A striking young woman with a strong vocal resemblance to the young Whitney Houston and a large mop of blonde corkscrew curls, Leona Lewis won the third series of the British reality talent show The X Factor in a landslide. (For non-Brits: The X Factor is the revamped follow-up to the original U.K. talent search, Pop Idol, of which American Idol is the massively successful U.S. version; AI’s Simon Cowell is the show’s lead judge and executive producer.) Born and raised in the Islington section of north London, Lewis won a talent show at the age of 13 and devoted herself to music thereafter, eventually graduating from the prestigious BRIT School for Performing Arts and Technology.
While working as a receptionist and pizza waitress and writing her own material, Lewis auditioned for The X Factor in the summer of 2006 and won the third series competition in December of that year. Lewis’ debut single, a soulful cover of Kelly Clarkson‘s “A Moment Like This” (Clarkson’s own debut American Idol showcase single), was the number one single in the U.K. at the turn of the year, including the coveted “Christmas Number One.” Along with her TV-driven U.K. success, Leona Lewis signed an American recording deal with Clive Davis’ J Records in February 2007. By the end of the year, she had launched her debut album, Spirit, in England, and watched it go to the top of the charts (along with the single “Bleeding Love”). The American release followed in 2008, with similar success. - Stewart Mason