Alexandra Burke Biography
At the audition stages of last year’s X Factor, its ultimate winner Alexandra Burke made a little pact with herself. ‘I said to myself that if I didn’t make it through to the live shows then I would seriously reconsider where I was going to go with music. This was about proving something to myself. That music was the thing that I was born to do.’ As it happens, the live shows test where the audience decides to deify the star were just the beginning for the feisty voice from North London.
As the 12 weeks went by, as shocks were laid upon shocks when contestants considered to be hot favourites were thrown off, Alexandra kept pinching herself, to remind herself - this might be reality TV to some, but it was a very specific kind of real to her. The final approached, the grand ticker-tape finale, the crowning of a latest sensation and she was still there, biting her nails in the wings, about to sing with her idol Beyonce, ‘to have all my dreams come true on one night.’ And still she didn’t quite believe it all. She can watch the footage of her winning moment even now and feel the adrenaline pumping and the tension mounting, whilst knowing the incredible outcome. ‘Every time I watch my audition I’m in tears. When I watch my getting through to the live rounds, there are tears. When I win? Sooooo many tears. I am an emotional person and I’m not afraid to admit it. I put my all into what I do. I have to. If I don’t believe in something then I can’t do it.’
The facts remain. 12 months have passed, a star has blossomed and Alexandra Burke is no longer dueting with Beyonce. She is competing with her.
From the rumbling first bars of her immaculately cheeky opening sci-fi disco stormer Bad Boys, it is clear that reality TV has just turned out a performer ready for the world stage. The irresistible, one-listen smash is destined to up Alexandra’s profile from plucky contender to market leader. US rapper Flo Rida’s split second decision to guest on the track was just a neat seal of international approval that proves what many suspected from Alexandra’s star turn, entrancing 13 million viewers a week with her stone-cold soulful renditions of pop songs and genre classics. If it still hasn’t quite sunk in for Alex herself, it’s clear to those that are shimmying to her first foray onto the airwaves as an artist in her own right. This year’s model is built to last.
Still only 21 years old and with a wilfully mischievous glint in her eye, Alexandra Burke is sitting on one of the hottest pop debuts of the decade, period. The facts of her life have taken a massive shift in the last six months as Alexandra Burke has stopped being about the means that threw her into the spotlight and started being about the method with which she’s ready to execute her time in it, the fame that naturally becomes her. An orderly queue of A-list production talent in America and Europe formed to work with the girl with the golden voice. Top flight choreographers have weighed in to augment her preternatural talent for busting a move. The media has honed in on her. Alexandra Burke, Version 2.0, 2009 remix, is ready to explode.
For a girl from the humble beginnings of a council estate in North London, the last year has been somewhere beyond her dreams. After touring to sell-out arenas with her by now ex-Factor alumnus she was deposited first to New York and then LA to turn some of those dreams into reality. ‘I was thrown right in at the deep end in America. The first people I was working with there were the producers Stargate. Of course I was terrified. I didn’t know how I would handle it. I’d been a big fish in a little pond and then suddenly I’m with a new label, I’ve got a new management company and suddenly there are these scary new producers too (Roc Nation, Red One, Stargate and The Freemasons). Everything around me is new. I had to build a relationship so quickly with people.’ What Alex hadn’t countenanced for was quite how central she was to all these new people. ‘ I loved my team really early on because the whole thing was based on people listening to me. They said right from the start that it wouldn’t work unless it came from me.’
She toyed with ideas for a sound that would work for her. She spent a week researching old Motown before scrapping the idea and alighting on a fresh approach to her music that came from within. ‘I said to my manager I want my music to be fun, to be uplifting and to be bold. I want it to reflect my personality. I want it to be in your face, I want it to be a beast. I want it to be energetic and fun. When I record the ballads I want to cry. And if I go through a rollercoaster recording this album then I want the listener to go through a rollercoaster when they hear it. I said exactly the same thing to Simon Cowell and I could see the relief on his face in the meeting. He said ‘whatever you do, it has got to come from the heart.’’
There was no way it couldn’t. When she first met up with Lady Gaga producer Red One he had a set of tracks ready-prepared that he imagined would suit her. ‘And after five minutes of meeting me he scrapped them and we started again. He said to me ‘you’re not the girl I expected you to be.’ I was like ‘what did you expect me to be? Quiet?!’ I said I wanted my songs to be empowering to women and he got it straight away.’ They fashioned the first of what sounded like a succession of hits in the making together, a bouncy little dancefloor corker over an elastic groove, by the name of Broken Heels.’ It was the first song I did that I knew I had found my sound.’
Her sound is perfectly espoused on Bad Boys, but there are plenty more where that came from. You might like to call it 21st century techno future-pop. After Alexandra had found a sound that separated her from generic radio record patterns, she flung herself at the job in hand – of putting together an album that she would be proud of, that she would listen to, that showcased everything about her life so far. ‘I’d say to people, listen, I’ll sleep when I’m dead. I have to do this now and I have to give it everything I’ve got.’
Standout tracks began to emerge from the outset. The updated dancehall groove and killer chorus of Dumb came pie-driving its way out of the speakers. The soulful ballad Silence (‘about getting the silent treatment off a man. We’ve all been there, haven’t we?’) and the astonishingly soul-bearing Perfect (‘I’m a North London girl that was born and raised in a council house. I swear sometimes. I can be a bit gobby. I like to club, I like a drink every now and again. I’m a young girl. That’s just me. I’m not Perfect, but nobody is’) made the hairs on the back of her neck stand up.
‘Bad Boys’ came towards the end of the two and a half month, globe-straddling recording process. ‘My A&R and I were in a hotel room and we heard about this song. I loved the title from the moment I heard it. In the studio, after I’d sang the first verse I stopped singing and said to the producers The Phantom Boys, do you realise how much I can relate to this song? I had an instantly good feeling. This is what I do! I go for the bad boys. I go for the boys I’m not meant to. The demo felt right and I went back to New York to record it and I just knew that it had to be the first single. I texted Simon saying ‘Bad Boys for first single?’ and he texted straight back saying ‘most definitely’.’ Alex bonded with her guest rapper in the studio in LA. ‘He was wearing his sunglasses and I said ‘Flo, do you see sunshine in here?’ and that broke the ice. He took them off, smiled, and then put them back on again. That was it. I just had to see in his eyes what he was doing there. We made a connection. He took it to the next level.’
Which is precisely what Alexandra Burke is going to do with the release of her first album this autumn. There is one hurdle to overcome yet, though. And if you want any evidence of Alex’s commitment to her platinum pop product, it couldn’t come more boldly spelt out than by the girl herself. ‘Going back to perform on The X Factor will be surreal. I want to own that stage. I want to do stupid hours of ridiculous practice. My nerves will be there. That I understand. But I want to bottle those nerves like I did for the final last year and own it. I have learnt so much over the past year and every bit of that knowledge needs to go into my performances now. This is just the beginning.’
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