James - who will battle it out with Jahmene Douglas and Christopher Maloney in the 'X Factor' final - says things began to get too much for him last year.
James shows mentor Nicole Scherzinger the sites in his hometown
"Who knows how bad it could have got?"
The 24-year-old singing hopeful has previously spoken of how he shoplifted food to feed himself when he slept on the streets as a teenager after being kicked out of home.
“I understand why she chucked me out because I was unbearable to live with. She couldn’t cope with me because I was so angry.
“I was a pretty tough kid, but I had to steal food a couple of times. I went to supermarkets like Sainsbury’s and filled up a plastic bag to try to steal enough food for the week."
A warm reception: James and Nicole arrive in Cleveland
The pair were mobbed by hundreds of fans as they arrived on a Harley Davidson motorbike. James then took Nicole to his local pub, the Victoria, before heading off for a stroll along the seafront and some fish and chips.
Nicole wrapped up for the occasion (it was 4C) in a black biker's jacket, leather trousers, knee-high boots and huge sunglasses (natch).
James said: “I just want to thank all the fans for their support. I am so excited to be back. It has been amazing.”