Bleona Qereti is the most famous pop singer from the small European nation of Albania, where the press have likened her to Madonna, in her bold visual style and attitude.
At the age of 14, the young diva performed at Albania’s National Music Festival, an annual musical summit, like Albania’s take on the Grammy Awards.
“I wore a patterned blue leather one-piece suit with short pants and a black cape,” recalls Bleona, as she’s known professionally. “I took off the cape in the middle of the performance. The next day I was in all the magazines: ‘Who does she think she is to do with this? She’s like the Madonna in America — she does whatever the hell she wants. You can’t even stop her.'”
Well, no, you certainly can’t.
Bleona began singing and performing at age 5, when she discovered her knack for winning over an audience.
“As a kid, I was going to these Mickey Mouse Club types in Albania for singing lessons and violin,” she says. “Because I was a loud kid, I was the one to give flowers to the country’s leaders and every big shot who came into town.”
By age 11, she’d released her first single; a year later, her first album arrived. Bleona was bucking Albania’s traditions simply by releasing music like an American artist.
“People still had the Communist mentality of one song per year,” Bleona says. She became the first artist in her country to film videos and stage major tours, performing to as many as 70,000 fans a night, she notes. By the end of 2007, she had released eight albums in Albania (and sold 1.5 million copies, she reports) but thirsted for more.
Now a U.S. resident, Bleona has set her sights on becoming the next big global pop star. She’s assembled a seasoned management team and is in the process of readying her first major release in the States.
“She’s got the next three years of her life planned out, marketing-wise,” says manager Christa Shaub, who compares her marketing mind to that of Jay Z.
“I’m extending my market, not starting all over again,” Bleona says. As her homeland’s foremost singer — who is personal friends with, and has performed for, some of the world’s foremost leaders in politics, business and fashion — Bleona is above being viewed as a “new artist” in America. She’s got the better part of a new album recorded with top American producers and sees no need to compromise her art. She seeks a label that will pay the right amount of attention and further her international achivements.
Upon arriving stateside, Bleona sought out Shaub — who had managed Rihanna until 2010 — for her services, and she’s served in that capacity ever since. Erik Olesen, a seasoned former VP of radio promotion with Def Jam, has been handling promotion, while Carmen Cacciatore leads marketing efforts and CW3PR CEO Charley C. Walters serves as publicist.
“She’s got this great star quality that lights up a room wherever she goes,” Walters says. “From my perspective, it’s a dream-come-true type of client, because you’re enhancing her image as opposed to having to create it.”
That charm helped Bleona land studio time with her most sought-after producer: Timbaland. After years of trying to bend his ear (including asking Donald Trump if he knew him), she finally caught up with him during another artist’s studio time and insisted he produce her next album. At first, he declined.
Bleona left the room in tears, but days later, Timbaland called her back, interested in collaborating. Fast forward: Timbaland has produced two of the songs tentatively slated for Bleona’s American debut album, along with other top producers like Rodney Jerkins and Alex Cantrall. Her single “Take It Like a Man” is already gaining traction with trendsetting DJs, reaching No. 31 on Billboard’s Dance Club Songs chart. Shaub plans to soon release another single, followed by an EP in the fourth quarter, depending on whether she finds a label.
“She’s filming a TV project for a major network right now,” Walters adds. “It focuses on a lot of different professionals and characters who have come from different parts of the world to Hollywood.” Additionally, she’s also set to headline Las Vegas’ annual PRIDE celebration on Sept. 7 and serve as its master of ceremonies the night before.
Driven by an irresistible personality and an otherworldly passion for the stage, Bleona is used to making impossible dreams become realities. U.S. pop fans may soon learn what those in Europe already know: Bleona is a force to be reckoned with.