A striking young woman with a strong vocal resemblance to the young Whitney Houston and a large mop of blonde corkscrew curls, Leona Lewis won the third series of the British reality talent show The X Factor in a landslide. (For non-Brits: The X Factor is the revamped follow-up to the original U.K. talent search, Pop Idol, of which American Idol is the massively successful U.S. version; AI’s Simon Cowell is the show’s lead judge and executive producer.) Born and raised in the Islington section of north London, Lewis won a talent show at the age of 13 and devoted herself to music thereafter, eventually graduating from the prestigious BRIT School for Performing Arts and Technology. While working as a receptionist and pizza waitress and writing her own material, Lewis auditioned for The X Factor in the summer of 2006 and won the third series competition in December of that year. Lewis’ debut single, a soulful cover of Kelly Clarkson’s “A Moment Like This” (Clarkson’s own debut American Idol showcase single), was the number one single in the U.K. at the turn of the year, including the coveted “Christmas Number One.” Along with her TV-driven U.K. success, Leona Lewis signed an American recording deal with Clive Davis’ J Records in February 2007. By the end of the year, she had launched her debut album, Spirit, in England, and watched it go to the top of the charts (along with the single “Bleeding Love”). The American release followed in 2008, with similar success.
Yet another music marvel crosses the pond with the album, Spirit. Leona Lewis has earned the comparisons to pop vocal greats like Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston with her amazing voice and propensity for love ballads. With heavy influences evident from R&B and pop, Lewis stands to easily woo American audiences for the long term.
The lyrics, written by Lewis, are mostly fall into the stock love songs (see “Better in Time” and “Angel”) but her voice and passion still make the music compelling. A few of the songs do have some clever turns-of-phrase which make a classic concept catchier as in “Yesterday” and a handful are practically dance ready with their heavy rhythms and love-trouble themes (“Forgive Me”, “Misses Glass” and “Take a Bow” in particular). She even took a popular Christian poem “Footprints”, reworked it and made it into a lovely ballad (“Footprints in the Sand”). But the most surprising was an intense break of pace that actually takes its time, “The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face.” This song is a remarkable throw-back to the years of Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, placing Lewis in a whole new category of songbird.
Lewis has established herself a capable and talented songstress in this album. What impressed me most, however, was the ease with which she covers an impressive vocal range and yet she favors holding back over gratuitous showing off as often heard in the albums of the divas she’s been compared to. A nice mix of R&B and pop ballads, Leona Lewis may just become the next Brit staple for American pop.
Review by Marie Holzer