Alexis Jordan: Quietly confident
Having seen both her first two singles - ‘Happiness’ and ‘Good Girl’ - attain UK Top Ten status in addition to topping the US Dance chart, 19-year-old pop/dance/R&B songstress Alexis Jordan is currently aiming for a hat-trick on both sides of The Atlantic with her catchy, uptempo third single ‘Hush Hush’. Whose upcoming release will also be accompanied by Alexis’ first-ever UK headline shows, plus a prestigious support slot on British pop/R&B heartthrobs JLS’ June/July summer tour.
‘Hush Hush’ also meanwhile additionally marks the third single from Alex’s self-titled UK Top 10 debut album. Which, largely produced and written by New York-based, Norwegian duo StarGate (whose list of credits include international Number Ones for the likes of Rihanna, Ne-Yo and Beyonce), has already yielded bona fide international success. With its aforementioned first single ‘Happiness’ having hit Number One in The Netherlands and Norway, while - in addition its Top Three placing in the UK - simultaneously achieving Top Ten status in Australia, Belgium, New Zealand and Poland.
Born in Columbia, South Carolina in April 1992 to a mother of African-American, Native-American and European descent and a Puerto Rican father, Jordan first began writing songs in Third Grade before, at the age of 11, moving with her parents and three younger siblings to Santa Clarita, California to pursue a career in the arts. Following which one of her first memorable onstage appearances was at 12 years old - opening for Smokey Robinson at a Stevie Wonder tribute concert attended by the man himself!... Though it wasn’t until 2006 - following various acting jobs on numerous sop operas and commercials - that she got her first taste of national exposure as a singer. When, performing Whitney Houston’s ‘I Have Nothing’, she prestigiously made it through to the semi-final of the first season of high-profile, Simon Cowell-helmed TV talent-show ‘America’s Got Talent’.
Meanwhile, after her disappointing elimination from said show, Alexis and her family next moved to Atlanta, Georgia to be closer to the music industry. Where - with her now beginning to upload cover songs on YouTube in between making numerous professional appearances and submitting demos - by 2008 her YouTube Page was racking-up millions of views! Which in turn attracted the attention of the aforementioned, multi-Platinum-selling StarGate. Who, after flying Jordan to New York and recording a few songs with her, instantly decided to make her the first artist on their new, Sony Music-affiliated label StarRoc - a joint-venture with rap megastar Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label.
All of which - with Alexis’ aforementioned debut album having been released on StarRoc/Roc Nation in February of this year - pretty much brings us up-to-date. As a bubbly, upbeat Ms. Jordan now enjoys a breezy introductory chat with ‘Blues & Soul’ Assistant Editor Pete Lewis, to discuss her forthcoming new single; her internationally-successful debut LP, her multi-cultural early background; plus her ongoing working relationships with label-bosses/mentors StarGate and Jay-Z.
PETE: Let’s start by discussing your new, third single ‘Hush Hush’…
ALEXIS: “The writer of ‘Hush Hush’ - whose name is Autumn (Rowe) - also wrote Happiness’. And it’s really dealing with the situation where - if you’ve been hurt, or someone’s treated you wrong or cheated on you in a relationship - you’re basically saying ‘Be quiet! I don’t wanna hear it! I’m gonna move ON!’… So what I particularly liked about the song is that it’s a very powerful statement for anybody who’s been in that kind of situation.”
PETE: What did you want to achieve musically with your current UK Top Ten debut album ‘Alexis Jordan’, which has been described as “a universal collection of songs”?
ALEXIS: “I mainly wanted you to get a sense of what kind of artist I am - that I don’t like to just be in a box or be known for just one genre of music. Plus I also wanted to give people something meaningful in every single SONG. Like, if you listen closely, you’ll hear that on ‘Happiness’ I’m saying ‘OK, you first need to know who YOU are before you try to fall in love with someone ELSE’; on ‘Good Girl’ I’m saying ‘While no-one’s perfect and everyone has a little bad side in them, you can always better yourself, no matter WHAT’; then on ‘Hush Hush’ I’m talking about respecting yourself and moving on from a difficult situation... And so on.”
PETE: … Yes, lyrically you’ve described your album as “promoting positivity and self-respect”. Can you expand a bit more?
ALEXIS: “To me a lot of song lyrics nowadays don’t have the great meanings to them that they COULD have. And so, with my album, I was just trying to put that aspect back into the music. You know, while I’m not purposely trying to force-feed people into listening to what I have to say, I still would like them to listen to my music and get something FROM it.”
PETE: The bulk of ‘Alexis Jordan’ has been produced and written by New York-based, Norwegian duo StarGate. What’s your relationship like with them?
ALEXIS: “I’ve known them since I was 16, and so we’ve become really, really close. You know, when we’re in the studio we work very hard, we love what we do - and so the chemistry when we get together is like MAGIC! And the way we create the music varies. Sometimes they may have already built the song, before they give it to me to see what my thoughts are and to ask me if I wanna change the lyrics... And then other times we actually create TOGETHER, where they build the music around something I’m saying or writing about at the TIME.”
PETE: Can you fill me in on your early background in South Carolina?
ALEXIS: “Well, what I mainly remember about my early life is that I moved AROUND a lot! So I was almost always ‘the new girl’ - and that’s not always GOOD! But through it all, I always stayed very focused on what I wanted to DO in my life, in terms of education, music… Which in turn meant I kinda lost a lotta the SOCIAL side of my life… Then in terms of musical influences, my mom liked jazz, R&B, some hip hop; my dad was really into his rap music... And I think having that diversity early on was really cool - in that I wasn’t limited in the way I could express myself musically.”
PETE: At 11 you moved with your family to California to pursue a career in the arts. How do you feel that impacted on you as an artist?
ALEXIS: “I think the main way it impacted on me was that I kinda GREW when I went out there, because I got to experience so many different THINGS. I mean, I’d be going to these auditions and singing for random people, then they’d be giving me advice… You know, because I just love entertainment in general, whatever auditions I’d go to - whether it be singing or acting - I’d give it my ALL! And as a result I’d end up getting parts that I never expected I’d EVER get!… And I think all those experiences put together helped make me discover the kinda artist I wanted to BE.”
PETE: Can you tell me about the time in California when, as a pre-teen, you opened for Smokey Robinson and sang Stevie Wonder’s ‘Ribbon In The Sky’ in front of Mr. Wonder himself?
ALEXIS: “Oh, that experience was incredible! I think I was about 12, and I just remember opening for Smokey Robinson at a Stevie Wonder tribute and singing ‘Ribbon In The Sky’… And then, when I went backstage, Stevie was actually THERE! He was like ‘You didn’t think I heard you singing my song, did you?’ - and then he started singing it to me HIMSELF!... I mean, back then I don’t think I fully understood how big a legend he was. But when I look back on it now, I can’t actually believe I DID that! It was just an amazing day!”
PETE: Then at 14 you managed to reach the semi-finals of the Simon Cowell-helmed, high-profile TV talent show ‘America’s Got Talent’…
ALEXIS: “Well, my mom actually saw this commercial for the show on TV, and so I basically just went along to the audition. You know, at first I didn’t really take it seriously - more like a joke. But then, as the weeks went on, I did start to take it VERY seriously To where, when I didn’t win, I was really devastated... Though a definite highlight of it all was when, after I performed for the last time, Simon Cowell himself came backstage and told me I was a brilliant singer! Which actually made me cry. Because, with ‘American Idol’ being so huge at the time, to sing before Simon Cowell and get his approval was like every young girl in America’s DREAM!”
PETE: Shortly after ‘America’s Got Talent’, you and your family moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where the videos you started making of yourself singing on YouTube began to receive millions of views - and ultimately led to you being spotted by the aforementioned multi-million-selling songwriters/producers StarGate…
ALEXIS: “Yeah, at when I first started doing the videos I was like ‘Mom, this is not so cool! Kids don’t SING in front of cameras!’!... You know, it didn’t feel natural at ALL! But then, after doing it for a while, it became quite fun. And it was actually after seeing my YouTube cover of Rihanna’s ‘Take A Bow’ - which was getting over 200,000 views at the time - that StarGate first contacted me! You know, I got this e-mail which at first I thought was a joke - I was like ‘PLEASE don’t mess with my heart!’... But then my mom assured me it was real - and that’s basically where everything BEGAN! StarGate flew me to New York; I was 16; I was excited... Then, once we got there, I recorded a few songs with them... And that first recording session is something I’ll never FORGET!”
PETE: StarGate then immediately signed you to their new, Sony Music-affiliated StarRoc label - a joint venture with megastar rapper Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label. So what has your relationship with Jay himself been like?
ALEXIS: “I first met Jay-Z when he unexpectedly turned up at the studio while I was recording with StarGate! And, while I was really excited, the main thing I remember about Jay is him just being very down-to-earth and normal! And, in terms of being actually signed to StarRoc/Roc Nation, the whole experience has just been great - because we’re all like one big FAMILY! You know, everyone wants everyone else to succeed, and so we all just try to help each other out as much as POSSIBLE… So yeah, l have been very blessed to have a really good team around me. And in terms of Jay-Z himself, while he does definitely play a role in making sure his artists are OK and everything that goes along with that, at the same time he does still give you CONTROL. You know, he was totally happy to let me have my own input into my album in terms of what my vision was, etc. - which I thought was really great. Because, at the end of the day, that’s what artists are THERE for!”
Alexis’ upcoming headline dates are: London Scala (June 30); Birmingham HMV Institute (July 2); and Manchester Club Academy (July 2). She supports JLS on their summer tour from June 10 to July 9 - dates include: Hull KC Stadium (June 10); Swansea Stadium (June 12); Newcastle Racecourse (July 7); and Milton Keynes Stadium (July 8). She also performs at T4 On The Beach (July 10)
The single ‘Hush Hush’ is released June 12. The album ‘Alexis Jordan’ is out now, both through StarRoc/Roc Nation
Words PETE LEWIS