Here come the new hitmakers

Andy Welch reveals the musical stars to watch out for in 2011

It's never easy to work out what the future has in store, not least in the musical world.

Remember the man who didn't sign The Beatles because guitar bands were only a phase?

Only last weekend, Simon Cowell and Nicole Scherzinger demonstrated what a fickle business it is on X Factor's spin-off show, revealing they'd both predicted Gamu Nhengu would go on to win the competition.

In reality, the Zimbabwean immigrant was cruelly ditched by mentor Cheryl Cole and sent back to Scotland, where she and her family faced a deportation court case (they've since won the right to stay in the UK).

Instead of all eyes being fixed on Gamu in 2011, however, it will be winner Matt Cardle who has everything to prove over the next year or so. And he'd do well to learn from his predecessors. Simon Cowell's very quick to point to his success stories – namely Leona and JLS – but his failures are far more compelling.

In the same week the 2010 contest came to a close, the latest single from last year's winner Joe McElderry limped into the charts at No 68, while the show's very first victor, Steve Brookstein, cancelled a gig in a high street coffee shop because, well, no one could be bothered turning up.

It will be very interesting to see how the coming 12 months treat Emma's Imagination. Dumfries singer songwriter Emma Gillespie won Must Be The Music, Sky's answer to X Factor, earlier this year, along with the chance to perform in front of 10,000 people at Wembley Arena and 100,000.

Her debut album Stand Still and first single This Day are ready to go this month. She's certainly popular with music fans, her winning song from the series rocketed up the iTunes chart, she's genuinely talented and it's difficult to imagine Radio 2 not claiming her for their own, as they've done with similar artists KT Tunstall and Amy Macdonald.

Away from the world of TV talent shows, we have a very different prospect in Jessie J – a 22-year-old Essex girl that'd make Simon Cowell blush.

She's already telling us to Do It Like A Dude – a song she says she wrote for Rihanna but decided to keep for herself – and it won't be long before even more people are hanging on her every shouty word.

More subtle is Pete Lawrie. The Welsh songwriter has a voice somewhere between David Gray and Ray LaMontagne, and writes songs that sound like... David Gray and Ray LaMontagne.

Of course, that's not going to win you over if you don't like either of those artists, but Pete is an honest singer in the great acoustic tradition, and a writer of heartfelt, accessible pop songs. If, come the summer festivals, there aren't fields of people singing the words to In The End and All That We Keep back to him, something has gone very wrong indeed.

Next up, and an almost sure-fire tip for success in 2011 are Mona.

The band come from Nashville, Tennessee, although the four members are from all different parts of the States.

They were dubbed 'The Princes Of Leon' by NME, and while it's easy to compare them to Kings Of Leon – the two bands are close friends for starters – there are also similarities in terms of the music's scale and Southern origin. It's also pleasing to hear a young band with such ambition. There's no coy, 'we make the music that pleases us and if anyone else likes us it's a bonus' indie posturing with Mona. They want to be the biggest band in the world, make no mistake.

Clare Maguire is another artist who could clean up next year.

Already endorsed by the music press, it's only a matter of time before the general public catch on to the Birmingham singer, who cites influences as diverse and pleasing as Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Portishead and Jay-Z.

James Blake is blessed with a devastatingly beautiful voice, and music blogs all over the internet have been awash with talk of his talents.

The first thing most people heard was his take on Limit To Your Love, originally by Canadian artist Feist, but now tracks from his forthcoming album have started to emerge and it seems there's a great deal of substance to back up his early promise.

Whether he'll breakthrough to the mainstream ultimately depends on whether radio stations play his music – they hold most of the keys to artist success these days – but do yourself a favour and investigate him further.

And Jamie Woon, for that matter. He's a dubstep artist, but thanks to his Brit School training, he's put a gloriously commercial slant on an otherwise underground genre.

2011 could also see the return of girl bands. Since Girls Aloud went their separate ways – only temporarily, they've been saying for the last two years – there's been a dearth of girl bands to take their place.

What about The Saturdays, you cry? Well, yes, what about The Saturdays?

Wonderland and Parade are both going to be launched in the new year – the former the brainchild of Louis Walsh and Westlife's Kian Egan, while the latter, although less well connected, have the right balance of songs, attitude and good looks that might just see them do really well.

There are, of course, other artists and bands that will shine brightly over the next 12 months. Just as everyone, this time last year, was convinced by the likes of Delphic, Ellie Goulding and Daisy Dares You, it's been artists such as Janelle Monae, Bruno Mars, Tinie Tempah and Plan B who've defined the year, who hardly anyone saw coming.

The important thing is to keep an open mind and open ears, and you may stumble across something special all by yourself.

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