The British bombshell Leona Lewis exploded on television winning the third season The X Factor in 2006. That led to a million dollar recording contract on Simon Cowell’s record label Syco Music. Her cover of Kelly Clarkson’s “A Moment Like This” climbed the UK Singles Chart to number one. Lewis then signed on with J Records thanks to Clive Davis. “Bleeding Love” from her album Spirit achieved international recognition then she recorded the theme song for the movie Avatar. She moved into more electronic music with her album Glassheart and afterwards released a holiday record with Christmas, with Love.
Jerry Nunn: From what I have read about you sounds like you were raised as a performer.
Leona Lewis: Yes, I have always done music since I was a little girl. Mainly through my dad and my mom who were quite musical. My mom was a dancer and my dad was a DJ. I was very influenced by them.
JN: At times your music is at times pop then more dance. Was that influenced from your dad being a DJ?
LL: I think that it was because I grew up in a time where electronic music and synths heavily influenced music. I have always been quite diverse and up for experimenting with my sounds, seeing what works and playing with more dance stuff and the classical music I do as well.
JN: You sang “Ave Maria.” That is a challenging song.
LL: Yes. With my mom teaching ballet I heard a lot of opera growing up. She is very into classical music.
JN: Did you dance too?
LL: Yes, when I was younger. I was in ballet for a long time but just wanted to be a singer.
JN: With you winning X Factor and Kelly Clarkson winning American Idol, did you ever meet her?
LL: Yes. She was so sweet.
JN: Your song “Collide” has strong remixes. DJ Avicii worked on that with you?
LL: Yes. Avicii did the track and there were a bunch of remixes. I think that was the biggest dance tune that I did. It got played in a lot of clubs.
JN: A lot of gay bars…
LL: Exactly. It was the number one dance song at one point. It was really fun.
JN: What is it like breaking into the US market compared to the UK?
LL: It’s been different and crazy because when I got a number one hit over here it was kind of unheard of for a female act to do that. It had been 20 years and I didn’t know until after it happened. That was insane. It has been so cool to come over here and gig. I enjoy both audiences. Obviously the UK is different because I am more well known there.
JN: Gay audiences in general seem to enjoy European artists like Kylie Minogue who has had her own struggles being played on the radio here in the States.
LL: I love a bit of Kylie as well! Gay audiences are so fun. I get to do cool things like perform at London’s gay bar G-A-Y. It is a huge deal. When I have something going on I always go there. I get to put on the best shows. The fans literally go crazy. The more the better. I feel I can do whatever I want and have such a fun time at a gay venue.
JN: You have a drag queen in your new “Fire Under My Feet” video.
LL: Yes, I do. The video is all about people where there is more to them than what you see and the things they go through in their lives. Drag queens has gone through different things in their lives so it was important for me to share that in the video.
JN: What was the inspiration behind the song?
LL: I wrote it at a time when I needed an injection of energy. I needed to write a song that was uplifting. Like it says having fire under your feet and that is what it is about, overcoming obstacles and facing challenges while coming out the other side fighting.
JN: It has an old school feel to it.
LL: It is so bluesy and grass roots. I just wanted something really earthy and felt soulful.
JN: Describe the rest of the album I Am.
LL: I feel like the general consensus of the album is it is very empowering. It about overcoming things in life. As I said about coming out the other side as a survivor. It is positive and uplifting. I feel it is a cohesive sound. It is me, very raw, very emotional.
JN: You started an Empowered campaign recently in fact.
LL: Basically I wrote a letter to my fans a little while ago where I was open and very honest about different things I have been going through and challenges I was facing in my personal life, and work life. I got a huge reaction to it with people sending me letters from all over the world.
With the album being empowering I wanted to start a campaign where we can all empower each other. I would share the letters that people wrote me. This one girl wrote me about three members of her family were murdered and how she learned to deal with it. She learned to turn something so awful into something positive. She began living her life for them and started doing good in the world. I thought these letters were so positive that I wanted to share them in some way. I put them on my social media and it became a campaign.
JN: You have a horse named Spirit?
LL: I do and he is so cute. I’m obsessed with him!
JN: I’m obsessed with your Christmas album. Where did the song choices come from?
LL: Thank you. It was so fun. I knew I wanted to make something with a Motown inspired sound. We wrote three originals. The rest were songs that I just love and heard growing up. They were always played at Christmas so that is how I chose them.
JN: How was being in the movie Walking on Sunshine last year?
LL: It was cool. I got to move to Italy, which was not so bad. My character in the movie worked at a beach bar so almost all of my scenes were on a beach. It was incredible.
JN: Sounds amazing. When are you coming back to Chicago?
LL: I’m hoping to come back on tour next year.
Listen to Lewis at leonalewismusic.com