If you ever needed a friendly reminder to never give up on your dreams, Francis Atela is living proof of this. Before stealing hearts as a contestant on Nigerian Idol, currently streaming on Showmax, Francis suffered a bitter rejection when he auditioned to be on the show in 2015. That event would mark a turning point in his singing career. In this exclusive chat, the Nigerian Idol finalist shares how his rejection shaped him to do better, and also dishes about the love of his life. What were you doing prior to getting on the show? I have a small farm where I sell livestock – I have a couple of pigs, goats and rams. I also run a small business that essentially involves me flipping items. So, say you have a couch that you’re tired of. I find interested buyers very quickly, sell the item and you get your money. The business is growing fast now because of the traction I’ve got on the show. I also do my music. Have you auditioned for Nigerian Idol in the past? I actually did, about six years ago. I was way younger and, honestly speaking, I was a terrible singer. Maybe I could sing, but I wasn’t ready yet. That’s how I choose to see it now. I used to sing in the church and everyone would clap, saying ‘oh, the spirit has entered us’, only for me to go for the audition in Abuja. I left Jos to Abuja for it, and it didn’t work. I cried so much that my eyes were swollen. I refused to accept it. I kept saying they did ojoro but in hindsight, I believe I was not ready and that single event made me go back home and work on myself. It was after that I made my first studio song called Rise Again. I encouraged myself and taught myself how to sing, watched videos – in fact, that’s when I discovered YouTube. Did you think you would get this far on the show? With all confidence, yes. I have this thing about believing and not leaving room for doubt. I have encountered God on my own and he has made me certain promises, we have made certain bargains and for the mere fact that I’ve kept my own end of the bargain, I have been certain of every outcome. However, no matter how the show ends, I made my peace with it a long time ago. What would you like your fans to know about you? I’m a ‘never give up’ type of guy. When I set my mind to something, I don’t back down. I will go for it until I get it; there’s no other option. I also really love African tradition. That’s why I would rather be called Atela, which is my native name, than Francis. What artist are you looking forward to working with? Without even thinking about it, that would be Sam Smith. I have had a very strong spiritual connection with Sam Smith’s music, there’s just something about it. Every song tells you a unique story and takes you through a unique journey in his life. I have also found that people connect more with sad songs than they would a happy song. A happy song will be groovy and it passes. But there’s a wide array of emotions that are sad: happiness is just one emotion but with sadness there are different emotions and it can work, so I connect with Sam Smith. Locally I would say Fireboy and Joeboy, these two guys are young and innovative. They moved out of the sound we’ve been used to hearing. Is there anyone who’s left you feel deserves to be here? Everyone deserves to be here, but you see Faith Mac, she can really sing. The day she got evicted and she sang her song, in my mind I felt things didn’t add up. I felt she deserved more coverage. She is an amazing singer. What are your plans for after the show? It would be to amplify what I’m already doing because I’d like to believe I’m not doing the wrong thing. So I would grow my farm and continue to push my music, just grow everything around me because that’s the only way to ensure I don’t go broke. So I’ll just keep growing my farm and reinvest the money into my music business. Are you in a relationship? Yes, I do have someone and she has been there through my lows and highs, mostly lows. I love her to bits. People always say if you admit to having a girlfriend in interviews, that it could affect your female fan base, but I’m not worried. I love my female fans and I want to make music for them, but it’s also important we learn as humans to be faithful and honest. So our music relationship will not go well if I start it with a lie, so if you love me, love me for the songs and music I make, and while you love me, know that I have someone I’m building a family and life with.