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Mary Byrne

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Surpassing season two runner-up Andy Abraham by a good five years, former supermarket worker Mary Byrne was the oldest X Factor contestant to secure a record deal following her elimination from the show. Born in Ballyfermot, Dublin in 1959, Byrne developed a love of singing from a young age and often performed with her brother under the guise of the Tommy Lee Experience, but never had the confidence to pursue a musical career until her late forties, when she entered the first and only series of Irish-language TV talent show Nollaig No. 1. Under the name Mary Lee, she won the competition and released her debut single, "Siuil Leat," a festive version of Rodgers & Hammerstein's "You'll Never Walk Alone," before going back to work on the checkouts of her local Tesco. Two years later, she auditioned for the U.K.'s seventh series of The X Factor, making it through to the live stages and topping the vote in the first week thanks to her powerful rendition of James Brown's "It's a Man's Man's Man's World." Byrne eventually finished fifth, losing out to rapper Cher Lloyd in the final sing-off, but her popularity persuaded Simon Cowell to sign her to his Syco label. After working on material with Barbra Streisand producer Nigel Wright and appearing on the X Factor tour, she released her debut album, Mine & Yours, which topped the charts in her homeland and reached number six in the U.K. in 2011. ~ Jon O'Brien

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