Two years ago, I spent every Saturday and Sunday afternoon sitting in bed watching a choppy, illegal stream of X Factor UK, cheering on then-unknowns like Cher Lloyd, Aiden Grimshaw and a little boy band called One Direction.
By the time it came down to the fingernail-biting finale, I was pulling for the humble diva with a major voice: Rebecca Ferguson. (Especially after that “Show Me Love” performance—LAWD.)
She didn’t win, but it didn’t matter: Her debut record Heaven, which was released in early December last year, ended up charting at #3 in the UK and receiving nearly universal acclaim from the (rather notoriously harsh) British press.
Two years later, I found myself standing about ten feet away from her on stage at the Edison Ballroom in New York City on Tuesday night.
On May 29, Ferguson will make her US debut on Columbia Records with Heaven: Like a mix between Natalie Merchant, Alicia Keys and even a bit of Aretha Franklin, the record is an incredibly gorgeous collection of self-penned pop productions with soaring choruses, soulful melodies and heartfelt lyricism–hardly the stuff of the typical post-reality show debut.
To kick off her debut in America, Ferguson put on an intimate showcase at the Edison Ballroom in New York City, which I had the great privilege of attending alongside my blog BFFLs, Camille from Hard Candy Music and Jon from Jon Ali’s Blog. I also may or may not have eaten 19 appetizers (BY ACCIDENT). The pomegranate martinis were rather amazing as well.
A little after 8 PM, Rebecca stepped out onto the stage. Just as she was on X Factor, the 25-year-old songstress was sweetly humble and polite whenever she spoke to the crowd. But as soon as the band kicked into a number, she switched into full-on chanteuse mode, belting out brassy notes effortlessly while gliding around on stage.
She performed for a full crowd of about 200 people for roughly a half hour, including her current UK single “Glitter & Gold,” a cover of Drake and Rihanna‘s “Take Care,” “Teach Me How to Be Loved,” “Shoulder to Shoulder,” “Nothing’s Real But Love” and “Run Away,” breaking in between songs to talk about the inspiration behind each track and taking sips of tea from a teacup on stage. (Adorable.)
Watching her sing was honestly a bit mesmerizing: She’s truly a powerhouse vocalist. Just effortless! If she had nerves about premiering in America, we certainly wouldn’t have known–she kept it calm, cool and composed.
Crossing over from the UK to America is no small feat. Most of my most cherished British vocalists and pop stars fail to match their homeland acclaim (or even make a small dent) with their stateside debuts. Even Kylie Minogue–a household name overseas–has yet to truly live up to her iconic status in the States, apart from the occasional hit on the dance charts. (One of the world’s greatest pop injustices, no doubt.)
But it does happen occasionally, by some perfect alignment of the stars. Ever hear of Adele?
And given that her album is closer in line with that Adele vibe–soul, heartbreak and big, big choruses–I’m holding out hope that Rebecca’s got what it takes to make that dent in America. She deserves it.
Check out a few clips that I captured from the show below. Apologies for any shaky cam action and/or my inability to record a song in full.
“Nothing’s Real But Love” was released on January 10 in the US. (iTunes)