June 20, 2012 12:00 PM


AGE 18


Niall Horan

GROWING UP IN THE TINY TOWN OF MULLINGAR, IRELAND, NIALL SAYS THERE WAS NEVER MUCH TO DO FOR FUN-SO HE WOULD ALWAYS DISTRACT HIMSELF WITH MUSIC. WHENEVER THERE WAS A KARAOKE MACHINE in the vicinity, he’d start crooning oldies like “Fly Me to the Moon.” “I spent most of my time just hanging out with friends or singing, and obviously all that singing is what led me to The X Factor,” he says in Forever Young. After belting out songs in primary school Christmas concerts, Niall starred in a class production of the musical Oliver! and really got hooked on performing. He learned to play the guitar at age 12, and after dabbling in a few local talent competitions, he decided to see how he’d fare in Britain’s ultimate sing-off. “I’d always wanted to give The X Factor a go-just like anyone else in the country who enjoys singing,” he said.

Although his parents divorced when he was 5 (he and his older brother Greg moved in with their father, Bobby), Niall has always remained close with both parents. His mom, Maura, even traveled with the band for a two-week stretch during their U.S. tour this spring. “I can tell my mum anything,” Niall told the U.K. magazine Teen Now. And, naturally, she also gushes about her superstar son. “It makes me very emotional seeing what he’s doing,” she said. “It really is changing his life-it’s so huge.”

Of course, Niall still has a lot of the same qualities he had as a boy-particularly his love of sports. When he’s on tour he likes to check out games of the local sports teams-like the New York Knicks-play WII Tennis, and he loves to golf with Harry. “We don’t get to play very often, but it’s relaxing,” he told a New Zealand radio station. Niall also trained as a jockey as a kid. Talking about things he’d love to splurge on one day, he told PEOPLE, “I’ll probably end up buying a few racehorses.”

Although he has never had a serious girlfriend, Niall says he’s looking for someone with a good sense of humor, who doesn’t wear too much makeup and is the right height-shorter than his 5’9″. And as if being part of the world’s biggest boy band wasn’t enough to entice the ladies, he’s smart too! “I’ve got an IQ of 40 million,” he jokes. (For the record, Liam is willing to vouch for his pal: “He’s really intelligent and quick-thinking.”) But perhaps Niall’s most endearing quality is that he’s a guy who doesn’t take either fame or life too seriously. Or as he recently put it (via Twitter), “I’m the most carefree, happy person you’ll meet.”

“Niall is a people person. … He’ll go over and start chatting with people and make us look good” -Louis

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