Less than an hour after her first singles release, Leona Lewis had already broken a world record, her cover of "A Moment Like This" getting downloaded 50,000 times in its first 30 minutes on sale. Her debut album, Spirit, went on to become the fastest-selling album of all time in both England and Ireland. Her second single, Bleeding Love, shot straight to number one in the U.K., remaining there for seven weeks, and as of last week that same song made Lewis the first U.K. female to top the U.S.'s Billboard Hot 100 in more than 20 years.
You'd expect Lewis to be more affected by the near-celestial trajectory of her young career. But when Out caught up with her on the eve of the U.S. release of Spirit, it quickly became clear this was one calm, gracious diva.
Out: You keep getting compared to Whitney and Mariah -- which is incredibly flattering -- but what makes Leona Lewis unique?
I think people will get to know my style. "Bleeding Love" is only one piece of a whole body of work. I'm really excited for people to hear the album -- to hear my sound -- and see what is unique about me. I started off studying classical, and then went on to more popular music. I have so many different influences, from classical to rock, to pop and R&B. Ive got a whole variety going on, and people will hear it on the album.
Before becoming a pop star you were a server at Pizza Hut. What was your worst customer experience?
Probably when people used to click their fingers for me to come serve them. I thought it was really rude.
Your U.S. version of Spirit includes two new songs, collaborations with Akon and Madd Scientists and Rock City. Who would be your dream collaboration?
I love Alicia Keys, so working with her would be amazing. Stevie Wonder and David Bowie would be cool as well.
You actually have writing credits on a pair of songs ("Whatever It Takes" and "Here I Am") on the album. Do you want to write more for your second album?
Yeah, definitely. I wrote and recorded a load of songs for the album. We picked out the best songs which we thought were suitable for this specific album, but I have more to come. I always have a file on me where I can write my stuff whenever I have any ideas.
You won The X-Factor (the U.K.'s equivalent to American Idol), but do you think Simon is fair to the contestants?
I think that he is very honest -- sometimes quite brutally honest. I do think he mostly gets it right.
What was your least favorite moment of being on that show? Is there a performance you're not proud of?
Not that I remember specifically. Every week I was always quite scared, wondering if I was going to be OK. One week, though, I got quite ill. That week I definitely felt I wasn't my strongest.
With being a great diva comes draq impersonators. Have you seen any drag performances of you yet?
No, I haven't. I think it's too early. Hopefully soon though. That's when I'll know things are going good for me.
What tips would you give your fans who want to be you at the next karaoke or drag show?
Id say just sing with soul -- sing with passion and from the heart. You have to have fun and just enjoy it!
What about the trademark Leona style?
No shoes, a nice dress, and a smoky eye!
Are you aware of your gay fanbase?
Yeah, definitely! They are among my hugest supporters, and they run one of my most successful fan sites as well.
PopJustice.com did a feature on you that suggested you worked by the mantra "What Would Madonna Do?" meaning you would do something only if Madonna would agree to do it. Is this true?
Ha! I think they are joking around. That's quite funny, actually. Someone asked me that before, and I never knew where they got that from because it was really weird. I guess that's where they got it from. So funny.
There's been some implication that while your music is really strong, the sales numbers you have are mostly based on hype. What do you think about that?
I give people a lot more credit. I feel that is suggesting that people can't think for themselves. People can think for themselves, and sometimes that site [PopJustice.com] can be a bit cheeky and a bit rude, but the people that are supporting me and writing me letters are amazing -- loving and supportive and very intelligent. I think that speaks for itself, really.
Who did you dress up and sing into a hairbrush to when you were younger?
I used to sing a lot of Michael Jackson into the hairbrush. Didn't really dress up as him, though!
Do you still consider him an inspiration?
Definitely. I feel he's still a legend. I think his performances are incredible and his shows are great. I still think he is an influence, but for me someone like Anita Baker was a influence too.
I know your first album is barely out here, but what can we expect from your second album?
I have literally so many influences, from classic to rock. I've got a lot of different places where I want to go and experiment with and incorporate into my sound. There will be an evolution.
Last question: If you were on a deserted island and could take only one record with you, what would it be?
This is so hard! I'd say Eva Cassidy's "Fields of Gold." I just love her voice and her songs.