In 2010, when he was 17 years old, Zayn auditioned as solo candidate in Manchester for the seventh series of The X Factor. FactorHe sang "Let Me Love You" by Mario. All three judges — Simon, Louis, and Nicole — gave him a 'yes'. His audition was initially not broadcasted, but was later shown on The Xtra Factor.

Zayn was noted for becoming nervous in bootcamp. When he was told he had to dance, he decided to remain backstage, effectively running the risk of elimination. When Simon noticed Zayn missing from the dance routine, he went backstage to convince him to return. Later on, Zayn said it was a lack of confidence that caused him to run away. At bootcamp Malik failed to qualify for the "Boys" category and was put in One Direction.

The group was made up of Harry Styles, Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson, Niall Horan and himself. The five boys made it through the live shows and ended coming third in the TV series. Following The X Factor, One Direction signed a record contract with Sony Music subsidiary Syco Music. They released their very first studio album, Up All Night.

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