Soul singer Rebecca Ferguson on working with Nile Rodgers and advice to Arab TV contestants: ‘Go to the audition and enjoy it'

The British singer appeared on ‘The X Factor’ in 2010

Rebecca Ferguson performs live at Boisdale of Canary Wharf on January 7, 2019 in London, England. Photo by Robin Little/Redferns/Getty Images
Rebecca Ferguson performs live at Boisdale of Canary Wharf on January 7, 2019 in London, England. Photo by Robin Little/Redferns/Getty Images

When Rebecca Ferguson came runner-up in the 2010 season of The X Factor, the British soul singer immersed herself in the sound and furious pace of the music industry

Amid relentless tours across Europe and the UK, she managed to release four albums in almost as many years.

Such a schedule, however, coupled with her ingrained hard-work ethic, owing to her working-class roots, understandably resulted in burnout and Ferguson considering pulling the plug on her career when the pandemic struck and slowed the world down early 2020.

It took a funk maestro to bring her back into the fold.

Her comeback single, No Words Needed, out this month, is a classy piece of pop-funk produced by Chic founder Nile Rodgers and recorded at the famed Abbey Road Studios in London.

It's the opening salvo of her coming fifth album, Ferguson's first in five years, which will be completely produced by Rodgers.

Ferguson recalls how the hit-maker, who worked on David Bowie’s Let’s Dance and Madonna’s Material Girl, encouraged her to let go of her misgivings and focus on the work at hand.

“That’s because Nile has gone through his own personal challenges, like his cancer scares,” she tells The National.

“That has made him so grateful for what he has. He is always positive, smiling and when I met him I was just so unhappy with the whole industry.

“He would tell me to forget that, let those people in the business be who they want to be, and let us enjoy the process of creating. It was really inspiring for me.”

A pressure cooker environment

While those joyful and summery vibes are all over No Words Needed, not to mention Rodgers’s signature bobbing basslines, the anxiety and anguish Ferguson felt was real.

Despite her successes, including 2011’s Heaven holding the record for second-fastest-selling debut album by a British solo artist that decade, and a nomination for an MTV Europe Music Award, Ferguson says increasing star power left her disaffected.

She also concedes to having been somewhat naive to the machinations of a cut-throat music industry.

“Part of it is exactly what I imagined and the other isn't. The thing is, the industry is full of people who are just fragile and all about the love of creating.

“But eventually you will come up against the business end of the industry, which is exactly the opposite. Creatives want their music to touch people, the industry people just want to make money,” Ferguson says.

“So I found myself in situations where I was forced to sign some contracts that I didn’t want to and it just made me ask myself if it was worth it?”

What kept her going, she says, was a steely drive that came from a tough childhood. Her parents divorced, she was bullied at school and she became a mother in her teens.

“It made me work harder,” she says.

“Coming from a poor background made me not rest because there is always this fear that this could be my only chance so I had to take it.”

While the work ethic was there, the confidence wasn’t.

Ferguson cites a fear of “losing out” for torpedoing her previous attempts at The X Factor, as well as a self-funded New York audition for producers of US television show P Diddy’s Star Maker, which lasted for only a season.

So her advice to aspiring artists ahead of the next round of auditions for Arab TV talent quests is that it's better to temper overall expectations and embrace the process.

“When I finally got through to The X Factor, my attitude was I’m going to go to this audition and I’m going to just enjoy it,” she says.

“If I get through great, and if not, it's not the end of the world and I will still enjoy my day. It sounds so simple but this made a difference and I was able to do well in the show.”

Although encouragement from Rodgers influenced her, he was clearly only echoing what she’d forgotten along the way.

A drama-free zone

Now back in her element, Ferguson says her creativity seemingly has no bounds.

Fans should expect a children’s book in the future, which she wrote during the UK's lockdown. Ferguson also says a potential book deal with a publisher is in the works.

One thing the pandemic taught me is to dig deep and see what else I can do.

“I have been singing my whole life and I am glad I found another hat to wear, so to speak. Writing is all creativity, you are alone and it comes with none of the drama.”

Updated: March 17, 2021 06:44 PM

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