Interview date: 04/01/2008
Run date: 04/11/2008
Pop artist Leona Lewis won the "X-Factor" competition in her native Great Britain, the show which is the British version of "American Idol." All of a sudden, Lewis' debut album, Spirit, which was releases in the States on April 8, has spawned a #1 single, "Bleeding Love." Lewis has been compared to Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston, and at the age of 21 she has the potential for a long and successful career. That, and she's extremely humble. We had the chance to talk to Lewis just before the album's release.
Bullz-Eye: Hi Leona. How are you doing?
Leona Lewis: Good. How are you doing?
BE: Good. For those that are not familiar with the UK Idol shows, tell us what the main differences are between "American Idol" and "X Factor."
LL: I guess the main difference…well, it's similar, but I guess the main difference is there are categories. There's the under 25, that I was in. There is the over 25 group as well.
BE: And those are on the same shows simultaneously?
LL: The same show, yeah. We do it together.
BE: So you were the winner in your age bracket, so to speak?
LL: We all kind of do it in one show, so I won the whole thing.
BE: Gotcha. When discussing your plans to break into the American market, how many times have people brought up Robbie Williams or Lily Allen?
LL: Not many actually.
LL: No one's really brought up Robbie Williams. Lily Allen a few times because she's done really well, and Amy Winehouse because she's done really well.
BE: Right, okay. And many of the early comparisons to your voice and your work are to Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey. How does that make you feel?
LL: It makes me feel very good because I think they're fantastic. I, however, don't feel like I should be compared to them because I think they've had such long-standing success and I'm only just starting out. I've got a lot of work ahead of me. But it's lovely when people say some things like that.
BE: Yeah, that's got to feel pretty good.
BE: And of course I've read about how humble you are too.
LL: Oh (laughs).
BE: I'm sure you're going to do really well.
LL: Thank you.
BE: Also, what advice has Simon Cowell or Clive Davis given you as sort of father figures in the music business?
LL: Well they're so powerful and very well respected. Simon has always said I should follow my instincts. And Clive has introduced me to so many different songwriters and people I may not have ever have been able to meet and work with. They've given me a lot of ammunition to go in with.
BE: And at this stage, how much input do they let you have in the songwriting process?
LL: What happened is, I did a showcase with Clive for some songwriters, he put it on for some songwriters that he knows. And they kind of got a feel for me and what kind of style I am and singing-wise what I sound like. And then they went and kind of started working on songs, and then I went to visit with different songwriters and wrote with them as well. So I wrote and recorded loads of songs and we kind of cut it down to what we thought was best. I've got a couple of songs that I've written on the album as well as songs that I've recorded that other songwriters have written. I love songwriting and I'd love to do a lot more of it.
BE: So it's something you did a lot of before all this?
LL: Yeah. I wrote songs before all this.
BE: And do you play guitar or piano, or both?
LL: I play a bit of guitar. I'm not as good at guitar. I play a bit of piano. I'm just always trying to learn new things, really.
BE: Okay. And who would you say your influences are as an artist?
LL: My influences would be people like Oleta Adams, Eva Cassidy and Minnie Ripperton. Yeah, that would be it I would think.
BE: Interesting. And I've read that you've gone from serving pizzas to international pop star in a few minutes. Do you still have to pinch yourself that it's all real, and what do you have to say to all of the young aspiring artists out there who have dreams?
LL: I'd say to them that they should keep on being dedicated. I left school at 17 because I really wanted to pursue a career and record an album. I've demoed loads and worked in the studio all the time as well as working as a receptionist part-time, and also as a waitress and retail assistant. So I did a lot of different jobs, but I was always so passionate about music. That was what I'd always wanted to do. So I stayed dedicated and that's what I'd say, is to stay dedicated. If you're passionate about it, just keep doing it.
BE: Do you think this would have happened as quickly without "X Factor?"
LL: I'm not sure if it would have happened this quickly. I would have definitely kept going for it and hopefully something would have come of it. I'm not sure, really. I hope so.
BE: Have you read Ben Elton's book "Chart Throb?"
LL: No. I've heard of it though. I've heard it's quite a good book. A lot of people have been talking about it.
BE: Has anyone said anything on how accurate the portrayal is?
LL: Of like the judges and the contest and stuff? Yeah, people have said that it's really kind of uncanny.
BE: Very cool. What was it like going on "Oprah" and meeting her?
LL: Amazing. She is such an incredible lady. I was stunned that I even got to appear on the show. She's so well known. That is a big achievement for me.
BE: Absolutely. What are you expecting after the U.S. release of your album next week and then touring here? Anything you're looking forward to?
LL: I think people are still getting to know me and getting to know my music. Of course there's been "Bleeding Love" (first single), which is one part of the album. There's a whole body of work there, so I'm really excited for people to hear the rest of the album and the other songs on it. It's like a book and there are different chapters and I can't wait for people to hear it. I'm hoping that it will connect with people and people can relate to it. I'm hoping to tour, but there's no real plan there yet. We'll just see how it goes.
BE: So there are promotional events planned but no real tour yet?
LL: No, no tour yet. People will really have to keep getting to know me because I'm just getting out there.
BE: And what's the biggest difference between British fans and American fans of pop music?
LL: I don't think there's that much difference with the people I've come across and the people that have been supporting me. They've just been so wonderful and just so full of love and so amazingly supportive.
BE: That's really cool. Do you watch "American Idol" at all? Do you follow it?
LL: I haven't watched it this season, but I watched it last season when Jordin won.
BE: Okay. I was going to ask you who you thought would win, but if you haven't seen it. Anything else you'd like to add?
LL: I think that's cool. I think we've covered quite a bit. Thank you for your time.
BE: I appreciate your time and good luck to you.
LL: All right thank you so much. Take care.