At 14 Jess Folley won the Voice Kids; three years later she was back on TV and was part of RLY the group that won X Factor - The Band. Now at just 21, she’s starring in the world premiere of Burlesque the Musical in Manchester - oh, and she’s also written some of the songs for the show.

“I know it’s mad, it really shouldn’t work like that,” she laughed.

Jess Folley in Burlesque the Musical (Picture: Johan Persson)

The musical is based on the hit movie which starred Christina Aguilera and Cher. It’s the story of Ali, a young girl who heads to New York in search of her mother and discovers the underground club scene which allows her to find out where she really belongs.

Jess is playing Ali - the Christina Aguilera role from the movie.

“I try and distance myself from the scale of the show and the expectations of the show,” she said. “I’m going to show up, do my job, eat, sleep and go and do it again tomorrow. I’ve very much had that mentality from the outset because it’s really hard when you start analysing how big a scale it is and what people’s expectations are of it and how big the brand is.

“It doesn’t always seem helpful to think of all those things, that could be too much pressure.

“For me, it’s just really exciting.”

Jess is starring alongside Broadway legend Jackie Burns who plays Tess, the nightclub owner who takes the young Ali under her wing.

Jackie holds the record as Broadway’s longest running Elphaba in Wicked and has also starred in Hair, Rock of Ages and If/Then.

The cast also includes Broadway and West End star Todrick Hall.

“From the first day of rehearsals I knew I was working with greats,” said Jess. “It is such an honour to perform with them. I have just tried to absorb everything. I have had numerous conversations with Jackie and she has helped me so much.”

Given that Burlesque the Musical is her first acting role, Jess remains remarkably grounded.

“I’m very much someone who walks into experiences and takes it as it comes,” she said.

That approach has certainly helped given her unorthodox entry to big time theatre.

“Honestly, I feel like I’ve just walked in off the street,” she laughed.

Jess Folley in Burlesque the Musical (Picture: Johan Persson)

Jess first got involved with the production a couple of years ago.

“I was 19 at time and I’d always been really passionate about theatre and writing; I was a theatre kid and loved storytelling through music. So I was speaking to the production company basically being a pushy 19-year-old. I said I really wanted to get into writing for the theatre was there anything they could help me out with?

“They mentioned they were doing Burlesque and obviously I’m a massive fan of the film and Christina and Cher so my ears pricked up. At the time they were missing a specific song which is the opening song Ali sings in the show

“I really didn’t expect anything to come from it but I wrote this little song and they really seemed to like it and everything sort of developed from that one song.”

Jess was invited to play the Ali role in a workshop for the production and she became involved in writing more songs for the show. Before she knew it she had been cast in the production and was in rehearsal for the world premiere.

“I know it really shouldn’t happen like that, but it did,” she said. “I knew that I felt a deep connection to the character of Ali. I drew on my own experiences, especially when writing the song which became Getting it All From you, her first number.

“It’s about being passionate about something - in my case, and Ali’s, music, but not knowing what to do with that passion and energy. There is lot of me embedded into the roots of the character which made it fit me even better so when it came to playing her it just felt right.”

What Jess was determined not to do was attempt any kind of Christina Aguilera impression.

“As much as I wanted to take inspiration from her - in the film she’s brilliant - but at same time I was never never going to do it just like Christina,” she said. “I knew I wanted to do my own version of Ali.

Jess Folley (Picture Elliott Morgan)

“I felt it was important to make her very human. So much in this show is that big spectacle, so being able to humanise Ali in the moments when you get to see her just being a girl is really important.

“She’s my age, just 21, and she’s a girl that is kind of lost. She’s also ballsy as hell. She’s got a bit of fire inside of her but doesn’t really know what to do with it and that’s the interesting thing; it’s something I relate to so much.

“But I think audiences want a human rather than just a character and I hope my version of Ali is that.”

Certainly if reactions to the show which has sold out every performance in Manchester so far are anything to go by, Ali’s got it spot on.

“The first night I have never seen or experienced anything like it,” she said. “It was like a concert, it was just wild.”

Burlesque ends in Manchester on Saturday but then will return to the Opera House for a month-long stint before a possible West End run.

“The show is still evolving and to be part of that creative process has been amazing,” said Jess. “It’s going to be nice to take a break and think about everything that has happened in the past few weeks, it has been a complete whirlwind. But I’m loving it and I’m just so grateful to have been given the opportunity.”

Burlesque the Musical is at Manchester Opera House until Saturday and then from October 3 to November 2. Details from