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A native of London, Lewis was raised in the Islington section of North London. Her parents placed her in the Sylvia Young Theatre School, the first of several schools specializing in singing. Her last was the BRIT School for Performing Arts and Technology, an institution she left at the age of 17 with the intention of pursuing a career in music in the real world. By that point, Lewis had racked up some original songs and was eager for success. In addition to working on her own material, she auditioned and won a leading role in a Disneyland Paris production of The Lion King, but an ice skating injury scuttled those plans. After recuperating, she recorded the independent album Twilight for Spiral Music, which didn't gain much attention despite her exposure on BBC Radio 1 in 2004. She then signed with UEG Entertainment, but the resulting Best Kept Secret never surfaced.
Frustrated by her lack of success, Lewis auditioned for The X Factor in 2006. By that point, the show was in its third season and an established success, so when its judge Simon Cowell chose to mentor her, she received a considerable boost. Lewis wound up winning the competition, and she released "A Moment Like This" as her coronation song in 2006, the same song Kelly Clarkson sang after winning the Cowell-produced American Idol in 2002. It shot to number one in the U.K. and wound up as the year's second best-selling single, a remarkable achievement considering its December 17 release.
Following her X Factor win, Lewis entered into a contract with J Records and set about to work on her debut album. The resulting Spirit appeared in November 2007, and its lead single, "Bleeding Love," written by Ryan Tedder and Jesse McCartney and produced by Tedder -- became an international sensation, topping charts throughout the world. Spirit generated further hits in 2007 and 2008: "Better in Time" went into the Top 10 in virtually every country outside of the U.S., "Footprints in the Sand," "Forgive Me," and "Run" were all Top 10 hits in the U.K., with the latter reaching number one in 2008.
All this success set high expectations for her sophomore set Echo, which appeared in November 2009, the same time frame which saw her releasing "I See You (Theme from Avatar)." Featuring contributions from Tedder, Shellback, Max Martin, and Justin Timberlake, the album produced a hit single in "Happy," but didn't replicate the multi-platinum success of Spirit; it earned Silver and Gold certifications by the BPI and RIAA, respectively, compared to the double platinum and quadruple platinum awards. Lewis collaborated with Avicii on the 2011 single "Trouble," which peaked at four in the U.K. but didn't chart in the U.S.
Lewis returned with Glassheart in 2012, an album that never saw release in the U.S. Despite this lack of an American release, the record peaked at three in the U.K., in part to her duet "Trouble" with Childish Gambino, which went to seven. One final album for Sony -- the seasonal Christmas, With Love -- appeared in 2013 before she signed with Universal/Def Jam. Her first album for the label, I Am, saw worldwide release in September 2015. I Am debuted at 12 in the U.K. but generated no major hits; its first single, "Fire Under My Feet," peaked at 51. In the summer of 2016, Lewis starred as Grizabella in a Broadway revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats, during which time she announced her split from Island and released the charity single "(We All Are) Looking for Home." ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine