Rebecca Ferguson finds her voice

Rebecca Ferguson Rebecca Ferguson's album entered the chart at number three in December

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She may have seemed meek on the X Factor but Rebecca Ferguson says she learned to stand up for herself in the recording studio.

When Rebecca Ferguson auditioned for the X Factor in early 2010, she was so shy she could barely lift her eyes from the floor.

Her head bowed, she worked her way through Sam Cooke's A Change Is Gonna Come, stealing the occasional, startled glance at the audience.

Simon Cowell picked up on it immediately.

Rebecca Ferguson performs on the Graham Norton show The singer says she has been writing her own songs since she was a child

"The problem is," he told her, "you kind of go off into your own little world where you're singing to yourself."

"I think I've lost my confidence," was the 23-year-old law student's bashful reply.

"When I got pregnant, everyone told me: 'Your life's over.' I started to think maybe I won't be able to become a singer."

Fast forward to 2012, and Ferguson is about to set off on her first headline tour - fronting a seven piece band in venues like the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane and Liverpool's Philharmonic Hall.

Would it be fair to say she's laid those confidence issues to rest?

"I am quite shy and very quiet," she admits, "but I can be assertive when it comes to things I believe in."

"And I've found in this business you have to be quite assertive."

Ferguson worked this out fairly quickly after her exit from the X Factor.

She lost to Matt Cardle in the 2010 final and discovered that, having taken second place, she wasn't entitled to the same amount of media attention as evictees from previous shows.

"You have to take a step back when you become the runner-up, and that's what I had to do," she explains.

Start Quote

If someone plays me a melody, I can write the song. I'm very quick. Very instinctive”

End Quote Rebecca Ferguson

"There was a definitely a fear. I thought: 'Am I going to be forgotten?'"

The uncertainty was made worse by indecision over her record deal.

Although the singer says she "always had faith" she'd be signed, it took Cowell almost six weeks to decide whether he'd take up his option to work with her.

In the end, the singer took a joint deal between Cowell's Syco label and Epic Records - where she immediately faced another struggle.

"There was an assumption that maybe I wouldn't be the best writer," she says. "I'd arrive at the studios and the songs were already written for me."

In fact, Ferguson had been writing poetry and melodies since she was a child living in a "little terraced house in Anfield", and she was determined not to be sidelined.

There wasn't a big diva tantrum - Ferguson says she's more likely to send a strongly-worded email than start a shouting match - but she eventually got her way.

Her fortitude comes from being a mother-of-two, she believes. "Everything you do is for them, so when you're making your decisions you've got two other people to think about," she says.

"I find that gives me the extra kick to stand up for myself."

Instinct

In the studio, Ferguson found a kindred spirit in songwriter Eg White - a former member of Brother Beyond, who's since worked with Will Young, Duffy and Adele (the last, incidentally, claimed to have voted for Ferguson more than 80 times during the X Factor final).

"All the songs came quite naturally," she recalls. "He'd start by playing the guitar, and then we'd add drums and so on.

"It wasn't over-thought and directed. I just wanted to go into the studio and see what happened."

She writes quickly - "I find it really, really easy" - and most of the songs were completed in a day or less.

Rebecca Ferguson The singer, who has two school-age children, is a qualified legal secretary

"If someone plays me a melody, I can write the song," says Ferguson, matter-of-factly. "I'm very quick. Very instinctive."

Whittled down from several dozen songs to a compact, 35-minute album, Heaven was released in December and sold an impressive 128,000 copies in its first week ("I was pretty relieved," she points out).

Reviews were favourable, too, praising Ferguson's "husky" and "intimate" vocals, and the heartstring tug of her "classy adult pop songs".

Lyrically, her main theme is the perilous nature of love: Fractured hearts, suspicious minds and betrayals of trust.

Shoulder To Shoulder paints a particularly mature picture of a mutually destructive relationship.

"And we fight, and we cry, and we tell the same lies about love," she sings.

"So I'm gonna drag you down whilst you drag me down. I'm gonna shout at you whilst you shout at me... Until we realise that real love is free."

You may not be surprised to learn that making the album took its toll.

"I actually found recording really hard," Ferguson says.

"I kept leaving the studio thinking: 'Why do I feel so drained?' It only clicked a couple weeks ago that it was because of what I was writing about. The songs aren't always light on their feet."

But Ferguson points out that Heaven, as its title suggests, isn't "all doom and gloom to listen to".

Songs like Fairytale and her debut single, Nothing's Real But Love, are shot through with hope and a belief in love as a redemptive force.

Ferguson reveals that a few of the rejected songs, fuelled by late nights and "nipping out to the local cafes for greasy food", were even more upbeat.

"I wrote a song with this guy called Johnny Latimer and it was just so cheesy," she laughs.

"It was like a modern version of I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor. We got to the end of the day - it had taken a whole day - and we thought: 'What have we just done? This song is awful!'

"It was just hilarious, really funny. But I said it didn't matter, because we'd had an absolute ball.

"That's what music should be about."

Rebecca Ferguson's album is out now and she tours the UK in February and March.

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