On 'Spirit,' Leona Lewis Was The U.K.'s Girl Next Door Who Conquered The Globe. Now, On 'Echo,' She's Taken Charge Of Her Image And Her Songwriting—And Is Ready For A World Tour
TOUR DE FORCE
As well as her development as a songwriter, Lewis is ramping up by wearing custom-tailored outfits designed by British fashion icon Vivienne Westwood, who will also be involved in Lewis' move to the concert stage.
Lewis' world tour-projected to run for nine months-will kick off with nine U.K. arena dates in May and June, booked by Creative Artists Agency. She starts May 28 at Sheffield Arena and will also include two shows at London's O2 Arena. Harry Magee, Lewis' co-manager at London-based Modest Management, expects that run to be extended, or that Lewis will return for further U.K. gigs as part of a European tour in the fall. "In America, we'll be touring in the summer," he says, "either as part of a package or as special guests." Dates in Australia and Japan will follow in late 2010 and early 2011.
Magee says production details are still in the early stages-contrary to some Internet rumors, Michael Jackson's choreographer Travis Payne hasn't been hired-but fans should expect something spectacular.
After all, despite the lack of headline concerts, Lewis is hardly a stranger to the stage, performing everywhere from the closing ceremony of the Beijing Olympics (with Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page) to Nelson Mandela's 90th birthday party in London's Hyde Park to the 2008 MTV Video Music Awards (with Lil Wayne and T-Pain). She sings "I See You (Theme From Avatar)" over the end credits of James Cameron's anticipated sci-fi film "Avatar."
And, a week after Billboard meets with her, Lewis performs her first full live show. It's a homecoming gig, at the 1,500-capacity Hackney Empire, a grand Victorian theater that was also the venue for Lewis' first talent competition.
"I sang 'My Heart Will Go On' by Celine Dion, which is a big song for a 13-year-old," she says with a laugh. "And I won, which was cool. I've been back there since and sang, although it was covers. It's so important for me to go back there and be able to do my own material."
The nine-song, 50-minute set features Lewis backed by six Shaolin-style dancers, two backing vocalists, a six-piece band and inventive lighting and visuals (at one point she sings from between the giant projected image of her own legs), all overseen by creative director William Baker, who for many years performed the same role for Kylie Minogue.
Despite the occasional hint of tentativeness, it's an impressive performance. Lewis's rich, soaring voice effortlessly fills the venue. Her elegant, expansive cover of "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," featured on "Spirit," demonstrates her skills as an interpreter of standards, while "Happy" and "I Got You" (another Martin co-write from "Echo") already sound like stone-cold classics.
That "evolution" campaign seems firmly on track, although no one will offer predictions just yet for how "Echo" might sell in comparison with "Spirit."
"I never make predictions-I find that too intimidating," Davis says with a chuckle. "All I know is, we've worked hard to avoid any pitfalls with the sophomore album. We've got a great number of very strong songs that showcase the growth and maturing and development of Leona as an artist and as a creative person. The rest is up to fate."