A PAL of X Factor favourite Matt Cardle says he is taking the show in his stride.

Essex boy Matt has cut down on smoking and is getting on well with 17-year-old contestant Cher Lloyd, according to fomer bandmate Darren Gear.

Matt, 27, from Little Maplestead, is 3/1 to win the ITV show.

He is one of 32 acts to make it into the judge’s house stage of the show where he will be mentored by Dannii Minogue.

Mr Gear, who has gigged with Matt and speaks to him almost every day, helped him to choose his audition song - Amy Winehouse’s You Know I’m No Good.

The 22-year-old from Braintree, who plays in band the Vale, said: “He’s the nicest guy you could ever meet.

“He has an incredible voice. I have never been able to keep up with him.

“He’s really enjoying his time on X Factor and taking it all in his stride.

“He gets really nervous when he’s gigging and he has no self confidence.

“Everytime I speak to him he says: ‘The others are so amazing’.

“I would say to Matt you’re amazing, you need to listen to yourself.”

Matt recently took time out of his X Factor schedule to play a gig in Scenarios in Halstead.

The Trinity Street venue was full to bursting when Matt played there with his old band Darwyn two weeks ago.

Venue owner John Craig said: “Darwyn went down a storm and the place was absolutely rammed.

“They have played at Scenarios many times before and would be paid in beer money.”

**The Bull Hotel** MATT’S handiwork can be seen at the Bull Hotel in Halstead.

Ther decorator painted 16 rooms in magnolia during June and July.

Before then he had worked at the hotel as a barman.

Hotel manager Chris Heap, who is good friends with the painter and decorator, said: “He’s a brilliant lad and I think he can win it.

“Matt did a fantastic job painting. He was a barman last Christmas but he’s rubbish at pulling pints.

“He used to work the karaoke nights and you couldn’t get him off the machine.

“I’m so excited and proud of him.

“He’s growing in self-confidence and deserves every success.

“I think he stands a good chance of winning it.”

*WHAT THE JUDGES SAY* Louis Walsh said: “He’s the biggest surprise of the day for me.”

Simon Cowell said: “Why didn’t we notice him? Shall I tell you why - no confidence or self-belief whatsoever.”