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Leah LaBelle Interview (Update #3)

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LEAH INTERVIEW - November 2004

Questions were compiled from the following message boards:

“AI3 Greatest Soul Classics” was not the first recording you have been a part of. What have you learned from the time you have spent in the studio? Sturken & Rogers produced “Betcha By Golly Wow”; what advice or direction did these producers give you during the process? What kind of job do you think they did? Were you happy with the recording? The fans sure loved your song! The FOX forum poll for the best song on the AI3 CD had your song at #2 behind Camile’s “Until you come back to me.” How has this success encouraged you?

I have done many, many recordings in the past, but every recording is a new experience and a learning process. I will never take for granted what I learned from Evan Rogers. (I didn’t get to meet Carl Sturken). It was actually kind of unfortunate the time that we got to spend in the studio. I went in the night before I went home from the top 12… right after Simon told me to pack my bags (booooooo) so I wasn’t in a very good mood and I was disappointed in myself for my performance, and I just didn’t go in there with a good attitude…everything changed. He was great! He made me feel so comfortable and he told me how happy he was to be working with me. He let me go in there and just have fun, you know? Of course, it’s really not my type of song, and it’s definitely not my best. I wish I had more time to do it and it could’ve been so much better (I had to learn it on the spot), but it was fun and I learned something new in the process. I was really only in there for about 2 hours maybe less. It felt like less… I’m not sure.
Yet, I feel very grateful and thankful to the fans for supporting my song and for voting for it! Thank you so much! It means a lot to me. I appreciate it more than you know. We are showing America what they missed out on, huh? They never really understood Camile and I, yet we were number 1 and 2, I think that means something! I have to thank God for that. The world isn’t ready for us! J

Some people have voiced a concern that a major label might try to mold you into a mainstream "pop star" like Britney, Jessica Simpson, or something else you may not be suited for... John Stevens (Maverick Records) and George Huff (Word Records) have both signed with Indie labels and will have artistic freedom to a great extent.
Which label (Major or Independent) do you feel would give you the freedom that you need, while matching your vocal style and goals as a songwriter? What are you looking for in a recording contract and what are your expectations? What social issues or subjects do you want to write and sing about? Also, tell us what you can about the producers you met with in New York and Los Angeles.

I am not a pop star so to speak… I’m kind of different. Those people that you named… like Britney and Jessica etc… they seem to like it that way, they are pop stars and that is their image and catch. I am very different than them. I don’t really portray pop. Therefore, it would be hard to put me in a category like that. I am sure that people might try. I’m sure some will even put that label on me and that’s ok, but I won’t EVER, EVER sell myself out. My approach is going to be much different. I am a musician, and artist, not just a singer. I will entertain the heck out of you, but tastefully and classy. Like Alicia Keys… ya know? She’s still beautiful and mainstream, but she’s not a hoochie. I know what I want, and I won’t let anyone try to change me to something that I don’t like or respect. It just won’t happen, and it really doesn’t have to happen. I want people to like me for me, for my music, for my passion and for my heart, and I will still sell MILLIONS AND MILLIONS of records. It’s all in the Lord’s plan. I just keep on believing; I know He won’t leave me. I have faith—TONS of faith. Plus, my songs are going to have meaning. I don’t believe in superficial, surface level, expected songs. A song that is expected is so boring. I want to have songs with tight hooks, and beautiful melodies, with unexpected changes and chord progressions and crazy tensions… OH, IT’S GONNA BE GREAT. …And the lyrics—meaningful… Coming from the heart full of passion and emotion. It’s going to be GREAT. I feel it.

Seattle is a city known for Hard Rock and Grunge genres and has a rich history with bands like: Jimi Hendrix Experience, Heart, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Sound Garden... But, you have a very soulful sound and style. Tell us, how did you happen to get interested in Gospel or R & B?

I have always been interested in Gospel and R&B. It’s just always been there. I’ve always liked variety of music. My family had a great musical influence on me growing up. My parents played music all the time and I was exposed to a lot. So I developed my taste that way. My heart just stuck to Gospel and R&B more. But, I can tell you the first time that I really decided… It’s a story to remember!! J
Well, as we know, Lauryn Hill is my FAVORITE singer of all time, my role model and inspiration, but it started back when I was 7… I knew I loved to sing, but when Sister Act 2 came out it just made it that much more official! That is the first time that I really found out who Lauryn Hill was, and let me tell you, from the moment she opened her mouth and sang for the first song in the movie (“His Eye is on the Sparrow”) I was convinced that this is what I wanted to do. Her voice and passion was just so moving. Then “Joyful, Joyful”… oh goodness. You’ve got to be kidding me!!! Ha-ha. She was outstanding, and I was ready, as soon as the movie was over, I wanted to sing Gospel music. So, I found the Total Experience Gospel Choir and my solo was “Joyful, Joyful” and there you go… Leah LaBelle was on her way…J HURRAY!!! Then, eventually, after Lauryn left the Fugees, (which by the way, is still my favorite rap group to this day even though they aren’t together), and she made her solo debut, I was hooked to the music that she gave us. It’s the meaningful music that I was talking about earlier… It’s just undeniable. There is nothing like Gospel music and nothing like the real, true R&B (i.e. Roberta Flack, Luther Vandross, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, and Chaka Khan… THE LEGENDS)… They paved the way, and they are also the reason why I do what I do. It’s incredible music!

We have all seen your picture with the "OLD NAVY" logo. We know you belong to the Seattle Models Guild and participated in the Miss America Pageant when you were very young… Have you had any modeling offers? Are you considering doing modeling? (A lot of people think you would be great!)

I am not quite sure I know what picture this is… Also, I didn’t participate in Miss America, but in the Miss Pre-Teen pageant… it wasn’t as big as Miss America. I have done a few modeling things since American Idol, but nothing huge or major. Modeling is cool. It’s definitely not my passion, nor my first pick of career, but I am not opposed to it, as long as I am a singer first. Modeling is a lot of fun, and I love to take pictures, and pose for the camera… Modeling is actually very important for a singer as well.

How has the media been treating you lately? Have you talked to any of the networks concerning a possible talk show appearance or anything else? Did you get any press as a result of your exhibit at the EMP Museum in Seattle?

The media has been real low key lately. Nothing big. I only get publicity if I am doing an event or something around Seattle, but that’s about it. That’s cool. I don’t mind it. I haven’t been offered anything with TV since the show, but FOX was interested in a portfolio, so we are now ready to send it to them. And honestly, I don’t know much about any press for EMP. I’m not sure if there was anything about it. But the exhibit is awesome and it feels so good to be a part of that. My little dress was surrounded by stuff that belonged to people from TuPac to Beyonce to Jay-Z to Britney Spears… so many people. It’s great! …Such a blessing.

How does it feel to finally be a senior in high school? After spending five weeks at Berklee College of Music, do you still want to go there after graduating? Everyone would like to hear what you learned in Boston... What can you tell us about your experience at Berklee?

Being a senior is THE BEST!!! I LOVE IT! I am having so much fun, and I am having a great year so far. I am 18 now too, so you know it’s crackin! HaHa. Fo’ Sho’. J I am very excited to see what the year brings and I can’t wait for the key things like prom and graduation. It will be so much fun.
I actually won “Mrs. Bulldog,” which is equivalent to Homecoming Queen at my school, so that was extremely exciting. My really good friend won “Mr. Bulldog.” … I was happy to share that with him!
On to Berklee… It was the BEST EXPERIENCE, next to American Idol, that I have had. It is definitely where I want to go for college. I don’t actually want to go anywhere else because Berklee is the only school that offers the study of Contemporary music rather than just classical. Almost all other music schools offer classical and jazz, but Berklee has EVERY kind of music, and I want that. They also have a great Music Business study and I want to have a dual major in Music Business and Vocal Performance.
I learned so much for being there for just 5 weeks. I took every type of class: Music Business, Theory, Musicianship, and Ensembles. I learned ear training and I just have a different appreciation and respect for music now. It was great. I am so glad that I was able to be a part of that program. I am going to include here, a little bit of what I wrote in a letter to thank all of the people who donated money, so that I would be able to attend:

“I feel like a completely different person since I’ve had this experience. I arrived at the school feeling a little intimidated and scared since all I could really do was sing. I mean I used to play the piano, but it had been a while since I had explored that instrument. I was feeling like everyone knew some different kind of language from me, and I was going to be so lost… but it wasn’t like that at all!
We had to take a placement exam so that we weren’t put in classes that were too difficult or too easy according to our skill level. To my surprise I found out that I knew much more music theory than I thought I did, and there were people there who were at my level! I had my place.
Throughout the weeks I found myself becoming a whole new musician. I wasn’t just a singer anymore, but I was an artist, an observing musician! I found myself listening to music in a whole new light. I didn’t just pay attention to the way that the singer was singing, but I listened to the way that the instruments in the back were progressing and how the chords fit in the song and the way that the singer expressed his/her notes through emotions and passion. I wanted to be like that. I decided that I wanted to be a well-rounded musician and not just a “stupid singer” as the professors would say. I wanted to push myself to learn chords and musical harmonies so that when I sing I’m not just singing the norm, but I can use all the knowledge that I know to sing notes that are unexpected and expressive. Music is such an art. It is much more that just a talent. If you don’t nurture and explore the gift that you have it doesn’t have meaning. I realized that by just being a singer you can only go so far, but by understanding musical concepts and recognize your voice as an instrument, it gives a whole new meaning to your ability and you are capable of becoming so much more.
I can honestly say that by being at Berklee this summer I have dug out so much musical passion and artistry that was dying to come out, I just didn’t know how to let it free. I feel like my summer was so progressive and amazing. I am more than happy that I was able to have this experience and I would do it all over again if I had the chance.”

I know it’s a lot… but it’s really how I felt about the whole experience. Yet, I must say, that if my career takes off before its time to start school, I won’t be mad. I will learn just as much by being apart of the industry than by studying it at school. Which is actually what I am battling right now in my decision to wait to go to school or to go right away. I don’t want to start school and then my career start and have to drop out…you know? So we’ll see.

We heard that you went to the Prom this year; do you have a boyfriend? Tell us what your idea of the "perfect" guy is; what actor or musician is an example of what you think is "hot.” What is your "pet-peeve?" Do you think of yourself as "liberated" or "old-fashioned?"

I did attend prom with one of my good friends. It was a lot of fun because almost all of my friends ended up going, and pretty much all of my closest friends are a grade above or older, so it was great to spend the prom with them as well. I do not have a boyfriend. It’s OK, though. I don’t really have much time for one, and I would definitely like to have one, because they can be good… HA-HA. Notice I said they CAN be good. Not all of them are good, that is really too bad. I promise you, I will not die if I don’t have one. I am a strong woman, and extremely independent. I know that God has the perfect person waiting for me and he will be there for me when I am ready. So right now, I am OK. I just need to focus on my career and my strengths.
My perfect guy... THIS IS PROBABLY WHY I DON’T HAVE A BOYFRIEND! LOL HA-HA-HA! I am soo picky and I have so many expectations, its really bad. Beware… My perfect guy… he has to love the Lord with all his heart, someone who is respectful to my needs, feelings, and emotions. Someone who I can be myself around, talk to—about anything, loves me and cares for me for being myself, someone who is funny and can make me laugh. He has to smell good, look good, dress nice, clean shoes, clean hands and finger-nails, he has to be tall, he has to live up to so much. Huh? HA-HA. There is more, but I could go on forever. I think I need to start to learn to not be so picky, but yet, it’s good to not fall for anyone.
There are quite a few actors and musicians who I think are HOT… Oh, boy! When I described that my guy has to dress good, the celebrity that portrays that perfectly is Usher... Usher’s style is the best. That is just how I want my boyfriend to dress... the other ones that I like because of their style and looks and personalities are… Ben Affleck, Pharrell (I met him, too and OH, HE IS SO HOT, everything about him), Rashard Lewis, there are a few more… and I am sure I’m missing someone, but I can’t think of him right now… I’ll stop here.

What are some memorable experiences with fans of yours? (Male or female.) Do you remember "Team Camile" from your outside stage performance during the AI finale? ...Because you turned all of us into BIG Leah fans!

I definitely remember “Team Camile”! That was great. You guys are great. I could never forget that. You guys, made me feel so great while I was performing! I love my fans! I think that every single encounter and experience with fans has been memorable.
I can’t forget moments like that. Yet, I do have one that sticks out in my mind. HA-HA. One time I went to have some pizza at lunch, and as I was sitting down with my friend to eat, this guy kept whispering to his friends and pointing at me, so eventually my friend said, “yes it’s her.” Oh, he was so excited! He was like… oh my goodness, ahhhhhh! Can you please come and sit with me, please? So, I didn’t want to be rude, and ended up sitting with him and his friends and we all ate lunch together. He was ecstatic. It was so funny! But I haven’t had anything as crazy as some of the other idols had, I am sure.
Diana DeGarmo has fans who have got her name tattooed on themselves. Now, that is when you know you’ve really made it big! WHOA! But, I do want to say thank you so much for your love and support. I know that I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for you, my fans! I can’t thank you enough…

Have you met any AI contestants from a previous season? Who were your favorite contestants from season 1 and 2? Do you think there is anything to the comparisons that people make of you and Trenyce, JoJo, or Nina Sky? (Or Debra Messing!!! j/k)

I have met Ruben Studdard, Kimberly C., Kimberly L., Clay Aiken, Trenyce, Tamyra Gray, Ricky Smith, Kelly Clarkson, Christina Christian, and I think that’s it. I liked a lot of the contestants but my favorites from Season 1 were Kelly, Christina, Tamyra, and Ryan Starr. My favorites from Season 2 were, Ruben, both Kimberly’s, Trenyce, and Ricky. I didn’t know that people compared me to Trenyce! That is great, because she is amazing. So, thank you. I didn’t know that people compare me to JoJo either. That’s such a compliment because she is outstanding …and for a 13 year old!!! Oh man, come on, thank you for that one, too.
Now let me tell you about the Nina Sky comparison. I had never heard that my fans—or people who I have never met—compare me to them. It is crazy that you do, because EVERY SINGLE PERSON that I have come in contact with that has heard them, tells me how much I remind them of Nina Sky in everyway. It is so weird. But, before anybody really knew who they were, I actually compared myself to them first. I remember, I was watching TV and their video came on… and I was thinking, “whoa these girls look and sound a lot like me”... This is scary, and it kinda sucks, because now it will be harder for me to get out there. So, I called my mom to watch the video and she agreed! And then it was all over. Once people started to get hip to them, then they started talking. Now people say that I look like them, sound like them, my style is like them… they are like my long lost sisters or something. I swear. It’s crazy! Every time that their CD is playing in the car, and somebody will get in my car, they ask if it’s me. It never fails. Everytime… Plus, their favorite singer is Lauryn Hill, too! Oh goodness… I get compared to them so much. But hey, they must be pretty good then! HAHAHA… just kidding. I’m not stuck up… No, but they are great. Their CD is great. A lot of the songs on their CD are songs that I would’ve put on my album if I had them first. So, I am ok with that comparison, they are a lot like me!!! J But, don’t get me wrong. I am my own artist, and my own individual. I really don’t like being compared to other people, because then I feel like people aren’t respecting my music and my artistry. It is OK to an extent. I definitely learn from other artists and when people tell me that I remind them of people like Lauryn Hill, or Beyonce, or Alicia or my other influences, then I am happy, because I admire them. But, only to an extent, like I said. I have to set my own standards and be my own artist, and I believe that I am.

What do you think about the petitions that were signed to get you and Matthew Rogers on tour? We read in the news that you missed the tour when it came to Seattle because you were at school in Boston, but heard that your mother got to spend a lot of time with the other finalists... Were you able to see them on the tour at a later time?

Thank you to everyone who signed the petitions and supported getting Matt and I on tour. Even though it didn’t work, it’s the effort that counts. I believe that everything happens for a reason and I am ok with it. It was very hard at first, but I know that it just wasn’t the path my life was supposed to follow, and God has something bigger and better for me. I missed the tour in Seattle, but my mom sure did kick it with them without me. HA-HA. She’s crazy (good crazy, I love her!). I was disappointed that I couldn’t be in Seattle at the time, because I wanted to take them around in my hometown and kick it with them… My best friend was Camile’s biggest fan and he always wanted to meet her, so since I wasn’t here, I had him take her around and he had the time of his life. They both had a lot of fun, so that made me feel like I was half there!!
Camile recently flew my mom and me out to Hawaii to see the final shows. She wanted me to be able to see the concert and to just be with everyone for one last time. Thanks, Camile!!! So, it was great to be able to do that. I had a wonderful time and I am so happy for the opportunity. It was so much fun! I really missed them. I cried when I saw everyone, and I cried when I left everyone. That is my family, you know? My heart and soul. I love them.

Are you interested in traveling? If so, where to?

I LOVE TO TRAVEL. There are so many places that I want to go…Spain, Italy, France, Back to Africa, Back to Bulgaria, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Hawaii again, Australia, Greece, yep I think that’s it for now…

What was your favorite choir song to sing with The TEGC?

I had a lot of favorite songs, but some of the ones that I liked were… Excellent, God Is, Jesus is the Center of My Joy, oh there is so many… honestly, I could go on and on.

What song would you want to sing on "Soul Night," if you could do it over?

I really don’t want to go into this question too much, because I get really worked up when I think about what happened and… OH GOSH I HAVE TO STOP… I’m just gonna say the name of the song and then I’m done… either “For all we Know” by Donnie Hathaway or “All is Fair in Love” by Stevie Wonder… which is actually the song I was originally singing, but…. Oh, ok I’m done…

We know that you really respect Paula Abdul. What do you think of her music?

I love Paula, but I was never real big on her music because I was really young when her time was big. So, I don’t know much about her stuff. I do like some songs that I’ve heard, but I don’t know their names. Sorry…

Did your experience on “Caught in the Middle” help you to handle stage fright or jitters? If not, what has helped you the most?

“Caught in the Middle” really helped with interviews and getting used to cameras following me EVERYWHERE I went. It was hard in the beginning, but I really got used to it. I don’t really get stage fright. The only time would be when I am performing at school or when in front of people that I know. But, when I do get scared the thing that helps me the most is prayer. I pray to the Lord for a calming spirit and I just pray that I will go out and have fun, to be relaxed and calm. Nothing can calm you like the Lord. He gives me a feeling of comfort and he allows me to be in my own little world. It’s the best way to escape the fear. That applies to every aspect in my life.

You have been in the countries of Canada, Bulgaria, and America. Why is living in America important to you and why are you proud to be an American?

Living in America is the best because it is the land of opportunity. There is nowhere like America. I know that lately our country has gone through a lot and it’s not the same as it once was, but I have a different view on it because of my parents being from a different country and growing up in communism. They came to this country to be free and to allow their children to have the opportunity to live free. This land is full of freedom and there are no boundaries to accomplishing what you want. How can I complain when my parents gave up EVERYTHING to come here so I can be an American? That is why it means so much to me. I could have been living in a country where everything is monitored and have no freedom whatsoever, but I am not. I am living in a country that my parents so desperately admired and dreamed of and we are all happy to be here. I thank God.

Do you have an email address for us to contact you with fan mail?

For now everyone can contact and email me there. I will let everyone know about any changes. Thanks to all of you who have posted there.

In closing, tell us what is on your mind... What would you like to say to the millions of LaFANs that love you?

Thank you fans. You are the best! I love you all so much.

I am sooooooo sorry that I didn’t respond to these questions faster. The first time I did, it got erased when I tried to send the answers. I wanted to cry, because it took so long to answer. I put my heart and soul into these questions and I was crushed when they were gone. Then I got busy with school and work. So, I am sorry that I took so long, but I haven’t forgotten about you all. I promise. I just needed to get things under control. Thanks for hanging in there and waiting. I love you and keep praying for something good to happen soon. I have complete faith and I know the Lord is working. It’s gonna be huge.

The world needs to get ready for Leah LaBelle and her army of LaFans…
I am ready! Are you?
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