Whatever you think of reality TV shows, there’s sadly no denying that the stars they spawn often dominate the upper echelons of today’s chart landscape. When it comes to such shows, they don’t get bigger than Simon Cowell’s The X Factor, which recently wrapped up its eighth UK series. And the biggest offspring from the brand is 26-year-old Londoner Leona Lewis; 2007 mega-hit ‘Bleeding Love’ topped the charts in 34 countries, leading to sales of 10 million albums worldwide. As album number three, Glassheart, is scheduled for release early this year, Time Out caught up with the star during a recent visit to Doha to dig for dirt on her career, her inspiration and the truth about Simon Cowell.
Have you been to the region before?
I’ve been to Dubai and it’s obviously so modern and everything as it’s kind of being built up. It’s amazing to see it happening. I think it would be quite cool to come back next year or the year after and see how far it has come.
Before we ask about your album, we have to know: Simon Cowell loved you on the The X Factor. We thought he didn’t like anyone!
I know! It’s quite special. I feel lucky that he actually likes me. We’ve worked quite closely together since the show; I’m signed to his record company. He’s cool offstage. We’ve always got along; he’s always been a real supporter of me and my music. Everything happens so fast: one minute no one knows you, the next minute 13 million people in the UK are seeing you on TV. It’s crazy.
A lot of people don’t take reality TV musicians seriously. Have you encountered that?
Not really. To be honest, because my first single, ‘Bleeding Love’, did so well – it went number one in, like, 30 different countries – I’ve proved myself not to be a sell-out. And people see me on the show, where people are singing live; there’s no miming like you see so many artists now doing on TV shows. You’re out there in front of so many people and there’s so much pressure. So in all honesty, a lot of reality-show musicians are more talented than the artists who are actually out right now. There’s no Auto-Tune, no nothing. It’s all raw, genuine, so a lot of the people are actually very, very talented.
We’ve heard all sorts of things about diva behaviour and crazy riders. What’s on yours?
We have loads of fruit, loads of water, and some of my band add stuff so we can have a drink afterwards. I’ve never seen proper diva behaviour, but when you meet some people you do feel a certain ‘whoa, scary’.
So back to the music – what inspires your writing?
I like to make music with a lot of depth. I don’t like the lyrical content to be throwaway or gimmicky – some of the songs today are kind of annoying. I try to make music that’s classic and timeless, that you can play in 10 years and it’ll still be relevant and sound like a classic song – singers such as Whitney Houston and Roberta Flack. Their music is timeless.
So what’s on your iPod?
When I’m at home, I listen to random stuff. I listen to Raised by Swans, Fleet Foxes, just a lot of random music that’s not really like my own, just to come out of my head space and hear different things. So it’s usually a lot of alternative music.
Sounds very cool… but what’s your guilty pleasure track?
Guilty pleasure track? I love ABBA. They’re great songwriters. I suppose Spice Girls or probably something like ABBA, but to me that’s not really a guilty pleasure – it’s just a pleasure!
We bet your mum is really proud of your achievements.
She’s really proud and excited – my mum’s a ballerina so she loves dance, so she thinks it’s pretty cool. I always knew I was going to be in music somehow – I knew that I was going to be a recording artist. I did have that self belief, but I just didn’t think it was actually going to be this fast. All my friends are friends that I’ve had since I was really young, everyone is kind of the same. It’s nice to have those people.
You’re working on your new album, Glassheart, set to come out at the beginning of 2012. How’s it going?
I’ve been working on it for a while and have gone back in the studio to work a bit more. Hopefully it will soon be ready. It will be different – we’re going back to basics, we have a lot of live instrumentation and amazing songs, that’s the main thing. I just try to have fun. I’m always so thankful to be performing wherever I am – I always feel so lucky – so I go out there and perform every time like it’s going to
be the last time.
Leona Lewis’s third album, Glassheart, is due to be released early this year.