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.
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.
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
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."
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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
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.
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.