Leona Lewis: Good girl comes first
They say good things don't happen to nice people, but Leona Lewis has blown that theory apart. Not only did the shy, unassuming singer from Hackney, east London, become the first British female to top the US album chart with her debut LP 'Spirit' this week, she did it without a diva tantrum or controversial news story in sight.
While she may not grab the headlines with her chaotic lifestyle like Britney Spears, or be renowned for her drug taking like Amy Winehouse, Leona has shown that with just raw talent and hard work, success can be achieved.
Following the news of Leona's US success, her manager Simon Cowell said: "What Leona has achieved is simply incredible. This is the hardest market to crack and for her debut album to go in at number one is unbelievable."
J Records founder Clive Davis, who signed Leona to his label after hearing her incredible voice, also gave his congratulations and predicted it is just the start of a glittering future.
He said: "Leona Lewis will not be an overnight sensation. She is the real deal and this is just the beginning of a long and illustrious career."
Before Leona's success, the highest place a British female had achieved in the US album charts was Dido, who reached number four with her record 'Life for Rent' - a position which now seems mediocre compared to Leona's standards.
To make Leona's feat even more remarkable, her single 'Bleeding Love' - which had previously topped the US single charts in March - returned to number one on the Billboard Hot 100.
Following her initial singles chart victory, Cowell spoke of his joy at discovering such an undeniable talent.
He said: "I am incredibly proud of Leona, what she has achieved in the past year is simply amazing. I am very, very happy for her."
The last British female solo artist to achieve the top position was Kim Wilde with her cover of 'You Keep Me Hangin' On' in 1987.
Leona's US success seems a million miles away from where she first started out.
In autumn 2006, Leona, a former waitress, was working as a receptionist with dreams of becoming the next big thing.
So, her boyfriend Lou Al-Chamaa secretly entered her into British talent show 'The X Factor' and, after being persuaded to attend the auditions by friends and family, she blew audiences and judges away with her vocal talent.
In December, she won the competition and her debut single 'A Moment Like This' rocketed to the top of the UK charts.
However, unlike previous winners, Leona's management team were determined she wouldn't be a one-hit wonder and wanted to make sure her fantastic voice was showcased with the right songs.
So they took their time and teamed up with some of the world's most respected songwriters to work on her follow-up single 'Bleeding Love' and debut album 'Spirit'.
In the autumn of 2007, fans were eventually satisfied when 'Bleeding Love' - written by Ryan Tedder and Jesse McCartney - was first played on UK airwaves.
When Leaona's single was released in Britain on November 22, it went straight to number one - beating her childhood idols Take That to the top spot.
Four weeks later, 'Spirit' entered the UK album charts at number one and set a new record for the fastest-selling UK debut LP of all time - shifting more than 375,000 copies in seven days.
It sold 12,000 more than the Arctic Monkeys' 2006 critically-acclaimed album 'Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not', which had previously held the record.
Leona's arrival as a true superstar was confirmed when her "all-time musical hero" Whitney Houston said she was a "baby version" of herself after the pair were introduced at Clive Davis' Annual Grammy Party in Los Angeles.
She said: "It was amazing, I got to meet my all-time musical hero Whitney Houston - who looked so incredible. Clive introduced us. I don't think I managed to say much though, I was overwhelmed!
"I was told afterwards that when I performed she had said to a friend at the record label, 'My God, she's a baby me!' Wow - what a huge compliment!"
With all the hype that surrounds Leona's every move, she admits she's struggling to come to terms with her international superstardom, because she finds the consequences of being a celebrity "hard to grasp".
Leona - who was working as a receptionist before winning 'X Factor' - said: "I'm still trying to get my head around it. I can't really grasp it.
"It's amazing. I'm just so thankful for this opportunity to come here and to be able to sing in different places all around the world. The reception's been amazing, people have been really great."
But unlike many of her counterparts, the down-to-earth star is determined not to let her new-found fame go to her head and insists she won't be tempted to join Britney and Amy on the wild side.
She said: "At the moment I don't drink alcohol - it tastes like hairspray. Maybe I'll get a taste for it and go off the rails."
Another factor keeping Leona grounded is Lou, her boyfriend of five years.
Despite rumours their relationship had hit difficulties because Lou couldn't handle Leona turning into a worldwide icon, the singer insists they've never been happier.
She told a friend: "He's the one. When we're together, it's amazing. My dream is that we'll get married."
However, one thing Leona and Lou won't have to worry about in the future is money, as it was recently reported Leona is set to sign a staggering $100 million record deal.
Following her huge success, Davis will offer her a new deal to keep her signed to J Records, which will cover all her music releases and live shows around the world.
A spokesperson for the music industry's Forbes Magazine said: "It looks like Leona's heading straight to the top of the financial charts as well. She is an absolute overnight sensation and the rewards she will reap are phenomenal".
An industry insider added: "Nobody dreamed she would suddenly become the most in demand singer in virtually every country.
"She is so hot that Clive will have to factor in U.S. and world tours, future album sales that promise to be so huge they're off the chart... and TV specials and DVD spin-offs.
"Right now, her potential even dwarfs the sort of enormous sales stars like Madonna, Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston could expect."
But whatever Leona earns and however successful she becomes, one thing is definitely for certain - the girl from Hackney with the stunning voice will never forget her roots.
By Kate Randall.
© BANG Media International