Every once in a while, an artist comes along whose talent is so undeniable that it inspires everyone who encounters it. Britain’s Leona Lewis is such an artist. Her striking beauty, charmingly down-to-earth personality, and huge, soaring voice has taken over the UK, where her debut Spirit entered the album chart at Number One and became Britain’s fastest-selling debut of all time. Spirit’s lead-off single “Bleeding Love” —co-written and produced by OneRepublic frontman Ryan “Alias” Tedder — claimed the Number One spot for seven weeks, and the album sold over 1 million copies in the UK in just 5 weeks. Ushering in 2008, Leona received four prestigious Brit Award nominations, the UK equivalent of the Grammy Awards. As of March 2008, Spirit has surpassed the 2.5 million sales mark and debuted at #1 in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Australia, and New Zealand.
The US market is primed and ready for Spirit’s release on April 8, 2008. Leona’s performance at Clive Davis’ Pre-Grammy Party set the tone in February when she was presented as the next important new voice in music. Her single “Bleeding Love” came out of the gate as one of the most played and most requested songs at Top 40 and Rhythm radio. She scored an early booking on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” on March 17th and the coveted video channel programs, MTV’s “Discover and Download” and Vh-1’s “You Oughta Know.”
Her UK fans watched Leona’s journey to stardom on television each week on The X Factor, a British talent show executive-produced by American Idol’s Simon Cowell, who is also a judge. She won the 2006 competition handily, stunning the notoriously critical Cowell into silence who said: “I think she’s one of the best singers we’ve seen in this country for a long, long time.”
Knowing a superstar when he heard it, Cowell phoned legendary music executive and J Records founder Clive Davis and told him: “You might have the next Whitney Houston on your hands.” For the first time, the two teamed up and signed Lewis to J Records/ SyCo Music (Cowell’s joint venture with Sony BMG). “I was immediately knocked out by her range, her versatility, and the pure beauty of her voice,” said Davis. “She is an artist who will be a true star for many years to come.”
Davis and Cowell have made sure of it by introducing Lewis to an all-star roster of collaborators to bring out her best on Spirit, including Tedder (currently enjoying his own hit with the ubiquitous “Apologize”), famed songwriter/producers Akon (Gwen Stefani, T-Pain), Ne-Yo (Rihanna, Beyoncé, Jennifer Hudson), Dallas Austin (Madonna, Gwen Stefani, Pink), Stargate (Rihanna, Beyoncé, Ne-Yo), J.R. Rotem (Britney Spears, Sean Kingston), Max Martin (Kelly Clarkson, Britney Spears), and Lukasz “Dr. Luke” Gottwald (Kelly Clarkson, Avril Lavigne).
“It was quite daunting at first to work with such well-known people,” Lewis admits, “but they gave me their full attention and really wanted to do their best. They were all really lovely and I learned something different from each one of them.”
For Lewis, making a solo album was the chance to realize a dream she’s had since the tender age of 5, when her parents (father is Guyanese/mother is Welsh) enrolled her into London’s prestigious Sylvia Young Theatre School. Lewis then attended the performing arts academy The BRIT School, where she honed her songwriting and production skills. Encouraged by winning several talent contests as a teen, she left school and took part-time jobs — including working in Pizza Hut as a waitress — to earn money to pay for studio time. “It was about doing my music,” she says. “It has always been my passion to be a singer and songwriter.”
In 2006, Lewis auditioned for The X Factor and won in a landslide on December 16th. Her first single broke a world record when it was downloaded 50,000 times in 30 minutes and subsequently outsold the rest of the U.K.’s Top 40 singles combined. Leona mania had taken hold of Britain.
Now Lewis hopes to do the same in the U.S. “I wanted to make an album that was totally me,” Lewis says. “Each song is about something that either I’ve gone through or that someone around me has gone through. The lyrics reflect things that I’m really passionate about. I have to be able to put myself in the song for it to ring true to me. If it doesn’t ring true to me, it’s not going to be believable to anyone else.”
Indeed Lewis’ passion for singing comes through loud and clear. “My love for music is my main motivation as an artist,” she says. “I’ve found that you can help so many people with your songs. I’ve received a lot of letters from people saying that ‘Bleeding Love’ really helped them. I think if you can do that, it makes it all worth it.”