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on Mon, 21 Dec 2015
London-born Leona Lewis rose to fame back in 2006 when she won the third series of The X Factor. Best known for her 2008 award-winning single, Bleeding Love - which hit number one in over thirty countries - she’s back on the road after a three-year break from touring, to promote the release of fifth album I Am.
With Leona next month bringing her new show to Birmingham’s Symphony Hall, Lauren Foster chatted to her about the new album, her departure from Simon Cowell’s Syco Records and her I Am Empowered campaign…
What was the inspiration behind new album I Am?
I started writing I Am independently, so really out of a record deal. I wanted to write an album that was very empowering and uplifting - and a lot of its tone has that feel to it. There are songs on there like Thunder And Fire Under My Feet, which is about getting up and doing something; about really giving you that energy to get out there and overcome any obstacles that may be in your way. It’s very uplifting.
What makes it different to your previous four albums?
Well, I feel like this album, although it’s me and I’m all about really heartfelt songs, is coming from a bit of a stronger place than before. Maybe my other albums were from a more vulnerable place.
After seven years on Simon Cowell’s label, Syco Records, you signed to Island Records to release and promote your new album. Why the move?
I decided that I needed a change. I find sometimes that when you’re in a situation for a long time, you can get a bit comfortable. I really felt like it was time to change and do something a bit different.
I didn’t automatically leave the label and jump into a new deal. I actually had time where I was out of a label and just me, on my own and making the album, which definitely had its ups and downs. After I started recording the album, that was when I decided to find a label to promote it.
You won The X Factor back in 2006. Does it feel like almost a decade since you shot to stardom?
No, it’s flown by so quickly. Every time I say that to someone, they’re like, ‘No, it hasn’t been that long, it’s been maybe four or five years’. It really has flown by for me.
More often than not, winners of talent shows disappear off the radar. You’re one of the very few who’re still in the limelight. That must be a great feeling...
Yeah, it’s great that people are still buying my music and feeling the things that I’m saying. Obviously, everything has its high and low moments. I’ve always stayed true to what I love to do, to myself, and to my hardcore fans, who’ve really supported me. It’s been amazing for me. I feel very lucky.
You recently sang in Italy with Andrea Bocelli. How did that come about?
I studied opera from a young age, so for me to be asked by Andrea was just a dream come true. When I first got asked, I was like, ‘No, I can’t do it’ because I was too scared. But then I got a bit more confident, and I’m now so happy that I did it. It’s literally a memory I will never forget.
Do you still get nervous before going on stage?
Yeah, I still do - and I allow myself to have that little bit of nervousness. If it gets too much, I have to have a talk with myself and calm myself down. Usually I’m quite good, though, and have just enough nervousness to give me that adrenaline rush.
What’s the most memorable performance of your career?
There are quite a few. I got to play the Beijing Olympics closing ceremony, which was really cool. I did a really lovely gig in St Tropez, looking out on to the water - I’ve been lucky to play a few gigs looking out over beautiful scenery, which is fantastic. I played with Stevie Wonder too, and with Andrea. So yeah, I’ve had a few really memorable experiences.
Who are your musical influences?
Singer-songwriter Eva Cassidy - she’s one of my favourites - and Alicia Adams. Vocalists I love are Whitney Houston and Sia. I really like her voice; she’s amazing right now.
If you could collaborate with anyone in the industry, who would it be and why?
Right now, I’d probably say Sia, because I’m inspired by her. Bruno Mars too; I’ve always loved him. I just heard a song by Beyonce and Coldplay. I’ve always liked the idea of doing something with Coldplay. I’ve always love that band.
You’ve got a house over in LA. How does life over there compare to life in London?
It’s very different. I’m based in both places. I’ve got a place in LA because I do a lot of songwriting and recording there. It’s just such a different feel. In LA, you get a lot of space.
I’ve got horses, so there’s a lot of land for them. London is a little bit more hustle and bustle; everyone’s very close and there’s more of a community feeling. The style and the vibe of London is very cool.
Tell us about your I Am Empowered campaign...
I Am Empowered started out being an empowerment month. Every day, I’d share something on my social media that was either a speech by someone that was empowering, some words or a quote that I loved, some pictures or a story. Fans started writing to me sharing their stories, and I would share them as well. I started the campaign to get people involved in sharing stories about the different obstacles that people have to overcome.
There was a girl who sent me a story about how members of her family had been killed by someone that was close to them. She’d turned her life around - she’d been in a very dark place - and trained to become a nurse so that she could help and save people. She’d managed to turn something devastating into something that was actually positive in her life. I started getting lots of stories like that one sent to me, and I wanted to share them by putting them on my social media. It was really about having a bit of a social shift - especially now, with so much negative and crazy news happening. I just felt it was important to share something on the flip side that was uplifting.
You start your UK tour in February. Is there anything else in the pipeline for 2016?
I want to get back in the studio again after the tour. The tour was initially going to be a bit longer, but I made it this length so that I had time to get back in the studio and start writing again. I want to spend time with the family and chill out too, so I’m looking forward to that.
Leona Lewis plays Symphony Hall, Birmingham on Sunday 28 February.