Britain's Leona Lewis looks like she could be the Next Big Thing
For a 23-year-old, Leona Lewis is quite good at waiting for what she wants.
After winning "X-Factor," the British equivalent of "American Idol," she holed up in studios around the world for more than a year, methodically plugging away at her debut album out of the spotlight. Instead of trying to conquer the world all at once, she started with England last year and slowly worked her way through Europe.
Even as her debut "Spirit" (J/SyCo; Grade: B-plus) arrives in the United States this week on the heels of her No. 1 single "Bleeding Love," Lewis is still taking her time.
"My family is coming today," she said last week, when asked how she was celebrating her first No.1 hit - the first No. 1 hit for a British female solo artist since Kim Wilde's version of "You Keep Me Hangin' On" in 1987. "We'll celebrate when they get here."
And now, all that waiting is about to pay off. Lewis, like her incredibly accomplished debut, is a rarity in the struggling music industry. She sounds like a sure thing.
Her vocals can stand up against powerhouses like Mariah Carey and Celine Dion, but she has a vulnerability that makes people feel they can relate to her. She can handle the big ballads that the over-35 crowd picks up on their weekly Target or Wal-Mart run as well as the hip-hop-tinged up-tempo numbers that the kids are downloading.
"She auditioned for me cold and I thought she had a worldwide talent," RCA Music Group chairman Clive Davis told London's Sunday Times recently. "It was a no-brainer. ... You can never predict anything that's going to happen. But if she doesn't make it with this album, we will just keep trying. There is no doubt that eventually she will."
Lewis said she learned her patience after leaving her performance arts high school when she was 17. "I knew what it was like to be doing gigs and then going into the studio and demoing songs," she said. "I wanted to make a strong album, one that really represented me and to do that I knew I needed time. They respected that."
She co-wrote the Celine Dion-like pop anthem "Whatever It Takes" and the Carey-esque ballad "Here I Am," while working to "put her spin" on songs from Akon ("Forgive Me") and Avril Lavigne ("I Will Be.")
Lewis is proud of the changes she brought to "Bleeding Love," written by OneRepublic's Ryan Tedder and singer-songwriter Jesse McCartney. "I thought it was an amazing song and I liked how it was a different take on the love song - all that romance, love isn't always like that," she said. "But it was originally written for a guy, and I think my singing it makes it more tender."
Though Lewis is happy that "Bleeding Love" is a hit, she's more interested in maintaining a career like Dion or Alanis Morissette, "strong women who handle themselves well."
Will that happen? Lewis is ready to wait and see.