AFTER years of knock-backs and being second best on The X Factor, the time for Rebecca Ferguson to shine has arrived.
Almost a year since she was pipped at the post by Matt Cardle in the ITV1 talent show, the Liverpool soul singer and songwriter finally released her debut album, Heaven, in early December. Well, Heaven can wait, as they say.
Here it is, at last, and here is Rebecca Ferguson herself, sitting in the corner of her manager’s office, hiding underneath a giant floppy hat, to publicise her 2012 tour.
As chance would have it, she will visit York Barbican on March 2, the night after the triumphant Cardle plays there too!
Rebecca looks like a singer, but one that would have graced the stage of a smoky jazz club in the 1950s, rather than someone who appeared on The X Factor.
Underneath the big brim, however, is a rather normal girl; mum of two and reality TV fan, who enjoys a rare night out with friends over the weekend.
“Hiya,” she says in broad Scouse, leaping up to say hello, before ordering a cup of tea. Milk and one sugar, if you were wondering.
Fortunately for her, time spent dreaming of being a singer since she was seven has stood her in good stead for the reality of being a popstar.
“I always knew what it was going to be like,” says the 25-year-old former legal secretary. “I don’t know how, maybe it was things I read or saw, but I’ve always known it was going to be hard work.
“I think a lot of people are disillusioned and think being a singer is more about turning up at fancy events, having loads of money and not really working for it.
“The reality is early mornings and lots of hard work, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Her recent work-related plane journeys, zipping her around the country for interviews and performances, have been on easyJet flights, rather than British Airways as she was promised, but there were no diva fits.
“I’m not bothered about stuff like that,” she says. “I just sat down and went to sleep.”
She will be touring on the back of rave reviews in the broadsheet press for Heaven and a general feeling that Rebecca Ferguson could go on to become one of the most popular former contestants in The X Factor’s history.
“The feedback has been amazing, and the album’s been getting praise from people I really didn’t expect to like it,” she says. “I was saying to Eg [White, co-writer and producer] when the album was finished, ‘If this doesn’t work, I’m leaving that big house, packing the kids up and going back to Liverpool’, to which he said, ‘No pressure then, Becky’, and worked even harder.”
While Rebecca was in The X Factor, she was constantly told by the judging panel that she had the voice of a ready-made recording artist, with her renditions of Anthony Newley’s Feeling Good, Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come and the jazz standard Why Don’t You Do Right? pointing her in the direction of retro soul.
Her album does not stray too far from that formula, and given the popularity of Adele in 2011, it is certainly very on-trend. Eg White had actually worked with Adele, while other collaborators on Rebecca’s album include Steve Booker, who has written songs with Duffy, and Fraser T Smith, best known for his production work with Ellie Goulding, James Morrison and, again, Adele.
“I wrote a song a day for about six months, but we scrapped loads before recording,” says Rebecca. “I was looking for songs that I felt especially connected to, and while some of the songs we got rid of were brilliant tunes, I just didn’t think I could sing them night after night.”
Too Good To Lose ended up as her favourite song on the album, while she says Teach Me How To Be Loved has the most meaning for her.
When she first appeared on The X Factor and stunned the judges, it was not the first time she had auditioned on the show.
There were failed attempts in 2005 and 2006, a rejection from Britain’s Got Talent in 2009 and, most painful of all, she was turned away from P Diddy’s Starmaker in 2007, which her family had clubbed together to fund.
“I didn’t just dream of becoming a singer,” says Rebecca. “I was really active in trying to make it happen. When I was 14, I got a job to be able to afford my singing lessons, and I was constantly looking for other things. I thought, ‘Maybe if I do a bit of modelling, maybe I’ll get noticed and I’ll have a foot on the ladder that way’.”
Those rejections hit her hard. “The first time was really bad, because I thought I had talent and could do it. I thought ‘Maybe I can’t sing. Maybe I’m one of those deluded ones who just thinks they can’,” she says.
What has changed, Rebecca? “Whatever changes in music, there has consistently been a demand for beautiful voices and pretty faces to go with them.
“I’m a lot more chilled. And maybe I ‘really’ wanted it before,” she says, impersonating a typical X Factor-hopeful, “and that put people off?
“I don’t know what it was, but I believe in timing and things happening when they’re meant to.”
Given that her two children, Lillie May and Karl, are now aged five and seven, perhaps it is better that Rebecca’s career is taking off now.
Her own childhood has been written about extensively, but she does not regret telling journalists about her time in foster homes while she was growing up.
“I’m too honest to lie, and I’m too polite to say ‘I’m not talking about that’, so if I’m asked something, I just answer,” says Rebecca. “My childhood was hard, and I was in foster homes, but it’s no different from what thousands of kids are going through today.
“I could shut up about some things – and you have to keep some things back – but a child in foster care could see me and think ‘She’s doing OK, maybe there is hope?’ and that’s great.
“There are positives and negatives, and I’m learning fast. I’m still Becky from Liverpool, but this is what I always wanted, and now I’m doing it.”
• Rebecca Ferguson plays York Barbican on Friday, March 2, the night after Matt Cardle. Doors open at 7pm each night. Box office: 0844 854 2757 or yorkbarbican.co.uk