England's Olly Murs doesn't consider himself a pop star. After finishing runner-up in the sixth season of the U.K.'s The X Factor, the cherub-faced Brit went on to achieve megawatt status, scoring two double-platinum albums and three Number 1 singles since 2010. Girls clamor for him, lucrative opportunities are long and Katy Perry couldn't edge him out for the chart's top slot. And yet, he's still got a small-town state of mind.
"I feel like Olly Murs from Essex, and I still live here with my parents and my friends and I stay home as much as I can," admits the 28-year-old. "I still think I'm learning the trade and learning all the time and I don't feel like I've reached my peak and where I can get to. So yeah, I don't think of myself as a pop star just yet – but I'm getting there."
His next conquest: America. This past spring, Murs hit the road in the U.S. as opening act for heartthrobs One Direction in anticipation of his Stateside debut, In Case You Didn't Know, which topped the U.K. charts when it came out in November 2011. The Motown-tinged collection, a mash-up of songs from his first two LPs, boasts the Chiddy Bang-assisted lead single "Heart Skips a Beat" and its follow-up "Dance With Me Tonight," bolstered by marquee songwriting from Claude Kelly (Britney Spears), Mark Taylor (Lady Gaga) and Steve Robson (Rascal Flatts). He's also been sharing his road adventures with American fans through his video blog series "Olly-mpics." Rolling Stone has the exclusive premiere of the sixth challenge, "Egg and Spoon Race."
Becoming a tabloid staple in the U.K. was unfathomable for Murs before he auditioned for The X Factor in 2009. The Witham, Essex, native swallowed dreams of becoming a pro soccer player after tearing his ACL, instead settling for odd jobs that included giving callers advice on energy bills as a phone operator. Experience gleaned from pub singalongs surprisingly translated to the stage during his stint on The X Factor, where he wowed the judges with songs from childhood inspirations Stevie Wonder ("Superstition") and the Jackson 5 ("Can You Feel It"). Though Murs finished second to Joe McElderry, show creator Simon Cowell signed him to his Syco Records in partnership with Epic Records, putting his post-Factor career into motion.
Currently bubbling under outside of his home base, Murs returns to the States next month for a press run ahead of the September 25th release of In Case You Didn't Know. The anti-pop star is still getting used to the spotlight, but there are a few things he wants Americans to know before he invades the charts. "I don't like boiled tomatoes and I'm a big lover of hot wings and buffalo wings," he jokes. "I think with me, what I say to fans is, whatever you seen in music videos and interviews, what you see is what you get with me. There's no hidden agenda. I'm just the crooked guy that you see in the videos and the interviews. I'm no different. I'm just normal – a normal kind of guy."