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12 July 2014
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Cornwall's Alex Parks

Find out more aout Alex Parks

So, you may have seen her performing in pubs around Cornwall, you've seen her on TV and you've heard her single. But how much do you really know about our spikey haired pixie? Read Alex's biography and get to know her a little better.

If contemporary pop has a way of filtering out unique, unconventional singers, leaving a glut of highly driven but not particularly engaging types at the forefront, Alex Parks is a much-needed, brilliantly against the grain anomaly. An artist this real makes it out of her bedroom and into the mass spotlight one time in ten thousand.

The winner of Fame Academy 2003 had not been sitting at home in her native Cornwall working on her 'image' and scheming how she could leapfrog to the centre of celebrity. Prior to the show, she was planning to pull herself out of a year of unemployment by moving to Amsterdam to learn clowning. It was her dad who entered her for the show, allowing a musical miracle to happen. "I didn't want to be famous and I don't think I realised how big Fame Academy was going to be," she says. "I didn't ever prepare myself for the fact that I might win." Having been prompted by her father to take part in auditions for the show, which threw her in amongst 12,000 hopefuls, the 18-year-old Alex found herself the youngest student chosen for the two month stay at Witanhurst House in north London.

It wasn't just youth and spiky hair which caught the imaginations of the judges and the millions who voted her into the next round each week. From the start, singing covers of the Christina Aguilera song 'Beautiful' and Danny Whitten's 'I Don't Want To Talk About It', there was an emotional authority to her singing which stood out. Here was a voice with a few bruises, a little husky and dusty, but with an amazing ability to fly. Tracy Chapman with wings. Alison Moyet with sparkle. Annie Lennox with roll ups. A Sinead of surf. Her televised renditions of REM's 'Everybody Hurts' and Coldplay's 'Yellow' were heart stopping, prompting one judge to sum up the unusual events in the Academy thus: "She's got passion, which you can't teach."

By the time of the final, where she again sang gorgeously, including a highly moving version of her own co-written 'Maybe That's What It Takes' few doubted that Alex would come in ahead of fellow student Alistair Griffin. Nothing would be the same again for Alex. "It's been like a whirlwind of madness," she says. "If I had deliberately tried to change my life, I couldn't change it more."

Mount Hawke is a tiny village near Truro in Cornwall, with two shops, a church, a pub and a school. Old men and women sit on the bench by the crossroads. Everyone knows each other. This is where Alex spent her formative years, climbing trees, riding her bike and heading up the coast to St Agnes were there was a slightly younger community of surfers. It was not a musical pressure cooker in Mount Hawke. Alex's mum and dad liked Gene Pitney and Meat Loaf. Her brothers played techno and Bros. At school, Alex wanted to be an art teacher, but by the time it came to doing A-levels she opted for theatre studies, going to college at The Hub in St Austell, and learning theory, dance, acrobatics and clowning. Her first musical success had been winning fifty pounds at a singing competition in a local bar, but her teenage musical education really came via members of the local folk band One Trick Pony.

"Dave from One Trick Pony introduced me to folk music and taught me a few chords on the guitar," recalls Alex."He got me to sing basically. If it wasn't for him I wouldn't be singing. He introduced me to Joni Mitchell, Ani Di Franco, Michelle Branch, loads of stuff that I hadn't heard before that was really nice and we used to do just covers of that and then we started writing together.

"I was at school still doing my GCSEs, and all I was doing was living with the band, practicing every night and gigging on weekends, and no revising or anything." For two years Alex fronted the band, playing in bars around Cornwall.

There was, however, no obvious route out of the local scene, and the momentum of the band gradually ran down, leaving Alex in her bedroom with a four-track tape machine and a bunch of her own songs-in-progress. Once theatre school had finished, it seemed like the best thing she could do was follow through with her theatre studies and go be a clown in Amsterdam. Fame Academy came entirely out of the blue. "It's weird because I didn't enter myself," she says. "I didn't think I'd get through the first audition anyway. Then when I did, and I kept getting further, you kind of get swept away, and you want to see how far you can go. Before I knew it I was on BBC 1."

Great young female singers with voices capable of injecting new life into all time classic ballads are rare. Those characteristics, tied to intelligence, depth, and an amused outsider's point of view mean Alex's future progress from Fame Academy is guaranteed to be compelling. She has no intention of allowing herself to be trapped in one musical genre. Having proved to the nation that she can light up the most emotional work of John Lennon, U2, Eurythmics, REM, Tears For Fears and Coldplay she's commemorating those moments on her first album 'An Introduction To Me' as well as opening up future possibilities with five of her own songs co-written during Fame Academy.

The first single from the album, her grand final winning co-composition 'Maybe That's What It Takes', sets the scene as an beautiful anthemic piano ballad. Alex has been getting involved with the production on the album, enjoying a surfeit of studio possibilities after 'the bedroom years'. Before the first album has even hit the streets she's been looking ahead to the follow up record, where she has every intention of further stretching her teenage old soul wings.

"I am only 19, but I've probably been through a lot more tough decisions and had to stand my ground more firmly than friends that are the same age," she explains. "I think I've experienced my fair share to be honest. And really it doesn't matter who you are and how old you are, if you're writing about something that's true, then it's true."

Against the odds Alex Parks got though the net, a representative of the real world, with all its self-doubt and irregularity, singing the life back into what's all too often an empty spectacle. Alex smuggled feelings back into prime time.

"I really hope I do well, because I just want to do this," she says. "I just don't get the same feeling from anything else as I do from music." Ever get the feeling you're in at the start of something great? For all the right reasons Alex is here to stay.

Cornwall Connected Catch up on BBC TV and Radio. Watch and listen now.

 

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