Pop Star Leona Lewis Uses her Voice — Not her Body— to Sell Songs

Photography by Williams + Hirakawa Styling by Zoe Costello Hair by Larry Simms Makeup by Jo Baker
Photography by Williams + Hirakawa
Styling by Zoe Costello
Hair by Larry Simms
Makeup by Jo Baker

Leona Lewis was in the studio late one night when a friend delivered some big news: “Stevie Nicks is here. I need you to get out of the studio right now.” What transpired next is the kind of transformative moment that changes a person’s life.

“I snuck in to where she and the rest of Fleetwood Mac were rehearsing for their world tour,” Lewis recalls. “The next thing I know, she was giving me a pep talk.”

We’ve all had pep talks from Stevie, but for us, that velvety coo most likely oozed out of a car stereo or echoed from a far-off stage. It’s an entirely different experience when she wraps her arms around you, looks you straight in the eyes, and says: “We need to hear your voice. We needed to hear your music.”

That chance encounter came at a time when Lewis — the titanium-voiced singer who exploded onto the scene in 2006 after steamrolling her way to the U.K. X Factor crown — found herself at a crossroads. After a seven year, four album run with Simon Cowell’s record label Syco, an emotional hand-written letter posted to Lewis’ Twitter and Facebook last September announced that she and her surrogate family were parting ways.

It was a painful decision for Lewis. After all, these were the people that took a timid theater kid from London’s hardscrabble Hackney, and helped transform her into a global pop superstar. But as Lewis tells it, something changed along the way. The label got too big, her relationship with Cowell became diluted, and when she was asked to record a cover album instead of one featuring her own material, it was time to cut ties.

“I wanted to hold on but I knew it wasn’t the right thing to do,” she says. “It’s like any relationship. I’ve been with guys where I’ve just held on for a little bit too long and you know it’s damaging to you, but neither one of you can let go.”

With no label and her career in limbo, Lewis was left feeling depressed, but hopeful for a new beginning. “’I’ve followed what my heart says is right,” she wrote at the time. “So whatever the future may bring, I am ready.”

Well, the future is now, and just as she promised to her “beautiful fans” one year ago, Lewis is ready.

It’s a sweltering day in Los Angeles when I meet the 30-year old singer in an air conditioned West Hollywood studio, mercifully sheltered from the oppressive heat outside. She looks content — a more confident version of the teenager who “used to stress” about what other people thought of her. “There’s always moments when you can get carried away with different outside influences, especially when you’re young. But I realized that stuff doesn’t matter.”

That realization led to I Am the singer’s fifth studio album and first under her new label Island records.

I Am is a 10-track, sweeping confessional; a battle cry from a woman who’s reclaimed her independence. Lead singles “Fire Under My Feet” and “Thunder” revisit the same brand of stadium-ready power pop that made her 2007 mega-hit “Bleeding Love” one of the best-selling songs of the decade.

“When I left my old label I wasn’t looking to put out an album,” Lewis says about I Am’s unusual genesis. “I was just going out and making music.” But the music kept coming, and with the guidance of producer Toby Gad http://www.tobygad.com/, Lewis ended up with her most personal album yet. “I didn’t go out and think ‘I need to try something different or new’ or anything like that,” she adds. “I kind of just took everything from the experiences and emotions that I’ve been going through and put it all into this album.”

The theme of empowerment looms large on the record, and in Lewis’ own life as well. She no longer relies on a team of executives or handlers to tell her who to be, how to act, and what to wear.

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SOURCE: Yahoo Style – Daniel Barna

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