Zayn Malik has come a long way in the five years since he hid backstage during 'X Factor' bootcamp, too afraid to dance in front of the cameras and judges. These days, the 22-year-old heartthrob is used to performing for tens of thousands of screaming fans in One Direction's sell-out arena tours. 

Zayn Malik stillZayn could be heading in the right direction

And now, it emerges, he's taking the bold step of going solo, just months after sensationally quitting the band in March. Zayn has bagged himself a new record deal with RCA, home of Justin Timberlake and Alicia Keys, and he's promising to show a new side to himself, tweeting '#REALME' after signing the contract, and posting a photo at the studio.

But can he carve out a solo career to rival that of Robbie Williams, the occasional Take That star who has sold 25 million records as a solo artist in the UK alone, and won 17 Brit Awards to boot?

Zayn Malik and Robbie WilliamsCould solo Zayn be as big as Robbie?

With 15 million followers on Twitter (actually the smallest following of all the One Directioners), Zayn will certainly be off to a good start, with a pre-installed fan base ready to pounce on whatever he releases first.

More: Zayn signs solo deal with RCA Records

One thing's for sure, if Zayn is planning to stick around for years to come, he will need memorable, catchy, award-winning hits - the likes of which Guy Chambers conjured up for Robbie time and time again. Will Zayn be on the search for respected songwriters, or will he attempt to write alone? 

Robbie Williams at 22 years oldRobbie Williams went solo aged 21

Whatever happens, we're betting he won't be calling Naughty Boy any time soon, not after their very public feud. Meanwhile, the 1D boys appear to be doing just fine without Zayn, as they cunningly release their first single since he left the group.

More: Surprise 1D single immediately tops iTunes chart