How One Direction's 'X Factor' Audition Songs Compare to the Solo Directions They Took

Louis Tomlinson, Harry Styles, Zayn Malik, Niall Horan and Liam Payne of British singing group One Direction performs on FOX's "The X Factor" Season 2 Top 13 To 12 Live Elimination Show on Nov. 8, 2012 in Hollywood, Calif.
FOX via Getty Images

Louis Tomlinson, Harry Styles, Zayn Malik, Niall Horan and Liam Payne of British singing group One Direction performs on FOX's "The X Factor" Season 2 Top 13 To 12 Live Elimination Show on Nov. 8, 2012 in Hollywood, Calif. 

Liam Payne has completed the One Direction solo career puzzle, dropping his debut single “Strip That Down” Friday (May 19).

The 23-year-old's song has a thumping beat that is much different than the poppy earworms he was part of in 1D — not to mention a feature from a rapper, Migos’ Quavo. Another song “Strip That Down” is worlds away from is “Cry Me A River,” the Frank Sinatra tune Liam auditioned with on X Factor in 2010 that ultimately landed him in the beloved boy band.

That striking difference got us thinking: How do the rest of the One Direction boys’ audition songs compare to the tracks they’ve released as solo artists? 

We went back seven years and revisited all five members’ auditions, checking out what kind of similar (or complete opposite) vibes they brought with their solo stuff. (Funnily enough, two of the mop-headed boys were compared to Justin Bieber in their auditions, a comparison no one would make now.) Take a look at our analysis below, and listen to the original audition videos as well as the guys’ individual debut singles to see what you think.

Liam Payne, Frank Sinatra's “Cry Me A River"

This was actually Liam’s second time trying to impress the X Factor judges (he’d auditioned two years prior to his 2010 audition at just 14 years old, where he made it to Simon’s house in Barbados), and he certainly brought a statement-making song to the stage for his second go. Louis Walsh said that was a great song choice for Liam, and Simon Cowell was blown away. So did he stick with those bold Sinatra tunes in his solo venture? Nope.

When it came time for Liam to put together his own material, he jeered just about as far away from Sinatra as you could get. His bouncy, hip-hop-influenced “Strip That Down” — featuring Quavo, no less — made for quite the transition from his audition song, using his vocal strength to make something you’d hear in a dance club versus a jazz club.

Niall Horan, Ne-Yo’s “So Sick”

When Niall took the stage for his audition, he had the honor of performing for Katy Perry — but the “Chained to the Rhythm” songstress unfortunately wasn’t all that impressed, telling him he wasn’t quite ready. And Simon was partially in agreement, tearing into Niall saying, “I think you came with the wrong song. You’re not as good as you thought you were.” But both Simon and Louis saw something charming and likable in Niall that eventually convinced Katy to come around and give him a chance. “Don’t let us down!” she exclaimed as he walked off stage.

Niall obviously proved himself enough to earn a spot in 1D, but once he was able to do his own thing, he took a singer-songwriter route with the acoustic “This Town” (and bluesy follow-up single “Slow Hands”) that is perhaps the most fitting thing he’s tried yet. Singer-songwriter isn’t quite the R&B vibe he went for with the Ne-Yo tune in his audition, but clearly that wasn’t going to work for him anyway.

Harry Styles, Stevie Wonder's “Isn’t She Lovely”

Although Walsh was on board for Niall, for some reason he wasn’t all that impressed with Harry — something that both the audience and Simon wouldn’t stand for. “I don’t think they booed you loud enough,” Simon told Walsh. His audition was sweet and displayed some of what he could do, but it definitely didn’t showcase the impressive power he was able to utilize after that.

That was ultimately proven true once he released “Sign of the Times,” a dynamic ode to classic rock that showed a new side of Harry fans may not have realized he was yearning to explore. His entire debut solo album features sounds similar to that of The Beatles and David Bowie, a direction that’s a little more rock than Stevie Wonder’s jazzier, more soulful vibe.

Louis Tomlinson, Plain White T’s “Hey There Delilah”

Louis didn’t choose the most stand-out song to make a first impression with, but his tone struck a chord with all three judges. While most of his parts in One Direction songs actually did utilize just about that same Plain White T's-esque tone, he decided to try something a little different once on his own.

Teaming up with Steve Aoki for his first try at a solo track, Louis experimented with EDM — something that no other One Direction guy has tried exploring yet — which actually fit his vocal ability pretty flawlessly. Six months after that song was released, Louis hasn’t given fans any more music, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see more dance tunes from him versus the more acoustic route.

Zayn Malik, Mario’s “Let Me Love You"

Zayn’s choice was perhaps the most accurate depiction of what kind of music he wanted to make as a solo artist. He opted for an R&B love song that displayed his smooth, softer vocals as opposed to his ability to hit some serious power notes, which was later showcased in countless One Direction solos — and his debut solo single, “Pillowtalk.”

The sexually charged song obviously brought a different vibe than the more innocent “Let Me Love You,” but held true to the R&B route he insinuated with his audition song selection. Making things his own, though, Zayn added a hint of hip-hop to his vibe with a bumping beat in “Pillowtalk” (along with several of the songs on his first album Mind of Mine), as well as some awesomely big high notes. 

If there’s one thing that all of the boys’ auditions did for them, it was prove that they had what it takes to not only be part of the world’s biggest boy band of the 21st century, but also to make it on their own too. And while most of them selected songs that were hardly anywhere near what they’ve crafted in their solo careers thus far, what that shows is how much they have each evolved as artists, and really, there isn’t one 1D member who has completely missed the mark yet.

We have a record from Harry and from Zayn, but there is more where those — and Liam, Niall and Louis’ singles — came from. And with what they’ve put out so far, all five guys definitely have us itching to hear what’s next.


The Biz premium subscriber content has moved to

To simplify subscriber access, we have temporarily disabled the password requirement.