Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Leona gets the upper hand

Ever since she first appeared on The X-Factor, Leona Lewis has been unfavourably compared to Mariah Carey - the reigning queen of the mellifluous mega-ballad. As well as having a similar appearance (sufficient for early tabloid coverage to refer to her as a Mariah-lookalike), Leona's way with a warble suggested that she was keen to follow in Carey's stilettoed footsteps.

But it wasn't just the papers that seized on the comparison, other performers also saw a similarity that compelled them to speak out. Demonstrating a crushing lack of self-awareness, short-term starlet Jamelia was quick to condemn the Hackney princess as "a poor man's Mariah Carey. Leona may be talented, but she's not worked as hard as me or others in the industry - fact!"

When Leona's debut album was released, the comparisons continued, especially since the CD seemed to have been carefully compiled to match Mariah's mid-nineties output, from the sappy, inspirational ballads to the mid-tempo R&B tremblers. Through it all, Leona changed keys more times than an amnesiac locksmith and showcased her world-class pipes to international acclaim.

Her success didn't go unnoticed by the octave bothering uber-diva either, although 'Mimi' was less than delighted with the prospect of competition. Showing all the kindness and compassion of Myra Hindley with a migraine, Mariah loftily claimed "I only heard her once and I didn't really hear a true similarity, particularly in the style of music. It is what it is and critics have compared me to so many people who are not really singers, and they're certainly not writers."

Interestingly, in the last two years, Leona has proved herself as more than just a pretender to the chaise-longue. And although Mariah still rules the roost in terms of sales, Leona is snapping at her mule-clad heels, not least in terms of vocal dexterity.

Whilst Leona could still score a number one by singing the Scottish Premier League scores, Mariah's live performances sound like she's just received an emergency tracheotomy involving a stanley knife and a biro. Her recent appearance on Good Morning America saw her making sounds that would normally be associated with a demonic possession - that famous five-octave voice reduced to a scratchy, screeching air raid siren.

But this week, the Godzilla vs Mothra-style battle of the balladeers took a couple of unexpected turns, as the two titanic talents had very different brushes with their fans.

At a Las Vegas concert, Mariah played the role of matchmaker by inviting two gay fans up on stage so that one could propose to the other. Not only did Mariah interrupt the performance to show her support, she even knocked back the celebratory glass of champagne, without needing an underling to position a drinking straw in her mouth.

Meanwhile, here in London, poor Leona had a rather less auspicious brush with the great unwashed. At a book-signing to promote her new autobiography 'Dreams', Leona was punched in the face by a man who had patiently queued to have his copy autographed. According to eye-witnesses, the unprovoked attack saw Leona rushing from the Piccadilly branch of Waterstones in tears. Shortly after, a scheduled appearance on The One Show was cancelled.

This cruel and unprovoked attack must have come as quite a shock for mild-mannered Leona - especially since she has carefully constructed a persona that's about as controversial (and interesting) as Ryvita. But maybe there's a silver lining to go with the bruised skin here - one that will see her finally assume her rightful place alongside the 'Imperfect Angel' herself.

Perhaps this altercation will give her the impetus she needs to start distancing herself from reality, and acting like the diva she has always had the potential to be. After all, if Mariah can learn to be gracious and considerate, maybe Leona can forget.

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