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'X Factor U.K.' Alum Fleur East on Getting a Second Chance With Simon Cowell: 'I'm Living a Dream'

Fleur East photographed in 2015.
Juco

Fleur East photographed in 2015.

NAME Fleur East

FROM London

AGE 28 

BACK STORY At 17, East (yes, that's her real name) made it past X Factor U.K. auditions with her girl group Addictiv Ladies in 2005 -- much to judge Simon Cowell's skepticism -- but only lasted a week on the show. Still, it sparked a hunger: "I knew from that moment that music is 100 percent what I wanted to do," the singer-rapper-dancer says.

SECOND CHANCES After a stint at journalism school, East eked by as a session vocalist and waitress. "It got to a point where I had to take my final shot or switch to a different career," she says. She took a friend's advice to audition for The X Factor in 2014 again, this time as a solo act. "Simon said to me, 'We don't want to repeat the last time,' " she recalls. "I thought, 'Great, thanks, no pressure.' " But East rose to the challenge and then some: She came in second place -- thanks to a performance of Mark Ronson's "Uptown Funk!" that hit No. 1 in the U.K. iTunes store -- then signed with Cowell's Syco imprint in 2015.

'American Idol' Crew on Potential Future, If Simon Cowell & Brian Dunkleman Will Make Farewell Cameos

UP NEXT East closed her breakthrough 2015 by dropping her Tina Turner-meets-James Brown debut, Love, Sax & Flashbacks, in the United Kingdom, and now has an eye on U.S. domination with '80s-funk-inspired single "Sax." "There were times I didn't believe this would happen, and I would just give up a little bit," she says. "Now it's like I'm living a dream."

This story originally appeared in the Feb. 13 issue of Billboard.

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