Louisa Johnson’s debut X-Factor appearance last year left the show’s judges so slack-jawed they jokingly considered ending the series there and then.
Taken from the Autumn Issue of Wonderland
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We all know how the X-Factor works: the saccharine personal assassinations showreel comprises sob stories about dead kittens, and emotional montage scores that, despite your best efforts to remain cynical, make your hairs stand on end. Sometimes however, a singer comes along who makes you sit up and take notice. When then 17-year-old Louisa Johnson took to the X-Factor stage in ripped jeans, air max and (what would become her signature) red bandana and belted a spellbinding cover of Michael Jackson’s “Who’s Loving You?”, it was the first time I stopped dunking my chocolate digestives into a mug of tea and paid attention. The judges did the same, bolting upright like they’d just been on the receiving end of an electric shock. Before she’d even finished her 15 seconds of onstage fame, the whole audience were on their feet applauding like a stampede of elephants, and as she warbled the last note, next to tears at their reaction, the judges attempted to lift their jaws off the floor.
“That is what you call a singer!” Exclaimed Simon Cowell. “A little superstar,” said Cheryl Cole, grinning from ear to ear, and the battle between the industry insiders to secure Johnson as their own began. Johnson, who grew up on episodes of X-Factor, never expected this to happen. “I watched it just growing up and knew this was something that I had to do. Leona Lewis was just amazing and so pretty, and it’s when I saw her on it that I really started to take it seriously as a goal.”
Johnson eschewed her place at performing arts school Urban Edge near Chelmsford to take part in the competition. How wild were these days? “To be honest, I would always rather just be in my room singing karaoke,” the singer admits. “I just wanted to sing, it’s all I really cared about.”
It’s certainly paid off, with the judges agreeing in unison that there was almost no point in continuing with the show after her initial performance. The show did go on, however, with Johnson under the mentorship of Rita Ora. “I think Rita inspired me the most, because she’s young too and we had so many ideas together. She helped me a lot,” Johnson enthuses. “She always told me to be myself, to remain strong mentally. I think it’s the most important advice anyone can give you.”
Throughout the twelfth series of X-Factor, we were treated to a plethora of awe-inspiring performances from the star, who took each track and made it her own. Her cover of Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself ” broke hearts the country over, in a way only Biebs had managed to at this point. The real winner (quite literally) was Johnson’s performance that stole and won her the show, an entirely unexpected version of Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young.” I have to admit as a die-hard Dylan fan I was dubious about the bold choice, but in true Louisa Johnson fashion, she made it her own — to the point of almost making the audience believe she wrote it herself.
How has everyone reacted to her shoot to fame, I ask? “Everyone’s been so supportive and amazing!” she says, with a Cheshire cat grin. “My family, friends, my fans. I love them and I love to inspire them daily via my Instagram,” she explains. “I just want to make them feel like they are important and special, because everyone is.”
Signed to Simon Cowell’s label Syco, it looks like Johnson has the ideal dream team in place. “I really admire [Cowell],” She says. “It’s definitely scary, the fame that comes with X-Factor, but I’m doing everything I’ve always dreamed about and him and Rita have helped me so much.They’re so supportive and it’s really great.”
So when can we expect the album, I venture? “I’m in the studio quite a bit at the moment, which is super-fun!” she exclaims. “It’s been quite difficult to go straight from the show to the studio, but I just want to share my music. For me, my music is like a diary: it’s very real and honest, and I like to be open.”
“It’s not one kind of genre,” she continues. “I love Caribbean-vibe music, Beyoncé, old school R&B and everything from the 90s. I think people are going to be surprised when they hear it!” Does she have any stories from the studio, then? “It’s really hard to explain, it’s just all about the vibe… like, it’s crazy and I’m always saying: ‘Oh god! We started with one word and now we’re here.’”
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Photographer: Rosaline Shahnavaz
Fashion: Sam Carder
Hair: Hiroshi Matsushita using KIEHL’S
Makeup: Jade Bird using MAC COSMETICS
Nails: Jess Young using TOPSHOP
Photographer’s assistant: Meg Nixon
Fashion assistant: Eva Klein
Words: Laura Isabella