“It’s quite shock­ing”

Winning X Fac­tor doesn’t guar­an­tee suc­cess in pop mu­sic (the first win­ner re­cently per­formed in a Pizza Ex­press). But since her victory a year ago, Alexan­dra Burke – through canny man­age­ment, hard work and per­sonal am­bi­tion – has be­come one of Bri­tain’s m

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Cover Story -

‘I’M GOOD, dar­ling, I’m good. Just done my sound check and I’m very happy.” I’d say she is good and very happy. This time last year, Alexan­dra Burke was toil­ing away at the coal­face of The X Fac­tor, the must-see fam­ily en­ter­tain­ment show that is in equal mea­sures car-crash tele­vi­sion, glad­i­a­to­rial karaoke com­pe­ti­tion and – if you can bear to look be­yond the ob­vi­ous, and there’s an aw­ful lot of the ob­vi­ous – a glance into how the mere­tri­cious, ma­nip­u­la­tive pop mu­sic in­dus­try skil­fully pack­ages its prod­ucts.

“The past year has been amaz­ing, out of this world. There has been a lot of hard work, but it’s all been worth it,” says a breath­less Burke, back in her Dublin city-cen­tre five-star ho­tel, fol­low­ing a quick re­hearsal at the O2 for the re­cent Child­line con­cert/scream­fest. If she thought her life had changed enough last year when she en­tered the com­pe­ti­tion, she wasn’t to know what was go­ing to hit her af­ter she had ac­tu­ally won it. You mightn’t for­give Burke trot­ting out the “I’ve been on a big jour­ney” cliché if it weren’t so true.

Burke had been there be­fore, of course. In 2005 she au­di­tioned suc­cess­fully for The X Fac­tor. She got as far as the “Judge’s Houses” stage whereby sev­eral hope­fuls in each of the male/fe­male/band/over-25s cat­e­gories get a taste of the good life by trav­el­ling to var­i­ous parts of the world to per­form, without mu­si­cal back­ing, in front of the judges. Her then men­tor, Louis Walsh, did not put her through to that year’s fi­nal 12, claim­ing she was too young.

Burke per­se­vered, how­ever. The daugh­ter of Melissa Bell, one-time main vo­cal­ist with suc­cess­ful UK chart act Soul II Soul, was made of sterner stuff than many other hope­fuls who, with con­fi­dence and dreams shat­tered, drift back into ob­scu­rity.

Fur­ther hon­ing her singing and per­form­ing skills in bars and clubs in and around Lon­don, Burke en­tered last year’s con­test. In the sec­ond show, she per­formed The Jack­son Five’s I’ll Be There, and was crit­i­cised by Si­mon Cow­ell for be­ing “a copy­cat.” By the end of last year, Burke was signed to Cow­ell’s record la­bel, Syco. In Fe­bru­ary of this year, she signed a five-al­bum deal for Epic Records in the US.

Since winning the con­test, Burke’s life has rad­i­cally changed. She has gone from be­ing a rel­a­tive in­génue (prior to The X Fac­tor she had no pro­fes­sional vo­cal train­ing) to one of the most suc­cess­ful pop­stars of the year. Her ver­sion of Leonard Co­hen’s Hal­lelu­jah sold more than one mil­lion copies, mak­ing Burke the first Bri­tish fe­male solo artist to sell one mil­lion copies of a sin­gle in the UK.

Her de­but al­bum, Over­come, grabbed the No 1 spot in the UK al­bum chart in the first week of its release last month. Cow­ell de­layed the al­bum’s release from March so that Burke could fin­ish top of the class in his “Fin­ish­ing School for Pop Stars”.

His in­stincts were cor­rect; when Burke re­turned to The X Fac­tor sev­eral weeks ago to per­form her de­but sin­gle, Bad Boys (which also topped the UK charts), it was clear she had scrubbed up well. She now rubs shoul- ders with the likes of Bey­oncé and 50 Cent, while in July it was con­firmed that she is to be the face of a new fash­ion line from Dolce & Gab­bana. From plucky con­tender to mar­ket leader in the space of one year? All change, then, for the girl from Is­ling­ton.

“It still feels like it was yes­ter­day,” says Burke of how the year has passed. “It’s quite shock­ing, re­ally. I re­mem­ber hav­ing a meet­ing late last year with my man­age­ment and the record la­bel, dis­cussing where we were go­ing to go, and how we were go­ing to do it, what di­rec­tion, and now the al­bum is out. My first hope and dream was to be a signed record­ing artist. For me, that was the big­gest step, to find some­one who be­lieved in me, to take a risk, and who would en­cour­age me to do well.

“So yes, mak­ing the al­bum, per­form­ing in places I never thought I’d per­form in, meet­ing and singing with peo­ple like Bey­oncé – who I’d al­ways wanted to meet – was pretty over­whelm­ing. It’s a bit crazy, but without The X Fac­tor I’m not so sure I’d be where I am to­day.”

What would she have done if she had been voted off in the early stages of last year’s show? “I’m quite sure I would have been dev­as­tated, like any­one would, but I know I would have car­ried on . . . I re­mem­ber a time where I wanted to give up, and that lasted about an hour. That was when I was 16, in the first X Fac­tor se­ries I tried out for. I just snapped out of it, though. I knew I had to get more ex­pe­ri­ence, get wiser, grow up.”

Does it con­cern her that of the 12 fi­nal­ists on last year’s show, no more than three (Burke, JLS and Diana Vick­ers) could be deemed to be en­joy­ing vis­i­ble com­mer­cial suc­cess, or that out­side of th­ese acts the pub­lic has vir­tu­ally for­got­ten the re­main­der? Burke’s an­swer is, in­evitably, tem­pered with the sweet tone of the prizewin­ner.

“It de­pends on how you use the pub­lic­ity to your ad­van­tage. It’s a case of work­ing hard and keep­ing at it. Just be­cause you’ve been voted off in the early weeks doesn’t mean that it’s the end, or that you have to stop what you’re do­ing.”

What’s great about the show, she opines, is that it gives every­one a plat­form, and whether you’re the poor soul who is voted out in week one, or whether you’re the star in the mak­ing who wins in the end, every­one has an amaz­ing reach.

“You’ve been on one of the big­gest en­ter­tain­ment shows in the world. You re­ally need to learn how to use that to your ben­e­fit, and in that way you can stick around. Self-be­lief is im­por­tant, and I know that’s eas­ier said than done. Some peo­ple have been knocked back, but when you have self-be­lief and have peo­ple around you that can en­cour­age you, then it helps.”

(Try say­ing that to Emily Nakanda, Daniel De Bourg, Hope and Same Dif­fer­ence – a mere four of the where-are-they-now? 2007 X Fac­tor fi­nal­ists.)

It’s all fuss and bother now, as Burke has to make her way from her ho­tel back to the O2. One more ques­tion: what’s the most im­por­tant thing she has learned about her­self in the past 12 months?

“I have learned to re­main my­self. Is that easy? No, it’s ac­tu­ally the hard­est thing in the world. But I keep peo­ple who I love and trust around me, and that keeps my feet firmly on the ground. I’ve had my same friends for years. My fam­ily is sup­port­ive and loving. No one treats me like a big shot, and I’m happy about that.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.