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That Grape Juice sat down with Pop phenom Alexandra Burke last week at her label HQ here in London.
The ever-bubbly 21 year old opened up to us about a number of topics including her rise to stardom, the darker side to fame, the status of her much talked about collaboration with Beyonce, her thoughts on whether Rihanna could win the X Factor, US plans, and much more. As ever, we ask the questions other interviewers won’t! Enjoy…Array
Interviewer: Sam // Transcription: Bisi Kadejoh // Edited by: Trent
Alexandra Shouts Out That Grape Juice
Sam: Hey Alexandra…it’s great to finally meet you!
Alexandra Burke: It’s nice to finally meet you too darling.
How are you?
I’m great thank you! First of all I would like to say thanks for all the support on the site.
Let me first congratulate you on all your success to date…Platinum album with ‘Overcome’, breaking singles records left, right and centre. It really is refreshing to see true talent on top again…
Thank you (laughs).
Though your rise to stardom was achieved primarily via ‘The X-Factor’, you’ve been performing for a while now (weddings, bar mitzvah’s etc). Tell us a little about your musical journey – your hustle if you will.
I’ve been working since I was 12 years old, always been the kind of girl that’s been quite head strong. Never letting my mum do anything; I’ve always wanted to do it for my mum basically. It’s all happened so fast.. It’s crazy because I would always perform at bar mitzvahs, parties you know name it, funerals everything. I was there performing; and even if it wasn’t for the money, for the experience of live work and always going to open mic things. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of Troy Bar, ‘the spot’ in Convent Garden, I use to go to those events and sing all the time and that helped me with being a live performer.
I remember saying to my mum when I was younger “mum I don’t want to record in the studio because I can’t stand it because there ain’t no people giving me feedback, I’m gonna make a live album for the rest of my life.” She’s like yeah “let me see you try” (laughs) then I started learning about how the studio works you can create and make your mistakes and do it all over again, and the live part of it is just where the magic happens. It’s all been a big journey, but it’s been awesome.
Bringing things up to speed, your new single ‘All Night Long’ (which was released last week) is sitting pretty in the top 10 of the singles chart right now. The video for the song is quite unique, in that it was filmed using 50 different camera types. How did this concept come about?
Well I thought it will be fun and, apart from my other video (‘Hallelujah’), it was my first proper UK video. So I thought, “well we need to have fans involved, the set is15 minutes from my home, so I want my family involved too”. This idea actually came from the director when I met him. I loved it because no one’s done that yet, so when we gave the Sony blogger cameras to the fans and anyone who would take it. They then had an minute to capture footage. Some footage (laughs) couldn’t make the video, but that’s why the video took a month to edit because I wanted to make sure everyone got their time to shine. It was a great idea in that is was really fun, yet even more awesome because of the fact that people were just brave! I was like wow girls and girls are kissing… that’s really cool! What I loved most was the fact that it was for the fans and that they felt part of the single. It’s fourth single from the album and that’s unheard of nowadays. So I wanted to make sure it’s video was as fun as possible and to me people brought that magic too.
Can we expect any more singles from the album? There have been some murmurings about a surprise collabo…
You know what, you know me already that I love my collaborations (laughs). But the next single I think you guys will be very spicy and it’s something very fresh. I can’t say much I can’t ruin it for you all (the collabo that is), but in due time. My goodness everyone will be very shocked at least I hope anyway and love it the way I do.
Many were excited to hear that you’ve signed with Epic Records in the US last year. How involved with your project at this point are they?
Oh they are very involved. From the beginning we had meetings with Epic, they all flew over to see me perform when I was on the X Factor tour, and then I flew over to New York to have meetings with them. They are incredible, Epic is an amazing label, I can’t wait to start to get started with the promotion over there. I’m actually working on album for America specifically, it is ‘Overcome’ but a couple tracks change, maybe about five changed for the American release. It’s really cool I can’t wait to go over there but at the moment I am concentrating on Europe, Australia in 2 weeks, then Asia and then America.
Is that going to be towards the end of the year?
Who knows, I have no idea what the plan is in terms of what months and stuff but I am ready to go out there and break America. It’s one step at a time and my mum’s always taught me ‘walk before you start running’ but at the moment I want to make sure Europe is right, because for me Europe, Australia, Asia, America, they are all the same. I’m not going to treat anywhere different; I want to give my 100 percent all to every country.
What producers, writers, and features are going to be on the American version of the album?
I can’t say any features, but I can say RedOne and I have been working on a lot of tracks. We have been creating some magic in the studio recently. Another producer called Lucas, he’s awesome. Also, a writer who is called Salvon, he is part of RedOne’s team. He co-wrote ‘Broken Heels’ so he is helping me out with the tracks too. We have a lot of amazing people.
Everyone and their mum remembers that golden moment when you shared the stage with Beyonce. In fact, there’s been much talk of a possible collaboration with her. What’s the current status of that?
The collaboration is still out there but she is on a break at the moment. I know she is releasing a new single but she is so taking her time out right now. I say watch this space because you never know what’s going to happen in the future.
JLS is currently trying to make an impact in the US market. What do you think are the major differences between US music market and UK market?
There’s a major difference in terms of the style and the way the swagger is in America. I feel like in America they love Hip-Hop, R&B mixed with Pop; but over in Europe I’ve noticed it’s just up-tempo, Pop techno stuff and the UK, kind of love everything. So with America you kind of have to make sure your swagger is on point for your release over there, because America you only kind of get one chance to break it and if you go into it half heartedly they will know! So (with) America you have to be really careful. I would say if you are going to go out in America you need to be spending least 3 months over there absolutely full-on promotion, and that’s what I intend to do.
Fairly or unfairly, many reality TV singers are often labelled puppets. Honestly speaking, how much of a say do you have over your career?
Majorly big say! And I love the fact that they have given me a station from the get go. From the day I won, they were like “what do you want to do?” I was like “hello!”, and it’s just cool that I have got that say. As well as that, I trust whose around me, I trust my team; they are a great team for me and they work really hard for me. And at the end of the day I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for my team helping me out and being passionate about my music. I get a huge say, down to my videos; who I pick in my videos is up to me; me and the director. I would never tread on anyone’s toes, but in terms of dancers and stuff too, I pick that. I want to feel comfortable with who’s next to me in my videos and onstage.
Interestingly, the biggest acts to come from the ‘X-Factor’ have all been people of colour- namely yourself, Leona Lewis and JLS. However, if I’m to be honest, a critique often levelled against you all is that your music doesn’t reflect this. What’s your response to this?
What does that opinion mean?
Some people feel as if, there’s not much of an urban featured on Leona’s material or JLS’ or sometimes Alexandra Burkes’…
Right. All I can say to that is that my music is really just who I am. And what I love is that when they did ask me “what do you want to do, where does your music want to go?” Well I said to them my back ground is Motown, I’ve listened to Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, Aaliyah, Michael Jackson, The Temptations, The Stylistics, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey – you know all these amazing people who made music what it is today. And I love the influence of Hip-Hop, R&B, Soul, Rock, so I wanted to put everything in that blender mix it up and the outcome is me. But at the same time, my songs have to come from my heart. I cannot be an artist that goes on stage and say so this song I’m about to sing “blah blah blah”; I need to make sure I have a story behind each song that’s why they come from my diary. I mean ‘Nothing but the Girl’ that’s an example, that’s quite R&B, ‘Goodnight, Good Morning’ that’s R&B stroke Hip-Hop, ‘6 Foot Under’ is Motown, ‘Bad Boys’ is quite Pop. So on my album I’m quite proud, there’s a mix of everything, so if you like Motown track 6 applies to you, if you like a bit of pop then 1 to 4 applies to you if you know what I mean. There’s a mix of everything. I can’t speak on behalf of Leona or JLS, but that’s my answer to that!
You’re always so upbeat. Yet the past year has seen you experience some of the darker sides of fame – with the tabloid reports, family drama (brother’s suicide attempt), and abuse on the street/ How have you managed to deal with this all?
Well the one thing I always say to myself, and the advice I got from my Cheryl (Cole) as well, is to never read anything, not to read bad press, positive press etc. At the end of the day that can make you sick. Artists go out there and start complaining about the press are being so mean to mean and ain’t nobody listening because this is a cut throat business, dog eat dog world and if you’re threatened over that then you won’t be able to handle it. It’s always good to have thick skin, but it’s easier said than done. Thank God I had a mother who was in the business and taught me a lot. I have a great label, great family and great friends who support me. I just get on with it but it’s really weird because I always turn negative into a positive, because you live once and I’m sorry I could die on a plane tomorrow God forbid [touches wood], and I want to make sure that if I die tomorrow I’m a happy girl, I’m a very happy girl so live everyday like it’s your last.
Which 3 singers would you say had the biggest influence on your career?
Michael Jackson, Beyonce and the Queen – Aretha Franklin – yeah absolutely she taught everybody else (laughs).
Whitney Houston’s being receiving a little flack for her performances of late. What’s your take on this?
I love her! God, she;s one of my biggest idols. You know what? I can’t judge because I haven’t seen her live yet and my motto is “I will never judge an artist if I haven’t seen them live in concert”. To me, live is the way forward, it’s a learning experience, and Whitney – to me – is still a legend and is still a hero of mine. So I cannot judge her until I hear her live there in my space; and you never know you see these things on YouTube and you hear these things which have been edited in a certain way. I don’t know the truth so therefore I’m not going to pass judgement until I see it for myself.
You’ve enjoyed immense success as a darker skinned female artist. Do you feel it’s harder for darker skinned black females to make it in the industry?
Thank you. I don’t think it is hard. I think it’s always a challenge for anyone to make it in this industry. Just because now, for example 20 years ago, now my mum is a big woman she not your stick thin women, but she can walk into a label and got signed to Soul II Soul right. Nowadays you walk in a label and the first thing they go is image, “how we going to do her makeup? How we going to do her hair?” On shows like ‘X-Factor’, ‘Britain’s Got Talent’, ‘American Idol’ it’s all your talent. With Simon Cowell and the rest of the judges, you walk in and you sing and they’ll automatically go for your voice because that is what the show is about. So I think it’s always a challenge because whether you go through the root of a record label or go through these kinds of shows like what I went through, they are both are as hard as each other it’s about passion and determination. I never thought for a second it’s going to be handed to me on a plate or I’m definitely going to make it, but I knew that I’m going to keep working my butt off and make it. And I will not let anyone stand in my way, whether it be Simon Cowell, Richard Branson or anyone! I don’t care; no one would stand in my way. At the end of the day you just have to be yourself, and as cliché as it sounds it helped me, that’s why I’m sitting in front of you having this beautiful interview. You have to take the good with the bad and when one door closes another will open for sure.
Random snap questions:
If Rihanna were to enter the x-factor, do you think that she would win?
I think so because she’s different.
You honestly think so?
Yeah, people would get her. You mean if she came in as she is now or how she was on her first album?
Yes, I think more so now because she is different and she is like ‘Pow!’ now (laughs).
Beyonce or Destiny’s Child?
Oh my God that’s really mean, that’s really mean and this is going to go on your website and people are going to cuss me! Oh my God I have to say Destiny’s Child, but I love B(eyonce). Destiny’s Child because she was always the lead singer and also because that’s where she came from; that’s why she is what she is today.
Do you see where the comparisons between Christina Aguilera and Lady Gaga?
I don’t, Christina’s been around for 10 years; there is no comparison.
Who do you prefer?
Christina is one of my major idols. I respect Gaga I love her music, I’ve met her a couple of times and she’s awesome me but vocally for me it’s Christina because I’ve learnt from Christina from a very young age – from ‘Genie in a Bottle’ – and I’m sure Gaga has to.
Sell us Alexandra Burke in 3 words.
(Screams) Okay. A beast (on stage) (laughs), passionate and bubbly!
Alexandra, thank you for your time….
No, thank you Sam! I LOVE That Grape Juice!