When the late King of Pop, Michael Jackson, told a then 10-year-old Leandra Leandra that she sounded just like him and would definitely become a singer after listening to her belt out two of his songs, she took heed.
The soulful crooner, whose real name is Leandra Gfrerer, says: "When he said those words to me, it became all the more concrete that singing was what I was supposed to do."
A relative who was in the music business had arranged for the meeting and she sang Ben and You Are Not Alone to the star after his concert here in 1996.
The raspy-voiced 28-year-old, whose father is African-American and mother is Dutch-Eurasian, has been in and out of the local music scene since she first started performing at the age of three.
At age 17, she was one of the top five finalists in the first season of Singapore Idol but she felt she was "too young for the competition although it was a good experience".
Since then, she has put out three singles on iTunes and sung at private events and music venues.
She is married and has a three- year-old boy.
After a four-year hiatus, during which she stayed with relatives in California and Austria, she returned to Singapore last September, re-energised and pumped to move her music career into high gear.
She performed at the Singapore International Jazz Festival, or SingJazz, in March and will be singing in a concert, La Vie En Rose, at the end of the month.
To celebrate 100 years since the birth of French singer Edith Piaf, theatre company Sing'theatre is holding a 90-minute musical journey through contemporary interpretations of her songs, including the 1946 hit, La Vie En Rose.
Leandra will be joined by actors Lim Kay Siu and Sebastian Tan, jazz singer Rani Singam and foreign names, including Cirque du Soleil vocalist L.A. Benjamin.
This is a turning point in her career, she says. She performs at SingJazz Club with her band once a month and describes her style as a mix of Motown, rock 'n' roll and soul.
She says: "Music is my life and this is me coming out as a more mature and self-assured entertainer."
1) Are you a fan of Edith Piaf?
I only knew La Vie En Rose initially, but started listening to her other songs and reading up on her in preparation for the concert. She exudes love and I think women can relate to her songs, which speak of love, be it young or unrequited. Not many people can create music like she did. She is one of my musical influences and I can't wait to sing her songs.
2) How will you be putting a contemporary spin on the songs at the concert?
I grew up on Motown, jazz and the blues, so I will incorporate them without losing the spirit. I'll try to bring the songs to life with my own interpretations, especially for the non-French-speaking audience.
3) Who is your biggest musical influence?
The late Michael Jackson. His talent, passion, innocence and humility made him such an amazing performer. When I met him in 1996, it was so surreal. He gave me five hugs as he could probably tell how starstruck I was. I remember going back to school and telling all my friends that I met him and no one believed me.
4) Were you the superstar singer in school?
No, in fact, hardly anyone knew I could sing. I recently met a former schoolmate on a flight and she was asking me why I never sang in school. I wanted to be the tough tomboy, so I joined sports co-curricular activities such as track and field and netball.
5) You must really like your first name. Why go with the stage name Leandra Leandra?
I was thinking in relation to the song New York, New York. But seriously, it stems from when I meet strangers and introduce myself. They would not hear "Leandra" and I would say it twice and I thought it had a nice ring to it - Leandra Leandra.
6) What is something unusual about yourself?
I have trypophobia, which is a fear of a cluster of holes. I get goosebumps thinking about it.
7) What is next for you career-wise?
I'd like to release an EP next year and travel across the region and perform in venues beyond Singapore. I'm also thinking of getting a business degree. It's always good to know the business side of things, even with music, and it could be something I do on the side while continuing to make music.
8) How would you like to be remembered?
As someone who speaks to people through music and love.
LA VIE EN ROSE - THE CONCERT
Where: Victoria Theatre, 9 Empress Place
When: May 27 to 30, 8pm
Admission: $45 to $80 from Sistic (Call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg
This article was first published on May 18, 2015.
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