By People Staff
Updated June 20, 2012 12:00 PM


AGE 19


Zayn Malik

BEFORE 1D, ZAYN MALIK’S MAIN FOCUS WAS ACTING. HE WENT TO A PERFORMING ARTS SCHOOL AND APPEARED IN SCHOOL MUSICALS INCLUDING GREASE (JUST LIKE LOUIS!) AND SCROOGE. “HE WAS ALWAYS A STAR PERFORMER IN all the productions,” revealed Steve Gates, assistant head teacher at Zayn’s alma mater Tong High, “so it was no surprise when Simon Cowell threw him his big chance.” But even though he was brimming with talent, it had taken Zayn two years to build up enough courage to fill out the application for The X Factor. And then when it came time to finally let the judges hear his vocal skills, he was so afraid of rejection that he could barely get himself out of bed the day of the auditions. “Before doing X Factor, I hadn’t done anything that required me to speak in front of cameras,” explained Zayn. And forget about dancing. During the boot camp portion of the show, he was so afraid to shake it on-camera that he hid backstage while the other contestants showed off their moves to the judges. (Simon Cowell found him and convinced him to join in.) “I had confidence issues,” Zayn admitted. “The X Factor helped me with that.”

Despite the bouts of self-doubt, Zayn had a vocal ability that always managed to shine through. He started singing when he was 4, and in elementary school, Zayn-whose favorite subjects were English, art and drama-was in the choir. “I’ve always loved singing,” he said. (Another passion: drawing. He does caricatures of his bandmates.)

Now that he’s famous, Zayn says family members “still treat me the same” at home in Bradford, England, where he grew up with older sister Doniya and younger sisters Waliyha and Safaa. (Their dad is of Pakistani descent; their mom is Irish and English.) Zayn was an active child who spent a lot of time in his room playing video games and reading comic books. “I used to collect them when I was younger,” he said. “It’s quite a geeky thing to do.”

Despite Zayn’s contention that he’s a nerdy, socially awkward misfit, his bandmates say that in private he’s anything but. Plus, he hasn’t exactly had much trouble meeting girls. He dated fellow X Factor contestants Rebecca Ferguson, 25, and Perrie Edwards, 18. Zayn’s idea of a romantic date? “I would take her to the top of the Eiffel Tower and wine and dine her.” He can afford to do that now given 1D’s success, but for Zayn, the best thing about being in the group isn’t the girls, money or fame. “I grew up wanting a brother,” he said, “and now I have four.”

“Zayn looks like the quiet, moody one, but actually he’s really funny and very loud” -Louis