Little Mix, the newfound girl band shot through the show’s live rounds, capturing the nation’s hearts. 

Breaking The X Factor girl band curse, Little Mix charmed judges with their first performance of Super Bass by Nicki Minaj, earning Gary Barlow’s praise as the “best girl band that’s ever been on The X Factor”. 

On December 11 2011, having sailed through the rounds with their “incredibly dynamic” performances, Little Mix became the first ever girl group to scoop the X Factor title with their show-stopping rendition of “Cannonball”. 

Glory days 

Following their spectacular X Factor victory, Little Mix shot to fame, soon reaching the coveted status of becoming the most popular girl band in the UK since the Spice Girls

Championing girl power and body positivity, the group’s debut album DNA became the highest charting debut album by a British girl group on the Billboard 200.

Garnering praise for their chart-topping singles “Black Magic” and “Shout Out to My Ex”, Little Mix scooped their first Brit Award in 2017. 

Looking back on their transformation from X Factor bootcamp rejects to international stars, Jesy said: “We’re getting older, we’re turning into young, beautiful ladies.”

Little Mix made X Factor history by becoming the first girl band to win

Little Mix made X Factor history by becoming the first girl band to winCredit: Rex Features

Little Mix's style transformed as they reached international fame

Little Mix’s style transformed as they reached international fameCredit: PA

Jesy added: “When I look back at us on The X Factor, we’re like little girls, and now I feel like a woman.”

Throughout their success, Little Mix continued to promote messages of independence and positivity to their young fans, inspiring teens worldwide. 

Speaking of their success, one source told The Sun: “They’re very determined.

We’re getting older, we’re turning into young, beautiful ladies

Jesy Nelson

“It’s the strength of the relationships between them that has given them the confidence to stand up for whatever they want. 

“It’s an extraordinary achievement and their record-breaking backs up how hard they have worked.”

High profile romances

Over the years the girls have not just hit the headlines for their music – their love lives have also been very much in the public eye.

Perrie began dating One Direction star Zayn Malik back in 2012, becoming engaged in August 2013.

But the couple’s relationship was plagued with rumours of Zayne cheating on the Black Magic singer.

And in 2015, Perrie endured a high profile break up, later claiming Zayne broke up with her by text.

She recalled: “It was horrible, the worst time in my life. A four-year relationship, two year engagement ended by a simple text message. Just like that.

“Even though things in my career were going really well, it was incredibly difficult for me.”

Leigh-Anne gave birth to twins this year while Perrie welcomed a son

Leigh-Anne gave birth to twins this year while Perrie welcomed a sonCredit: Rex

But Perrie finally found true love with her current partner footballer Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

The couple welcomed their son, Axel, into the world in August this year.

Like Perrie, Jesy Nelson got engaged to Coleen Nolan’s son Jake Roche in 2015.

The Rixton singer got down on one knee at Manchester Arena after just one year of dating.

But the couple never made it down to aisle.

Jesy went on to have a romance with former Love Island hunk Chris Hughes, which ended after 16 months.

A source told The Sun the split was amicable and they’re still good friends, but had just grown apart.

Jesy vowed to remain single after splitting from her most recent boyfriend, actor Sean Sugar, at the beginning of this year.

It was horrible, the worst time in my life. A four-year relationship, two year engagement ended by a simple text message. Just like that.”

Perrie Edwards on breaking up with Zayn Malik

Speaking to the Guardian, Jesy said: “I like waking up and knowing this day is just for me and I don’t need to worry about anyone but me.

“I’m really not looking for a relationship any more.”

At 30, Leigh-Anne became a mum for the first time this year, giving birth to twins in August.

Sharing the news on social media, she wrote: “We asked for a miracle, we were given two… 🥺🖤 Our Cubbies are here 😍🖤”

Leigh-Anne is engaged to Watford footballer Andre Gray.

The couple are believed to have become involved in 2016 and got engaged on May 29, 2020.

Meanwhile, Jade, 28, is currently dating Rizzle Kicks star Jordan Stephens.

Jade revealed she made the first move by sliding into Jordan’s DMs when they celebrated one year together this May.

Jesy’s shock departure 

In December 2020, after nine years together, Jesy Nelson stunned her bandmates by announcing on social media that she was leaving the group. 

According to the Little Mix trio, the Boyz singer shocked them by telling the world she was leaving before informing them personally.

Jesy announced her departure to her fans on December 14 2020, opening up about her concerns surrounding her mental health. 

In a statement she wrote: “The past nine years in Little Mix has been the most incredible time of my life. 

“We have achieved things I never thought possible. From winning our first Brit Award to our sold out shows at the O2.” 

Jesy admitted she found the “constant pressure of being in a girl group and living up to expectations very hard”.

We have achieved things I never thought possible

Jesy Nelson

Instead, the singer said it was time to “reinvest in taking care” of herself “rather than focussing on making other people happy”. 

But Jesy has since been accused of blindsiding the group by announcing her departure on Instagram.

One source told the Daily Mail: “Jesy created this scenario. She left the band without telling the girls or management directly and they heard about it through her lawyers.

“Those around her have been supporting her for ten years and protected her and are devastated over all this.”

Set to split?

Little Mix announced they are taking a break in 2022 to focus on solo projects.

They will go their separate ways after their Confetti tour ends next month, in May 2022, but they insist they will be back in the future.

In a statement on Instagram, they said: “We wanted to let you all know that after the Confetti tour in April/May next year we are going to be taking a break from Little Mix.

“It’s been 10 amazing years, a wonderful non-stop adventure, and we feel the time is right to take a break so we can recharge and work on some other projects.

“We can’t thank you enough for your love and never-ending support since the beginning. We love you all SO much.

“We are not splitting up – Little Mix are here to stay. We have plans for more music, tours and performances in the future.

The news came after a row between the band and Jesy Nelson over her appearance in her first single Boyz with Nicki Minaj. 

Credit: Deadline

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The fallout first unfolded when an influencer leaked messages allegedly sent by Leigh-Anne Pinnock that asked him to do a video exposing Jesy for being a “blackfish” – when a white person uses black culture to further their career or online presence – following the release of her debut single Boyz.

In messages, thought to have been sent from Leigh-Anne’s account to influencer No Hun and shared to his 341,000 followers via a live stream, the star wrote: “She blocked us. Cut us off. Horrible person.”

After No Hun asked his fans if he should make up a dance routine to Boyz, Leigh-Anne replied: “No. Do a video about her being a blackfish instead.”

Responding to blackfishing claims, Jesy said: “My intention was never to offend people of colour with this video and my song.”

Little Mix are set to disband in May after their Confetti tour

Little Mix are set to disband in May after their Confetti tourCredit: Instagram

Jesy Nelson found herself embroiled in a blackfishing row over her appearance in her new music video

Jesy Nelson found herself embroiled in a blackfishing row over her appearance in her new music videoCredit: Rex

Jesy Nelson says she still loves Little Mix bandmates in US interview


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