It’s semi-finals week for The X Factor! We caught up with last year’s runner-up, Rebecca Ferguson, for her thoughts on this year’s contest and what she’s up to now…

You know just how the contestants will be feeling this weekend, don’t you?
“Oh yes, I feel for the people that are going through it now. Sometimes I would be crippled with nerves but I’d think, ‘I can do this, just fight through it, Bec.’ It’s finally stopped for me now but that feeling is so horrible. You know you can sing, you know you can do it but these nerves just won’t go away.”

Did you ever think you’d make it to the semi-finals?
“I was just shocked each week when I was getting through, I just couldn’t believe it. That’s what you want to do because you really feel like you’re in with a chance if you get to the semis.”

And what was it like getting to the final?
“Just amazing, a good feeling. The only time throughout the whole competition that I thought, ‘I could half win this’ was when it was me and Matt Cardle [the eventual winner] in the final sing-off. Really! When One Direction were eliminated and it was me and Matt, I thought, ‘Oh god, I really have got a bit of a chance’.”

You duetted with Christina Aguilera in the final, how was that?
“Brilliant, lovely. I was just in awe of her, to be honest. I was more busy staring at her thinking, ‘Oh my god, I’m singing with Christina Aguilera!’”

Is there anyone you’d like to collaborate with now?
“One day, it would be amazing to collaborate with Aretha Franklin, if I ever got the chance. Don’t know if it will ever happen, but it’s always worth saying, isn’t it? I just think she’s a brilliant singer.”

What is it really like going through the X Factor process?
“It’s really emotional for the contestants. You’re going up, week after week, and baring your soul in front of millions of people, who’ve all got an opinion. At the same time, you’re trying to keep your feet on the ground and it is hard.”

Are you glad you did it?
“I am glad, yeah. I think it was a good thing for me, it’s given me a brilliant platform and I can’t knock it for that. It really does give you a chance.”

Have you been watching the current series?
“I have, yeah. I’m torn – all the ones I really love keep going! Sophie went and The Risk. I love the Scouse boys, Marcus and Craig – it’s Team Liverpool all the way. I think the dynamic between the judges had been interesting; all the little arguments and things.”

What do you think of the new judges?
“I didn’t think the judging panel would be as good, but they are.”

This series has come in for some heavy criticism. What do you say to that?
“The X Factor has had series that go well and others not so well. That’s just The X Factor really. Some years are better than others, it’s just the way it is, I think. The JLS year was a brilliant year, wasn’t it? So much talent came out of it. Was Olly Murs on that year?”

He was the year before yours, when Joe McElderry won…
“Oh yes. Olly, Joe and Stacey have all gone on to have very good careers. And I saw Mary Byrne the other day [a semi-finalist last year] and she’s doing so well. She’s released an album, she’s got another one coming out and, like she says, ‘for somebody my age who’s had the life I’ve had, this is amazing’. Despite not getting to the final, she’s doing brilliantly.”

What do you think it is about The X Factor that does keep people watching?
“It’s about real people, doing things that they want to do. You’re watching real people with real stories, living their dreams. People relate to it and you want them to do well.”

Have you picked a winner?
“I don’t know who’ll win but I can definitely see Marcus being in the final. Both Scousers will definitely be in it. I think Marcus is a great performer, there was one week, he did an old ‘50s Jersey Boys kind of style. He’s a good, all-round performer.”

Did you read the press while you were in the competition?
“A little bit, yeah, you do. You want to know what people think of you in the outside world.”

How’s life been treating you since The X Factor?
“Good, it’s been really good. I’ve been working hard, travelling, recording and performing lots.”

Your debut single, Nothing’s Real But Love, has just come out (27 Nov) Are you excited?
“I am excited. Scared though, really scared about how people will react but excited as well.”

Do you think people expect a lot from you?
“I think they do. I think everyone was waiting and thinking, ‘What’s it gonna be like?, what’s she going to bring out?’. So far the reaction’s been lovely. The fans have been brilliant and getting to meet them has been lovely.”

And your album, Heaven, is out soon too. What’s that like?
“The album’s quite soulful but some of it’s upbeat, happy, summery, it’s a good mix.”

Was it important for you to co-write the album?
“Definitely! I sing how I feel, so when it comes to lyrics, I have to have an attachment to them. It was important for me to write what I was singing.”

What are your plans next?
“I’ll be going home to Liverpool for Christmas with my mum – I live in London now. Then next year I’m doing a tour and there’s talk of going to America. I’m relaxed about it. If they like me over there, they like me; if not, I’ve given it a shot.”

How do you juggle work with being a mum of two?
“I put them first. They are always number one and work comes after that.”

What advice would you give to the current contestants to go the distance?
“I would say, keep focused. Keep your eye on the goal, which is to win. And stay grounded, don’t let what’s going on in your life affect who you become. Keep your eye on the ball and don’t get distracted.”

What do you say to those who don’t make the final hurdle?
“Just don’t give up, if you really believe in yourself. Go out there and fight for it and don’t give up. Knock on whatever doors you’ve got to knock on until one opens. You’ve been given this platform, now people know who you are, now it’s up to you to get to where you want to be.”

Will you be happy to always be associated with The X Factor?
“It doesn’t bother me, to be honest. It’s kind of what made me, people picked up the phone and they voted and that’s where my confidence came from. So it didn’t just change me in the sense that I’ve got a good career now, but also as a person, so I can’t knock that.”

Rebecca’s single is out now and her new album, Heaven, is released on 5 December.