He may have placed third in last year's 'X Factor', but Johnny Ruffo is proof that a heck of a lot of hard work and a somewhat cheeky disposition can certainly pay off. Fresh from his win on this season of 'Dancing With The Stars', we caught up with the affable star for a cuppa to natter about his debut single 'On Top' and his future plans. After such a massive year, we quickly discover that Mister Ruffo has no plans of slowing down just yet.
"Hopefully not. I’ve worked so hard," he says. "I was just saying that I’d just been piecing together everything that I’ve done in the past eight to ten months and I don’t even know how I’ve had time to do everything. It’s been incredible – it seriously has – and hopefully it continues on that path."
The past twelve months have seen the performer shift from concreting in Perth to a singing career in Sydney. He's starred in 'The X Factor', scored a major label record deal, supported both One Direction and NKOTBSB on their respective tours, was a finalist in Cleo's 'Bachelor Of The Year' and last weekend waltzed his way to the coveted Mirrorball Trophy on Season 12 of 'Dancing With The Stars'. It's been a non-stop rollercoaster ride that has forced plenty of changes upon his life.
"It’s changed incredibly. I’m living my dreams, you know? I’m so happy at the moment. The only thing that I don’t like is that I find it very hard to stay in touch with friends. I try and stay in touch with them as much as I can but it’s difficult," Johnny admits.
"Other than that, my life has been totally incredible. I’ve been fortunate enough to be signed to a major record deal, being on television, performing in front of thousands, seeing people sing the lyrics of your songs whilst you’re on stage... Seeing peoples’ smiles is pretty much the best feeling in the world and I really don’t want it to end, so I’m going to do everything I can to continue."
We suggest that given he's been losing touch with his friends, perhaps it might be wise for him to take the chance to say 'hi' to them as part of the interview.
"How are you going? My best mate Brad! He’s up there!" he laughs.
Having such a high profile, however, can take its toll, particularly on a newcomer to the industry, with the sudden loss of anonymity often difficult to cope with. Johnny is philosophical about his new-found public standing and is coping with the shift well.
"I had this conversation the other day actually," he says. "Coming into this industry, I’m fully aware that the more popular you become, the less privacy you have. You need to accept that before you come into the industry, because if you don’t, you’re just going to crash and burn. It’s part of the job. If you want to do this, you need to accept that."
Given there are usually predominantly female fans following his every move (a dedicated group were regularly camped out in front of the 'Dancing With The Stars' studio), we suggest that the attention must be mightily good for his ego.
"Well it doesn’t hurt…!" he jokes, going on to say that despite the fame, he's forever in debt to his fans.
"There are two things that I owe my career to. One is my fans and the other is working hard. Without my fans, I wouldn’t be here, basically. You’ll notice I’m on Twitter and Facebook constantly communicating with fans, because they’re the ones that keep supporting me. I’ll always continue to appreciate that."
Johnny last week released his debut single 'On Top'. Co-written with Michael Tan and the gents from DNA, it's a little tongue-in-cheek number about Johnny being "on top of the world when I'm on top of you girl." We reign naivety and ask him to explain further.
"I am on top! Usually," he says cheekily. Not that we'd picked him as being cheeky. At all.
"Well that’s the thing you see… I wanted to go with something that was totally left of centre. Yes, it’s a very cheeky song, but it represents me," he tells us. "It’s fun, it’s not derogatory – I hope people don’t see it as that, because it’s not. It’s a fun song that allows people to go out in a club and have fun, have a drink, get out there on the dancefloor and hopefully sing along to it.
"Maybe a Foxtrot! A Viennese Waltz. A Vietnamese Waltz even! I said that in my package one week – ‘Luda! We’ve got the Vietnamese Waltz this week! I’m not good with the Oriental stuff!?’" Cue more chuckling.
What he is good at, however, is playing up for the cameras. A talent that's on display throughout the official video (above). He tells us that being surrounded by beautiful models, having massages and the like was such a chore.
"Oh it was so gutwrenchingly painful having to stand around all day with beautiful models and massage models and get massaged by models," he laughs. "It took me about two hours to shoot the massage scene!
"The reason that I wanted it to be that cheeky, fun, underdog sort of vibe is because it’s sort of a contrast to the song. The song itself very confident – lyrics like ‘I don’t need your number’… ‘It’s going to happen tonight’… I didn’t want to come across as arrogant, so I made it fun and cheeky. I’m the valet guy, the bell boy, the masseuse, the yoga instructor, the badminton coach… I just wanted it to be fun and luckily enough, it did come across that way."
So where to from here? Another single? An album? Some live dates? We ask Johnny to dish, telling him that if he doesn't, we know someone who will, alluding to his manager David Champion.
"Single two? It’s called ‘Missionary’," Johnny tells us, in a rather matter-of-fact way. "No, no no no it’s not. Well if you ask Champo, every single on the album is going to be a smash. And also inspired. I inspire him a lot actually. The album’s going to be fun. There'll be a few downbeat, sensitive songs. I do have a sensitive side – I’m good like that!
"Haven’t had a chance to pick the album title yet, so we’re still working on that. We do have a number of tracks that are ready, that are likely to be on the album, but I don’t want to rush it, so whether it’s October or November, December or January that it comes out, I’ll definitely be making sure that it’s right. I do want to push the boundaries a little bit. Obviously I’ve pushed the boundaries a little bit with the lyrics in the first song. As you do.
"I’m doing a single with Justin Timberlake… No I’m not really," he laughs again. "I’m making a trip over to L.A. in the next month or two to do some co-writing. I’m going to be working with some big artists… I can’t name names because nothing’s been locked in, so I don’t want to make stuff up, because it could come across as being a lie. Will.I.Am and Chris Brown haven’t locked anything in yet, so… No, I’m kidding… That’ll probably end up in the story. It’s not them. I really want to do some collaborations… Maybe even a duet or two on the album."
Given that Johnny can't name names just yet, we decide to phrase the question differently and ask him who he'd like to work with.
"I would love to work with Justin Timberlake. He’s probably the hardest artist to work with. He’s in such high demand – everybody would want to work with him. So he’d be one of them. I’d love to do some stuff with Will.I.Am. Even Pharrell.
"These days it seems to be in thing to get a rapper on board to sing the bridge or verses. A lot of people get male rappers… I’d like to get a female rapper – maybe Nicki Minaj – I think it’d be awesome to work with her. Obviously there’s going to be a lot of work involved in trying to make that happen, but I’ve got to aim high."
Given the names Johnny has mentioned, it's obvious that his future material will fall somewhere within the pop/urban hybrid sphere.
"Probably something along the lines of Maroon 5," he says. "I love Maroon 5. But at the same time, I still want to have that element of the club/dance kind of feel. Cool synths, a nice drum beat, good basslines and some catchy lyrics. I want to stay along those lines, but I want my music to have an identity, so no matter what it is, whether I push the envelope musically or lyrically or stylistically, I always want to stand apart and be a little unique," he says.
There's no denying that Johnny Ruffo is a unique proposition. Former concreter, ballroom champion, pop star and Catherine Tate fan (HUP!), Johnny leaves quite an impression. He's friendly, warm, and effortlessly charismatic. As for that cheeky streak... It's always bubbling away under the surface. It's perhaps best summed up with his responses to our final questions.
auspOp : "So what’s on your list that you haven’t ticked off yet?"
Johnny : "Rihanna." (there's plenty of laughter)
auspOp : "That's so going in the article. Apart from Rihanna?"
Johnny : "I’d love to break into a market internationally. I guess that’s a dream for every musician. Next on the list… Kazakhstan. I'm No.1 on iTunes in Kazakhstan! No I'm not." (more laughter)
auspOp : "And are you highly disappointed that there’s not ONE single female waiting outside this café…? We are shocked and appalled."
Johnny : "I haven’t tweeted it."
auspOp : "But is it hard to get your downtime though?"
Johnny : "As in hard to go for a coffee without getting noticed?"
auspOp : "Yes."
Johnny : "Evidently no."
Johnny's debut single 'On Top' is available digitally now.
A physical version of the single will be released on Friday June 29.