Their flirtation with fame included co-writing two hits for Elton John, whom Thom Bell was producing: “Mama Can’t Buy You Love,” which peaked at No. 9 in the Billboard Hot 100 in 1979; and John’s No. 1 adult contemporary hit, “Are You Ready for Love,” which went gold.
Wanting a better deal, Bell and James changed managers. “We made some bad decisions, listened to some bad advice,” he said. “We didn’t get a better deal, and that was it.”
At age 30, his fall from grace “was hard to take.” He kept writing songs, but changes in the music industry spelled doom. Bell played drums in a local cover band, forgoing his dream of “the big deal I felt I was destined to have.”
For 20 years, Bell worked as a mail carrier and watch salesman to support himself and his family. But a decade ago, at 49, Bell realized he couldn’t live with himself unless he tried again. He formed a band, LeRoy Bell and His Only Friends, and released four independent CDs. He crossed the country as an opening act for such stars as Erykah Badu, B.B. King, Al Green, Etta James, Joe Cocker, India.Arie and Michael McDonald, fueling his hunger to be the headliner.
Enter The X Factor. Once Bell learned that there was no age limit, he “jumped at the auditions,” singing his own songs in the preliminary rounds. For the big audition, he had to sing something they hadn’t heard. “I pulled out ‘Lean on Me,’ and I was in!”
But will fame be fickle or friendly the second time around? Bell’s fan base grows weekly, gaining traction on Twitter with each performance. King 5’s Evening Magazine recently named him one of the 25 Most Beautiful People in the Pacific Northwest.
With contestants eliminated from the show weekly, he’s gunning for his lifelong dream with a new sense of urgency. “I’m just hoping to keep going in this competition because I want to reach as many people as I can — not only to sell records, but to continue to write music and do what I love, and keep bringing joy to the people who hear it.”
TaRessa Stovall is an author and blogger based in New Jersey whose most recent book, My Blue Suede Shoes: Four Novellas, was written with a trio of sister-authors to use entertaining fiction to heal from domestic violence.