Lewis was born in the London Borough of Islington, to Aural Josiah “Joe” Lewis of Afro-Guyanese descent, and Maria Lewis of Welsh, Irish, and Italian descent. Her parents enrolled her at the Sylvia Young Theatre School. From there she attended the Italia Conti Academy, the Ravenscourt Theatre School and the BRIT School, where she learned to play instruments, such as the guitar and piano, in the hope of becoming a singer-songwriter. Lewis wrote her first full-length song at the age of 12. She initially trained in opera, but went on to singing jazz and blues, eventually leading to popular music, citing Minnie Riperton, Eva Cassidy and Stevie Wonder as her main influences. After leaving the BRIT School at 17, she took a number of jobs to fund studio time, recording a demo album called Twilight. The album, almost exclusively comprising her own compositions, was recorded under Spiral Music, a production company based inFulham. “I tried to secure a record deal by doing things my own way. I worked very hard but I never managed to land a contract”, said Lewis. Other demos were recorded under licence from UEG Entertainment, later included on an album called Best Kept Secret. None of Lewis’s demos brought her significant attention, however, and she considered taking a hiatus from her music career to attend university. Then her boyfriend persuaded her to enter The X Factor which subsequently severed her connections with UEG.
2006: The X Factor
Lewis auditioned for the third series of The X Factor in 2006, singing “Over the Rainbow”. She was mentored by Simon Cowell and was announced the winner on 16 December 2006, winning a £1 million recording contract. Her debut single, a cover of Kelly Clarkson’s “A Moment Like This”, was released on CD on 20 December 2006, and was available as a digital download from midnight on 17 December. It broke a world record after it was downloaded 50,000 times in thirty minutes. On 24 December, “A Moment Like This” was crowned the 2006 UK Christmas number-one single, having sold 571,253 copies, outselling the rest of the Top 40’s sales combined. The single became the most downloaded song in 2006; it stayed at number one for four weeks and stayed at the top spot in the Irish Singles Chart for six weeks.
2007–09: Spirit and international breakthrough
In February 2007 Lewis signed a £5 million (US$9.7 million) five-album contract in the United States with Clive Davis’s record label, J Records, and showcased for several American music executives. A press release described how Cowell and Davis would work together in a “first-of-its-kind” partnership on both the song and producer selection for Lewis’s debut album, titled Spirit. Lewis recorded tracks for the album in London, Miami, Los Angeles, New York City, and Atlanta, where she worked with several songwriters and record producers including Dallas Austin, Walter Afanasieff,Salaam Remi, Steve Mac, Stargate and Ne-Yo. It was released in November 2007 and entered both the Irish Albums Chart and the UK Albums Chart at number one, becoming the fastest-selling debut album in both countries, and the United Kingdom’s fourth fastest selling album of all time. It was released in several other nations in January 2008, and went to number one in New Zealand, Australia, Austria, Germany, South Africa and Switzerland. Two more tracks were recorded in 2008 for the US release of the album: “Forgive Me”, produced by Akon, and “Misses Glass”, produced by Madd Scientist. It was released in the United States in April 2008 and entered the Billboard 200 at number one, making Lewis the first British artist to reach number one with a debut album. A special edition of Spirit was re-released in November 2008 in Europe, including the songs “Forgive Me”, “Misses Glass” and a cover of the Snow Patrol song “Run”. The album again went to number one in the UK Albums Chart. To date the album has sold over 6.5 million copies worldwide and has a 9× platinum certification in the UK.
Lewis’s second single, “Bleeding Love”, produced by Ryan Tedder and written by Tedder and Jesse McCartney, was released in October 2007 in the UK, where it sold 218,805 copies in its first week, giving it the biggest first-week sales of 2007 to date. It entered the UK Singles Chart at number one, where it stayed for seven weeks, and in the Irish Singles Chart it remained at number one for eight weeks. It reached number one in the singles charts of New Zealand, Australia, France, Germany, Norway, Switzerland, Belgium, The Netherlands, Austria, Canada and the United States. “Bleeding Love” won The Record of the Year in December 2007. In February 2008, “Bleeding Love” entered the Billboard Hot 100 at number 85 and then went on to peak at number one for four non-consecutive weeks. The song became the first track by a UK female to reach number one since Kim Wilde’s “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” in 1987. Lewis’s third single, a double A-side featuring “Better in Time” and “Footprints in the Sand”, was released in the United Kingdom in March 2008, in aid of Sport Relief, and she visited South Africa for the charity.. The single reached a peak of number two in the UK singles chart selling over 40,000 copies in its first week of physical release. “Better in Time” was released as Lewis’s second single in the US, where it peaked at number 11 in the Billboard Hot 100. “Forgive Me” was released as Lewis’s fifth single in November 2008; it reached number five in the UK. “Run” was released as a download-only single in the UK, reaching number one, and becoming the UK’s fastest-selling download-only single with 69,244 copies sold in two days. Lewis’s last single from Spirit, “I Will Be”, was released in January 2009, only in North America; it peaked at number 66 on the Billboard Hot 100. In August 2008, she performed “Whole Lotta Love” with guitarist Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin at the 2008 Summer Olympics closing ceremony in Beijing, representing the handover to London as the host of the 2012 Summer Olympics. In September 2008, she joined several female singers to perform a single for the anti-cancer campaign Stand Up to Cancer. The single, titled “Just Stand Up!”, was performed live during the one-hour telethon that aired on all major US television networks. Lewis received three nominations for the 51st Grammy Awards in December 2008. “Bleeding Love” was nominated for Record of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and Spirit was nominated for Best Pop Vocal Album. She was nominated for four BRIT Awards, in the categories British Female Solo Artist, British Breakthrough Act, British Album for Spirit, and British Single for “Bleeding Love”, but despite being the favourite to win the most awards, she received none. She won two awards at the 2008 MOBO Awards: Best Album for Spirit and Best Video for “Bleeding Love”. In December 2008 Lewis was named ‘Top New Artist’ by Billboard magazine.
2009–10: Echo and The Labyrinth
Lewis’s second album, Echo, was given a worldwide release in November 2009. Production took place throughout 2009, including work with Ryan Tedder, Justin Timberlake, Max Martin, Arnthor Birgisson, Kevin Rudolf, and John Shanks. It was recorded in Los Angeles and took nine months to produce. Lewis described the album as “more guitar-driven” compared to Spirit. Lewis performed her first full UK show at theHackney Empire in London on 2 November 2009, performing songs from Spirit and Echo. Echo reached number one in the UK Albums Chart and the top ten of Austria, Ireland and Switzerland. Despite previous attempts from Lewis’s lawyers to ban the release of Best Kept Secret by UEG Music, claiming that the singer had not given her consent, the album was released in January 2009 when the label insisted it owned the rights to the music and Lewis would receive a 50% share of the album’s profits. However, a television advert for the album was banned by the Advertising Standards Authority, who said in a statement: “We considered that the claim ‘Leona Lewis’s new album’ misleadingly implied it was the singer’s latest recording rather than a new CD of tracks recorded some years ago.” The album was released to iTunes in standard and deluxe editions, and two EPs, “Private Party” and “Dip Down”/”Joy”, were released in September 2009. The first single released from Echo was “Happy”, which was written by Lewis, Tedder and Evan Bogart and produced by Tedder. The single was released on 15 September 2009, peaking at number two in the UK, and reaching the top ten in Austria, Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Japan and Switzerland. Lewis also recorded the theme song for the 2009 science fiction filmAvatar, directed by James Cameron. The song, “I See You (Theme from Avatar)”, was written by James Horner and Simon Franglen. It was nominated for Best Original Song at the 67th Golden Globe Awards. Another usage of Lewis’ album can be found in “My Hands”, which was used in the international release of the Square Enix video game Final Fantasy XIII. In January 2010, Lewis provided vocals on a cover of “Everybody Hurts”, released to help raise money for victims of the 2010 Haiti earthquake. The second single from Echo, “I Got You”, was released in February 2010. In April 2010, she featured on a duet with Italian singer Biagio Antonacci, called “Inaspettata (Unexpected)”, from his album Inaspettata. They performed the song on the Italian TV show Io Canto on 22 October 2010. Lewis performed a 13-piece set list at the Rock in Rio festival in Lisbon, Portugal, on 22 May 2010, including songs from Spirit and Echo.
Her first tour, titled The Labyrinth supporting Spirit and Echo, started in May 2010, with a theme based on the film Labyrinth. Lewis was scheduled to tour North America from July to August 2010 supporting Christina Aguilera’s Bionic Tour, however, Aguilera cancelled the tour, leaving Lewis’s plans unknown. A DVD of the tour, along with a ten-track CD, was released with the title The Labyrinth Tour Live from The O2 on 29 November 2010.
2011–present: Hurt, Glassheart, Glassheart Tour and fourth studio album
Lewis began work on her third album, titled Glassheart shortly after she had completed The Labyrinth tour. Though originally announced to be released on 28 November 2011 in the UK, it was eventually released in October 2012. The album was released on the RCA Records brand after RCA Music Groupdisbanded J Records along with Arista Records and Jive Records. Reports suggested that the album had taken a dubstep direction, with songwriters asked to submit dance songs and no ballads. Lewis described Glassheart as “energetic, deep, [and] unique” and said it would have a darker tone. She citedTracy Chapman, Kate Bush and Tears for Fears as the album’s primary influences. For the album, Lewis worked with numerous writers and producers including Ammo, Jonas Quant, Chuck Harmony, Claude Kelly, Ryan Tedder, Fraser T Smith, Al Shux, Steve Robson, Dallas Austin, Rico Love and Ne-Yo.
Lewis released a single, the dance-pop song “Collide”, written by Autumn Rowe and produced by Sandy Vee, in the UK on 4 September 2011 and Germany on 9 September 2011. It debuted on the official UK top 40 singles chart at number 4. Lewis released an EP on 9 December 2011, titled Hurt: The EP, containing three covers. Lewis went on to perform on the American version of X Factor, and as the featured performer for the closing of the2011 Doha Film Festival, where she sang ten songs, including several cover versions. In June 2012, she performed at BBC Radio 1’s Hackney Weekend 2012 after being announced on 25 May 2011 as an ambassador for the event. It was the BBC’s biggest ever free-ticketed live music event. Following the announcement that Lewis would be an ambassador, she performed a special Live Lounge at the Hackney Empire, with a reggae version of “Better in Time”, which incorporated Rihanna’s “Man Down”, and a cover of Labrinth’s “Let the Sun Shine”. At the Hackney Weekend, Lewis performed further cover versions and debuted the song “Come Alive” from Glassheart.
In August 2012, Lewis announced that the lead single from Glassheart would be “Trouble”, released on 7 October 2012. It entered the UK Singles Chart at number seven. The album debuted at number three in the UK and at number four in Ireland, respectively. The second single, “Lovebird”, failed to reach the UK top 200 in the absence of radio support. Lewis will embark on a 16-date tour in the UK beginning in April 2013.
In February 2013, Lewis left her management, Modest! Management. It was announced that she will begin work on her fourth studio album and it will be released later in the year. In March, Lewis was assigned as The Body Shop’s new Brand Activist.
In July 2013, Lewis revealed that her new studio album would be a Christmas collection comprising both classic covers and original material with a “soulful, Motown” feel.
Lewis lives in Hackney. She lived with her boyfriend, who became an A&R scout for Sony records, until their split in June 2010. They had known each other since she was approximately ten years old. A vegetarian since she was 12, Lewis won PETA’s Sexiest Vegetarian along with Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis in 2008, and Europe’s Sexiest Vegetarian in 2009 with actor Scott Maslen. She also was named PETA’s Person of the Year for 2008. Lewis is a supporter of the World Society for the Protection of Animals and is a patron ofBrentwood’s Hopefield Animal Sanctuary.
At a book signing for Dreams on 14 October 2009 at the Piccadilly branch of Waterstone’s book store in central London, Lewis was assaulted by a 29-year-old man from south London who was arrested at the scene; Lewis suffered bruising. The assailant was sectioned under theMental Health Act and was charged with common assault, He admitted to the offence and was hospitalised for an indeterminate period.