In 2012, Maloney auditioned in Liverpool for the ninth series of The X Factor. He struggled with nervousness despite working as a professional singer prior to auditioning, but managed to overcome them and sing Bette Midler's "The Rose". Afterwards, he received a standing ovation from the audience and judges Louis Walsh, Gary Barlow, Tulisa Contostavlos and guest judges Geri Halliwell. Barlow asked him "How the hell have you kept that voice hidden until now?", and Maloney admitted that he had previously filled out the application form for the show, but tore it up every year due to his nerves and other people telling him he wasn't good enough. All four judges gave him a "yes" and he advanced to bootcamp. He made it to judges' houses alongside Nicola Marie, Melanie Masson, Carolynne Poole, Brad Shackleton and Kye Sones. Maloney failed to make it into Barlow's final three as Masson, Poole and Sones were selected ahead of him, but was later thrown a lifeline when it was revealed that all four judges could choose a wildcard, and the wildcard with the most public votes would become the thirteenth finalist. On the night of the first live show, Maloney was announced as the wildcard winner, beating Times Red, Amy Mottram and Adam Burridge to win the final spot in the live shows.
Despite being dubbed a "cabaret" and "cruise ship" singer by Walsh, Maloney advanced on the public vote nine times, receiving the most votes from weeks 1–7 before finishing in third place after being eliminated from the first of the live final shows. He had major support from celebrities such as Jane McDonald andseries 8 runner-up Marcus Collins. In March 2013, Maloney came out as gay.
In April 2013, in an interview with the Liverpool Echo, Maloney confirmed that he had signed a contract with independent record label Tristar Records. On 27 October 2013, he release his debut single "My Heart Belongs to You"
2016: Celebrity Big Brother
Maloney entered the Celebrity Big Brother house in January 2016. On 26 January 2016, Maloney was the fifth person to be evicted after receiving the fewest amount of votes to stay. He had spent 22 days in the house.