Antonio "L.A." Reid, Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul: Take note. On the same week that she made her judging debut (Sept. 21) on Fox's "The X Factor," Nicole Scherzinger has proved to be an equally shrewd hitmaker on the other side of the pond.
The former Pussycat Doll was serving as a guest judge during the 2010 season of the U.K. "X Factor" show when five young men-Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson, Niall Horan, Harry Styles and Zayn Malik-auditioned as individual singers. Spotting their combined potential, Scherzinger suggested that the teenagers team up as a group. Adopting the moniker One Direction, the newly formed boy band subsequently finished third in the competition. Ten months later, the quintet finds itself ruling at No. 1 on the U.K. singles chart with its debut, "What Makes You Beautiful."
The hooky pop track, which mixes rich vocal harmonies with slick synth and rock guitar production, moved 153,000 units in its first week, leapfrogging over Adele, Bruno Mars and Jennifer Lopez to score the biggest first-week sales of 2011, according to the Official Charts Co. The Syco/Sony Music Entertainment group, which has amassed more than 500,000 followers on Twitter, is set to drop its debut studio album later this year, with a release date to be confirmed.
"There was clearly a big gap in the market for a kind of Justin Bieber-style boy band for pre- and early teens, and One Direction fits the bill perfectly," says Gennaro Castaldo, spokesman for leading U.K. entertainment retailer HMV. He credits Syco/Sony with driving sales using a "full-on launch campaign" that included the label teaming with HMV for a nationwide helicopter public appearance tour, which saw thousands of hysterical fans attend in-store signings in Scotland and England.
Similar scenes accompanied a Sept. 18 scheduled appearance on BBC Radio 1's "Official Chart Show." Due to a large number of devotees waiting for the band at Radio 1's London base, however, the group's guest appearance had to be moved to a secret location. Additional promotional appearances leading up to street week included live performances on ITV1 TV shows "Daybreak," "This Morning" and "Red or Black."
The radio strategy, meanwhile, was propelled by top 40-formatted BBC Radio 1, which A-listed "What Makes You Beautiful" and placed the track in regular rotation. The song was also championed by Radio 1 DJ Scott Mills, who made it his record of the week.
"While you might expect a new boy band to appeal largely to a base of teenage girls, we have found that the single generates a passionate reaction from all demos within Radio 1's target audience, both male and female," BBC Radio 1 music policy executive Nigel Harding says. He describes "What Makes You Beautiful" as a track that "succeeds musically and lyrically . . . that could lead to One Direction's U.K. chart performance being repeated elsewhere in the world."
In line with previous "X Factor" finalists, a follow-up single is expected to be serviced to radio in advance of the album's rumored fall release, although Syco/Sony declined to comment. Confirmed activity for the coming months includes promotional trips to Holland, Sweden and Italy, following a Twitter-led campaign in which European fans will compete to earn "air miles" to bring One Direction to their country. The group has also partnered with cellphone manufacturer Nokia to create two specially customized handsets featuring exclusive content, available for purchase in October.
"With the possible exception of [fellow U.K. boy band and "X Factor" alumni] JLS, which appeals to an older market and slightly [more urban] demographic, there's no one else out there like One Direction," says Castaldo, who speculates that the group is a strong bet to win the No. 1 U.K. album crown during the upcoming holiday season.