First Listen: Leona Lewis Releases Preview of White Christmas from CHRISTMAS, WITH LOVE
When Leona Lewis released her debut album Spirit in the U.S. in April 2008, she and her mentors Simon Cowell and Clive Davis took the world by storm and set off an unstoppable chain of record-breaking events that culminated in the newcomer becoming 2008's best-selling new artist of the year worldwide.
Spirit was already a phenomenon in Lewis' native U.K. (having entered the album chart at No. 1 and becoming Britain's fastest-selling debut of all time) by the time it was released in the U.S., where it also entered the U.S. charts at No. 1, making the London-born singer and songwriter with the rich, lustrous voice the first British artist, male or female, ever to debut in the top spot on the Billboard album chart with a first album. Spirit went on to earn multiple Grammy Award nominations and sell more than six million copies worldwide, spearheaded by the success of its chart-topping hit singles, the blockbuster "Bleeding Love" (which was the best-selling overall single and top-selling iTunes single of 2008) and the multi-platinum "Better In Time."
So who could blame Lewis if, when it came time to make her second album, she wanted to stick to the lush balladeering that made Spirit such an extraordinary success. Thing is, Lewis isn't content to rest on her laurels and she proves it on ECHO. Though every song showcases her astonishingly powerful voice, ECHO also finds the 24-year-old expanding her palette beyond her signature ballads and seeking additional adventurous sonic territory. The dancefloor-friendly "Outta My Head" is sleek, stylish electro-pop, while the rock-driven "Love Letter" and "I Got You" find Lewis exploring an edgier side. Then there's "Brave," which soars with a Middle Eastern influence and pounding timpanis, and the sultry, synth-driven "Fly Here Now."
"I really wanted a dramatic, almost cinematic quality to the songs," says Lewis, a self-described "film nerd" who namechecks '80s fantasy film The Labyrinth as her all-time favorite. "We would even put on movies in the studio to inspire us, it was a cool way of writing. I'm always thinking of scenes in my head." Of course, ECHO features plenty of epic, widescreen gems to satisfy Spirit fans, including the uplifting first single "Happy," which Lewis says is "about overcoming obstacles and striving for happiness," and People magazine called "passionate and soul-searching."
After proving her commercial potency on Spirit, ECHO gave Lewis the opportunity to take a few chances. "I knew that I had evolved as a singer, songwriter, and performer," she says, "so it was important to me to take the songs on ECHO to the next level and show what else I could do."
To that end, Lewis co-wrote nine songs on the album, working with a host of top-notch songwriters and producers, including re-teaming with One Republic frontman and "Bleeding Love" co-writer and producer Ryan Tedder (on "Happy," "You Don't Care," and "Lost Then Found," the latter backed by One Republic), Swedish studio vet Max Martin ("I Got You," "Outta My Head"), and songwriter/producer Novel ("Broken"), as well as new collaborators Justin Timberlake (who co-wrote "Don't Let Me Down"), multi-platinum Bon Jovi/Kelly Clarkson producer John Shanks ("Alive," "Broken"), plus in-demand hitmakers Evan Bogart and Kevin Rudolf. Each helped Lewis deliver truly raw emotion through the melodies and lyrics and making full use of her "titanium-caliber voice" (as the New York Times has described it).
That unmistakable raw talent proved to be Lewis's golden ticket back when Lewis was "discovered" after auditioning for The X Factor, a British talent show executive-produced by American Idol's Simon Cowell, who is also a judge. The then-22-year old - who attended performing arts academy The BRIT School, and famously worked as a Pizza Hut waitress to support her fledging music career - won the 2006 competition handily after endearing herself to fans week after week with her soaring voice, down-to-earth personality, and striking beauty. Certain he had a superstar on his hands, Cowell phoned legendary music executive and J Records founder Clive Davis, who teamed up with Cowell to sign Lewis to J Records/Syco Music, Cowell's joint venture with Sony Music Entertainment.
In December 2006, Lewis released her debut single, a cover of Kelly Clarkson's "A Moment Like This," which broke a world record after it was downloaded 50,000 times in 30 minutes. In October 2007, "Bleeding Love" was released in the UK and broke records by topping the charts there for seven straight weeks, the most ever by a British female artist. The song went to No. 1 in more than 35 countries and sold a staggering 4.5 million plus copies. Lewis began 2008 with four Brit Award nominations (including "Album of the Year" for Spirit) in the UK and a high-profile performance at Clive Davis' Pre-Grammy Party in the U.S., where she played to a star-studded crowd that included her idol Whitney Houston.
The rest of 2008 flew by in a whirlwind of milestones, including the No. 1 debut of Spirit on the U.S. album charts, a May appearance on American Idol, a June performance for Nelson Mandela at his 90th birthday concert, a July appointment as Goodwill Ambassador for the UK-Japan campaign, an August appearance closing the Beijing Olympics with Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page and soccer star David Beckham, and a September performance with hip-hop superstars Lil' Wayne and T-Pain at the MTV Video Music Awards. In October, "Bleeding Love" was named the best-selling single of 2008, while Spirit's second single, "Better In Time," took the No. 4 spot on the Top 40 chart. In November, Lewis performed "Better In Time" at the American Music Awards, and the following month was nominated for three Grammy Awards, including "Record of the Year" and "Best Female Pop Vocal" for "Bleeding Love," and "Best Pop Vocal Album" for Spirit. Billboard announced that Lewis was the best-selling new artist of 2008 and the best-selling artist of the year worldwide.
In 2009, Lewis performed at the resurrected live concert event "VH1 Divas" alongside Adele, Kelly Clarkson, and Miley Cyrus in September, and geared up for the November 17th release of ECHO, which she made at Los Angeles' Henson Studios, where Carole King, Joni Mitchell, John Lennon, and The Carpenters have all recorded. Lewis turned to British fashion icon Vivienne Westwood to design all the clothes she wears for the album's campaign, including ECHO's striking cover, because, as a strict vegetarian who has spoken out against wearing fur, Lewis admires Westwood's strong personal ethics. "That and the fact that she does great corsets!" Lewis says with a laugh.
It's that strength and determination that permeates ECHO, which Lewis can't wait for the public to hear. "I'm actually more confident with this album than the last," she says. "I've taken more control this time and I feel more at ease with everything. To me, it's all about great songs. I hope they move people as much as they move me."