The 2012 season of Channel Seven’s hit talent show The X Factor started this week, and in amongst the oddballs, sob stories and bickering judges, queer viewers may have recognised a familiar face: Justin Standley, aka J Bear.

The Sydney-based singer-songwriter became known as J Bear after winning Mr Manacle, Sydney Leather Pride’s Person of the Year and Sydney Pride’s Sexiest Male, all in 2006.

Since then, Standley has worked with and supported many gay community groups both in Sydney and interstate, but in recent times, his interest in singing had fallen by the wayside thanks to the pressures of university studies and full-time work.

It was actually his role as a teacher for a choir in a maximum security women’s prison that piqued his interest in The X Factor.

“Some of the women in the prison choir I teach suggested that I go on The X Factor. I initially dismissed this idea, because I’m a shy bloke, and I’ve never had an interest in being famous or being on TV,” he told the Star Observer.

“But I thought maybe, if got onto the show and performed a song well enough, I might be able to get a gig out of it and save some money for my final year at uni. Then something else occurred me.”

That ‘something else’ is a heartrending story Standley has not shared with many people – until now. Many years ago, a “young and naive” Standley was involved with an older woman, the pair producing four children, one of whom died. When the relationship broke down, Standley’s ex-partner took the children and vanished.

“I tried for a number of years to find them. Eventually, I ended up suffering from bouts of deep depression, partly due to the separation from my children and the feelings of grief and loss, but also because I was struggling to come to terms with my sexuality. I began to tell myself that I deserved the pain, and that I didn’t deserve to be a dad because I’d turned out to be gay,” he said.

Standley is now desperate to reconnect with his estranged children, ranging in age from 13 to 18.

“Teenagers love watching The X Factor. I thought if I could get on the show, and sing well enough, I could also get my message on national TV that I’m looking for my kids: I could let my children know that I’ve never tried to hide from them; I just couldn’t find them.”

Incredibly, Standley delivered this emotional story at his first audition, in front of celebrity judges Guy Sebastian, Melanie B, Ronan Keating and Natalie Bassingthwaighte – and of course an audience of 4000 at the Sydney Entertainment Centre.

And that’s where we have to leave the story for now, as Standley is contractually tied to the Channel Seven behemoth and can’t yet reveal exactly how far he’s progressed in the show.

“I can say this: The X Factor has changed my life and I am very hopeful of finding my children. You will not believe what happens on the show this year – it’s left me gobsmacked. This whole X Factor experience is so much bigger than me, and I’m ready for whatever happens next.”

INFO: The X Factor, Channel Seven, au.tv.yahoo.com/x-factor/

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