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Katie Waissel: Former X Factor star says music industry was 'frightening place to be'

A former X Factor contestant disillusioned with the music industry has spoken out about her "horrifying" experiences when she was a young artist.

Katie Waissel, who appeared on the ITV talent show in 2010, told Sky News that many women in the industry were "severely affected" by a string of issues including misogyny.

The former professional singer said she was sexually harassed during her career, and described the environment she found herself in as a "frightening place to be" at an age when she was "unsure of what [was] actually happening".

Waissel said she feared losing her job if "zero-transparency" non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) were not signed - and that the contracts were presented to her without any independent legal advice.

"No one is forcing you to sign it, but you're placed in a position where you're signing a contract on unfair terms without protection or guidance," she told The UK Tonight with Sarah-Jane Mee.

The 38-year-old described the music industry as male-dominated and said a "trickle-down effect" existed where bosses would behave in a certain manner, in turn setting a precedent for everyone else to copy their behaviour.

Her testimony comes after MPs warned that misogyny and discrimination were "endemic" in the industry.

The Women and Equalities Committee's inquiry found that sexual harassment and abuse were common in the sector, which it noted was routinely described as a "boy's club".

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Praising the inquiry, Waissel said there was a hierarchy of the "same faces" from record labels, PR and marketing firms, chief editors and legal bodies who "all swim in the same pond".

She said: "It's a very small pond - with fish that believe they are large."

'Turning poison to medicine'

Waissel ditched the music industry in pursuit of a legal career that safeguards artists in creative industries. She founded the OWHL Foundation to help provide them with the guidance, support and relief she says she never had.

The mother-of-one added: "Music and creative industries are magical and if we can protect them for tomorrow that makes my heart happy. It's turning poison to medicine."

In early 2023 it was reported that Waissel was planning a legal battle against Simon Cowell's Syco Entertainment, one of the companies behind the X Factor.

She told The Sun newspaper that the programme had "ruined my life".

"There are so many of us who have been so trapped and it's not fair, there was a huge imbalance in power," she added.

Sky News approached Syco and Fremantle Media, the other firm behind the X Factor, but they did not respond.

Previously, Fremantle Media said it had "robust measures in place on the X Factor to ensure contestants were supported with no time limit on aftercare once the show had aired."

Waissel appeared on the seventh season of the show. She was eliminated in the quarter-finals after performing the Kings Of Leon hit Sex On Fire and R.E.M.'s Everybody Hurts.