It wouldn’t be fair to call Jai Waetford an old pro at just 16 years old, but he has seen plenty since first bursting on the scene in 2013 through the fifth season of The X Factor Australia, and he’s still handling life in the spotlight remarkably well.
“It’s pretty crazy, but you have to balance things out,” Sydney’s Waetford said during a press tour in NYC to promote his latest single “Shy.” “Have days where you be a normal kid and go do fun things and hang out with friends, and then other days, work 15-hour days and have interviews and perform for TV and all these crazy things. You have to equal things out and have a strong family and team behind you. That’s what it all comes down to at the end of the day. When no one else is there, there’s your team and your family, and they’re what keeps you grounded and keeps you real.”
Wise words from the teenager, who can go far with that philosophy. Then again, as his third-place finish on X Factor and the success of “Shy” (which has already garnered over 1.1 million views on YouTube) have proven, this young man appears to be headed for the top regardless of whether he stays on the straight and narrow or goes down the road teen idol Justin Bieber has been treading recently.
If you’re laying bets though, Waetford appears to be leaning toward the former path, even if he has grown a lot since his first exposure to the music world in 2013, a time when he really had no idea about what awaited him should he succeed.
“There were no expectations at the start,” he said. “Being so young, you have no idea what to expect. You’re just being introduced into the pop culture of the world. There’s no ‘oh, it’s going to be like this’ or ‘it’s not going to be like that.’ So where I am now is exactly where I think I am supposed to be. If things had been different, I don’t think I would be where I am, so you have to accept where you are and hope that it’s the right thing.”
Where he is now is in that funny place just before the big time beckons. Back home in Australia, he admits it’s not as welcoming to artists his age as it is to older ones, but in the United States, yeah, youth is always king.
“The American market is just so much more open to young talent,” Waetford said. “The Australians are really interested in the older market and generation, but I can’t be 19 in a week. I suppose I just have to wait it out for Australia, but while I can make my move, I might as well and make the most of my target audience and expand to other countries.”
“Shy” has all the tools to introduce him to Stateside audiences and get the job done here. And as a bonus, while he may always be attached to X Factor at home, just like those who appear on American Idol in the States carry that label throughout their careers, here he can focus on being himself, not the kid from the reality show.
“I think the thing with coming to another country is that you can start fresh and people know you as Jai Waetford, not that kid off X Factor,” he said. “But even that goes away too. In Australia, people know me as Jai Waetford, and that X Factor was over two years ago, so it was a long, long time ago. In the music industry a lot can happen in two years.”
True, and in two years, things may be significantly bigger for Mr. Waetford, but he’s in no rush. At the moment, he’s enjoying the ride and everything that goes along with it.
“It’s not a job; it’s a passion for me, and that’s why I’m so lucky because what I do and what I make money off is not something that I have to do,” he said. “It’s something that I want to do, and it’s very rare that you find an occupation where can do that. Someone said to me the other day ‘if you are good at what you do, you will never, ever have to work in your life.’ That is so true. But you never know. In ten years’ time I could be an astronaut. (Laughs) Who knows what the future holds. You just have to hope and pray that what you’re doing is right and you’re where you’re supposed to be.”