Jesy Nelson was first introduced to fans when she auditioned for the eighth season of The X Factor in 2011. That audition would lead to Jesy joining a girl band with three other women who would become her best friends. Together, they would win season 8 of The X-factor and go on to sell over 60 million records worldwide, becoming one of the most successful girl groups of all time. For Jesy, It was a dream come true. But winning The X-Factor wasn’t the dream she imagined. In fact, Jesy would remember it as one of the worst experiences of her life. Recently introduced to social media, Jesy became obsessed with negative comments about her appearance and weight. Her struggle to cope with the criticism would ultimately cause her to leave the group.
Jesy was born Jessica Louise Nelson in June of 1991 to parents John Nelson and Janis White. Her parents were childhood sweethearts and married while John Nelson was in prison serving the beginning of a life sentence for a 1986 murder conviction. Her father’s murder conviction was later overturned on appeal. The couple would have Jesy and three other children before separating a few years later when Jesy was five. As a child, Jesy loved to entertain. She had some small acting roles, appearing as an extra in the 2002 romantic comedy “about a boy” and also “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.” Jesy was also a talented dancer and often performed in the Liberty Mall fashion shows as part of the 12 member dance group, “Out of the shadows”.
Prior to auditioning for The X-Factor, Jesy worked as a barmaid in east London. She’d watch the show in the pub where she worked and found herself saying “I know I could win that.” One of her friends finally encouraged her to take the leap and audition.
For her audition, Jesy sang “Bust Your Windows’ by Jazmine Sullivan. X-factor judge Tulisa loved the audition but fellow Judge Gary Barlow was not a fan, telling Jesy “I found it lacked individuality, I found it very generic.” Jesy ultimately made it through her audition and advanced to the Bootcamp stage of the competition. During Bootcamp, Jesy has paired with fellow contestant Perrie Edwards as part of the group “Faux Pas.” Unfortunately, the group was not selected to advance and it appeared Jesy’s X-Factor journey had come to an end. X-Factor judges, however, had one final decision to make and decided to create a new group with members from groups that failed to advance. Jesy and fellow contestants Jade Thirlwall, Perrie Edwards, and Leigh-Anne Pinnock were called back to the judges’ table and told they would advance to the next round as a new group. The girls would perform together for the first time during the Judges’ Houses stage of the competition. The group, now called Rhythmix, performed Fergie’s “Big Girls don’t cry.” After the performance, the groups’ mentor Tulisa told the girls they had advanced to the live shows.
For their first live performance, the girls impressed judges with their performance of Nicki Minaj’s Superbass. After the performance, Judge Gary Barlow said: “It is week one and you are already the best girl band that has ever been on The X Factor.” The group advanced to the next round and the show gave the girls new Samsung phones, encouraging them to engage fans on social media.
Later that night, the contestants had a chance to watch themselves on Youtube and someone showed Jesy the comments section. She was expecting to see feedback regarding the performance, but instead, nearly every comment was about the way she looked. In 2011, Reality TV wasn’t connected to social media the way it is today and this was the first X-Factor season where contestants could upload their audition videos to Youtube. Heartbroken and unprepared for the barrage of negative criticism, Jesy considered leaving the show. As the night went on, an X-Factor staff member encountered Jesy crying alone and asked her why she was upset. A few days later Jesy was asked again to explain why she was upset… This time on camera. Jesy was reluctant but relented after X-factor producers falsely told her the moment wasn’t being recorded.
As Rhythmix progressed through the live shows, Jesy continued to receive negative comments and criticism regarding her appearance. Just before the week 4 live show, the girls changed the group’s name to Little Mix to avoid conflict with a local charity that was already using the name Rhythmix.
The X-Factor also wanted to present the girls as normal and relatable. They were introduced by Judge Tulisa as “The girl group to represent ladies in this country.” To highlight that Little Mix had the same insecurities as every other girl, X-Factor broadcast the clip of Jesy in tears before their week 4 live show performance. From that point on, the singer’s insecurities would become a large part of her public narrative. For the Top 11 Week 4 live show, the Little Mix performed ET by Katy Perry. After the performance, The group’s mentor Tulisa, expressed how proud she was of the girls and specifically Jesy for speaking up about her insecurities.
For the week 6 live show, the group performed a mashup of Lady Gaga’s Telephone and Radio Ga Ga by Queen. After the performance, Judge Gary Barlow said the performance was great, but he felt disappointed because the performance was too predictable. Judge Tulisa said, “regardless of what anyone on this panel says, you girls have come further than any girl band in the history of X-Factor.”
The group advanced to the next round and for the Week 7 live show, Little Mix gave a vocally focused performance of “Don’t let go” by EnVouge.
Following the performance, judge Kelly Rowland told the group “I’m so happy. To me, you guys could be the best girl group to come out of the UK.”
Judge Gary Barlow said “Girls, that was your best performance to date. Brilliant.” The group received enough votes from viewers and advanced to the next round.
For the week 8 live show, Little Mix further highlighted their vocals performing “Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera. After the performance, Judge Tulisa said “That was the best performance you have ever done because it was real, it was true to you and it was from the heart. Judge Louis Walsh said of the performance, “that was powerful, it was emotional, I hope people vote for you.” Little mix earned enough votes from viewers to advance to the semi-Final round
For the Motown-themed semi-final, Little Mix performed “Keep me hanging on” by the Supremes. The song was well received but X- Factor the judges expected more. Judge Louis Walsh said “there was something missing from that performance. It’s like you lost your mojo.” For the second song of the night, the girls sang “If I were a boy” by Beyonce. Following the performance, judge Gary Barlow told the group, “Girls, for a semi-final act, these vocals aren’t just good enough tonight. During the results show, Little mix earned enough votes from viewers to advance to the Final.
For the final, Little Mix performed a rendition of En Vogue’s Don’t Let Go, followed by Christmas classic Silent Night. For the final song of the night, Little Mix performed their version of Damien Rice’s Cannonball. During the results portion of the show, Host Dermont O’Leary revealed Little Mix had one season 8 of The X-Factor. With their win, Little Mix made X Factor history becoming the first group ever to win in the show’s ten-year history.
Little Mix would go on to become the biggest British girl group since the Spice Girls, releasing six studio albums and four UK number one singles.
For Jesy, winning offered no respite. The first Facebook message she saw after winning The X-Factor read: “You are the ugliest thing I have ever seen in my life. You do not deserve to be in this girl band, you deserve to die.” Recalling the experience Jesy said,”From the minute I won X Factor, I wasn’t Jesy the barmaid, the happy confident girl that I used to be. “I was the vulnerable nervous wreck the whole time.”
On the surface, Jesy was living out her childhood dream. In January, Little Mix made an appearance at the National television awards where they performed En Vouge’s “Hold on.” A few months later, Jesy experienced her first tour, traveling across the UK and Ireland with other finalists as part of Little Mix on the X-Factor Live tour. Later that year, Little Mix released their debut album DNA, which reached the top 10 in 10 countries. In 2013, Little Mix became the first British girl group to debut in the US top five, with DNA selling over 50,000 copies. The group also enjoyed a large following on Social media with mixers creating Facebook fan clubs and popular YouTubers reacting to their music videos.
Little Mix had become one of the most successful acts to emerge from The X Factor, yet Jesy was finding it increasingly difficult to cope with the pressure of being in the band. Her lowest point came at the end of 2013, prior to the release of Little Mix’s second album, “Salute”. The group was scheduled to return to The X-Factor franchise in November to perform their new single “Move.” Concerned with how fans would receive her appearance, Jesy starved herself the week before the show even though she had already lost almost 30 pounds over the summer. The day after the show, media coverage of the performance-focused on one tweet from media personality Katie Hopkins.
“Packet Mix have still got a chubber in their ranks. Less Little Mix. More Pick n Mix.
Jesy became increasingly distraught, falling into a state of severe depression that began to spiral out of control.
Unable to tolerate the pain anymore, Jesy went to her kitchen and took as many tablets as she could with the intent of ending her life.
While lying in Bed, Jesy confessed what she had done to her boyfriend at the time, who called an ambulance
Reflecting back, Jesy explained “when you’re in that state of mind, all you care about is taking the pain away. You don’t think about the people you are going to leave behind, You just want the physical pain you are feeling to stop.
A turning point for Jesy came in February of 2014 when Little Mix was touring with Demi Lovato on the Neon Lights Tour. Lovato’s dancers were able to convince Jesy to take herself off social media and delete her Twitter account. “It was a long, hard process because I didn’t want to help myself. But it wasn’t until I deleted Twitter that everything changed for me and I slowly started to feel normal again,” Jesy explained. Eventually, with therapy and talking to friends and family, Jesy was able to stop reading articles about herself and her mental health improved. She began dating Rixton lead singer, Jake Roche and in July of 2015, the couple got engaged with a little help from Ed Sheeran. Jake shared the moment on Instagram, showing him on one knee, proposing to Jesy on stage at the Manchester Arena as Sheeran plays a song in the background.
Due to Little Mix’s non-stop schedule and the pressure to perform, Jesy often endured bouts of exhaustion and physical injuries. In September of 2015, Little Mix was scheduled to perform their single” Black Magic” live on America’s Got Talent. The group was appearing with a gymnastic team called AcroArmy and part of the routine involved jumping off the stage. On the day of the performance, Jesy’s shoulder went out. In agony from the pain and unable to move, Jesy felt there was no way she would be able to perform. This was a big TV performance for Little Mix. Jesy felt she had no choice but to go through with the performance and figure out a way to endure the pain. In the band’s 2016 book “Our world: Our official biography” Jesy detailed how she received 50 injections so she could perform, despite the pain.
“I ended up at the doctor being given injections to numb my shoulder and I was in so much pain I was sobbing… In the end I had something like 50 injections and my back was smothered in bruises.”
In 2016, Glory Days became Little Mix’s first number 1 album in the UK. It was also the longest-reigning number one album from a girl group since the Spice Girls’ debut 20 years earlier. The album’s lead single “Shout out to my Ex” would top the UK singles chart for five weeks and was the fourth UK number-one single of the group’s career. Jesy embraced the band’s success saying “Little Mix was the best thing that ever happened to me” but there were glimpses that she was struggling with the pressure. Earlier that year, Jesy broke down in tears during the group’s “Get Weird Tour” while introducing ‘Little Me’, a song about body confidence. Before the performance, Jesy addressed the crowd, saying “If you’re ever feeling really crap about yourself or not feeling confident, this is exactly why we wrote this song..”
The pressure to perform and constant touring was something all of the girls struggled with. Little Mix had been working almost constantly since winning the X-Factor in 2011. During an interview with The Observer, Jesy’s bandmate Leigh-Ann said “This year we’ve all bought houses, and none of us have slept in them.” Jesy added to Leigh-Ann’s comment saying “Because in the pop industry, it’s hard to pause. With pop music, if you go missing for more than a year, they’ve forgotten about you.” Later in that same interview, Jesy revealed a moment in which she struggled to pack for little Mix’s Glory Days tour. “I was looking at all of my suitcases on my floor and burst out crying. I was like, ‘I can’t do this.’ Literally, I nearly had a breakdown like, ‘I need help. This is too much. I just want to be home.’”
Jesy also described another experience with a fan. “I was at the airport and this 40-year-old woman got out of her car. And she just started crying and said: ‘I came to your concert a week ago and you girls made me the most confident I’ve ever felt in my life. The girls often go back and forth between “wishing they could be normal” and “Little Mix being the best thing that ever happened to them.”
In November of 2016, Jesy split from her fiancé Jake Roche after dating for more than a year.
In February of 2017, Little mix opened for the Brit awards, performing their breakup anthem, “Shout out to my Ex.” Later that night, Little Mix received their first Brit award, winning “Best British Single for Shout Out to My Ex.” Jesy described the evening as “Having the best night of my life”
In November of 2018, Little mix released their fifth studio album, LM5. The lead single, “Woman Like Me” was released the prior month and featured rapper Nicki Minaj. LM5 was also the last album Little Mix would release under Simon Cowell’s Sysco Music. The group split with the label just days prior to the album’s release and future albums would be released by RCA UK which is owned by Sony Music. That same month, Little Mix promoted the single “Strip” a song about self-acceptance, in an Instagram post by posing nude with negative comments they received written on their skin.
They captioned the post ‘Take off all my makeup cos I love what’s under it, Rub off all your words don’t give a f**k I’m over it, Jiggle all this weight, yeah you know I love all of this. Finally, love me naked. Sexiest when I’m confident.’ Jesy later revealed the reason behind the band’s departure from Simon Cowell’s record label. “So this is what happened. We so wanted to write a song like Strip and were so passionate about releasing it as our first single. We’d co-directed the video, we’d done the photoshoot, so we were excited. Obviously, when Woman Like Me was put on the table, in our heads Strip was going to be the first single
At the beginning of 2019, Jesy began dating Love Island contestant Chris Hughes and that March the couple made their relationship official sharing posts of each other on Instagram.
Little Mix performed “woman like me” at the 2019 Brit awards and later that night they received their second career Brit award with “Woman like me” winning the nomination for British Video of the year.
In September of 2019, Jesy released her intensely personal BBC documentary, “Odd One Out”. The documentary detailed her downward spiral as a result of the abuse she suffered online and her eventual slow recovery. She also explored how cyberbullying affects thousands of young people and the heartbreaking consequences it can have. It was also the first time Jesy spoke publicly about her attempted suicide and many of the struggles she endured in the spotlight. The documentary has earned praise from viewers and many felt it should be shown in schools and colleges around the world.
A few days after opening up about her documentary, Jesy got emotional during a Little Mix performance in Milan. Prior to the performance, Jesy told the crowd “. Anyone that is going through a struggle, is still going through a struggle, just know that you are not on your own ever and it’s all just part of life’s journey.” The group started singing “The cure”, a song about self-acceptance and Jesy was overcome with emotion breaking down in tears on stage. She was comforted by the rest of the girls and at one point, Jesy’s bandmate Perrie also looked close to tears.
In an interview after the documentary aired, Jesy said had she known the consequences of appearing on The X Factor, she wouldn’t have done it:
“I don’t think anything is worth your happiness, and it was a lot of my life that I won’t get back.”
Jesy also explained how she had become obsessed with reading criticism. “I had a routine of waking up, going on Twitter, searching for the worst things I could about myself. I’d type in the search bar: ‘Jesy fat’, or ‘Jesy ugly’, and see what would come up. Sometimes I didn’t even need to do that, I’d just write ‘Jesy’ and then I’d see all the horrible things. Everyone told me to ignore it – but it was like an addiction.” “Now I’m mentally a lot happier, I just think people are always going to have an opinion. But I only care about mine.”
In January of 2020, Jesy won a National Television Award in the “Best factual Entertainment category for her Documentary “Odd One Out.” After winning the award, Jesy gave an emotional speech saying “I’m so grateful that such a negative experience in my life turned into such a positive one.”
She also thanked those featured in her documentary saying “I want to thank every single person was in the documentary for being so brave and courageous to tell their own story to the world.”
In March of 2020, the world experienced shutdowns, curfews, and strict lockdowns due to the global pandemic. Little Mix was forced to cancel their 2020 Summer Tour but performed a virtual show called Uncancelled. The group also announced their “Confetti Tour”
Little Mix’s tour cancellation was not the only casualty of the pandemic. Many couples found themselves quarantined and isolated together during the pandemic and had trouble adjusting to the new relationship dynamic. In April, news broke that Chris and Jesy had split and were isolating separately due to coronavirus. According to sources, the split was very amicable with the couple acknowledging the relationship had run its course and the two remain good friends. The next month Jesy deleted all traces of Chris from her Instagram account and unfollowed him on Social Media.
In august of 2020, Jesy confirmed rumors that she and actor Sean Sager were dating after weeks of claiming they were just friends.
Little Mix continued to stay busy during the lockdown, releasing ‘Break Up Song’, ‘Holiday’, and ‘Sweet Melody.” The group also created their own reality talent TV show called Little Mix: The Search. Having found their own fame through The X-Factor, they hoped to pass their experience on to more hopefuls and find the next big UK group. Shortly before the show aired in September, Jesy suffered a panic attack onstage at the end of Little Mix’s first performance out of lockdown on Radio 1’s Live Lounge. The group had just finished performing their newest single holiday and were preparing to sing a cover of Harry Style’s Falling. Jesy could be seen in a video recording holding her hands up to show how much she was shaking as the rest of the group rushed to comfort her. Jesy confirmed she had a panic attack the next morning via Instagram saying:
“So my nerves got the better of me today. I had a panic attack right before we were about to sing this for live lounge today and like a pro, Perrie Edwards jumped in for my part last minute and smashed it.”
In November, Little Mix released their sixth studio album Confetti. The album was the group’s first since leaving Simon Cowell’s label Syco.
That same month, Little Mix performed a medley of their songs Holiday and Touch on their BBC Show, Little Mix: The search. The appearance would be Jesy’s last performance with Little Mix. A couple of days later on November 8th, Jesy missed The Final of the Band’s TV show “Little Mix: The search” The group’s publicist Simon Jones revealed in a statement: “Jesy is unwell and will not be appearing on tonight’s final of Little Mix The Search. She will also not be hosting or performing at tomorrow’s MTV European Music awards”
On November 17th, Simon Jones released a statement that said “Jesy is having extended time off from Little Mix for private medical reasons. We will not be issuing any further comment currently and ask media to please respect her privacy at this time.”
On December 13th Jesy missed the group’s performance on Strictly come Dancing. Singing “Break Up Song” from their latest album Confetti, Little Mix performed as a trio. One month after taking an “extended leave” from Little Mix, Jesy announced that she was parting ways with the group.
She posted a message to fans on Instagram which read:
‘To all my Mixers, 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. ‘Making friends and fans all over the world I can’t thank you all enough from the bottom of my heart for making me feel like the luckiest girl in the world. You have always been there to support and encourage me and I will never ever forget it. ‘The truth is recently being in the band has really taken a toll on my mental health. I find the constant pressure of being in a girl group and living up to expectations very hard.’There comes a time in life when we need to reinvest in taking care of ourselves rather than focusing on making other people happy, and I feel like now is the time to begin that process. ‘So after much consideration and with a heavy heart, I’m announcing I’m leaving Little Mix.’ ‘I need to spend some time with the people I love, doing things that make me happy.
‘I’m ready to embark on a new chapter in my life. I’m not sure what it’s going to look like right now, but I hope you’ll still be there to support.
Since then Jesy has received an outpouring of love on social media and fans thanked her for an incredible nine years.