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Kelly Rowland interview - Metro

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    Posted: 21 Nov 2011 at 11:08
Kelly Rowland: Simon Cowell sent me a framed photo when I joined X Factor
Kelly Rowland talks to Metro about latest album Here I Am, how Simon Cowell welcomed her onto the X Factor and what she thinks of Louis Walsh's accent.

Simon Cowell has left a present on Kelly Rowland’s dressing room table at The X Factor’s studio. It’s a framed photo of his smiling face, personally signed: ‘To Lippy, thanks for everything.’

Rowland, aka ’Lippy’, gestures at the photo with one hand; she’s clutching a hot water bottle to her elegant frame with the other. ‘Simon sent that to me on my first day,’ she exclaims, with a wry twang to her Texan accent.

Rowland’s room is a fragrant retreat from the buzzing corridors outside; there’s no sign of showbiz strops at The X Factor’s headquarters, just lots of smiley, air-kissing programme-makers hurrying around and a surprisingly tiny main studio.

The Destiny’s Child singer turned solo star has been a glamorous, outspoken highlight of the eighth series’ judging panel and she’s also set to release her own new album, Here I Am. That might sound like an introductory title but it’s actually Rowland’s third LP.

‘The starting point was actually when I finished with my previous label,’ explains Rowland, who is now signed to Motown. ‘I felt so inspired, I just did a whole bunch of recordings; I’d do dance songs, then go back to my urban roots and that felt great as well. I didn’t want to be boxed in.’

She’s described Here I Am as her ‘grown up and sexy album’, including upfront tracks Down For Whatever and Motivation. ‘With [US producer] Rico Love laying the foundation, there was no choice but to be more sensual,’ says Rowland. ‘Great conversations in the studio sparked great songs. It also felt like I wanted people to know “I’m here, as a woman”. I was turning 30 and felt so liberated.’

Chatting to Rowland does at points resemble a pep talk: she’s simultaneously smart, positive and carefully guarded. There’s no denying her mainstream scope; she was one of the first modern US r’n’b stars to collaborate with European club producers.

Still, there’s regular mention of ‘empowerment’ and she describes her music’s theme as ‘lyrics that make a woman feel good and give a man courage to holler at her’. ‘Motivation speaks to men too,’ she adds.

It does sound like Rowland is giving herself a firm talking-to on another new album track, Heaven & Earth, co-written with Ne-Yo. ‘I am, and it was so hard to sing at first,’ she agrees. ‘We all come to the point where it’s time to get yourself straight, as a businesswoman, a mother, whatever you are in life. It’s tough love but it’s also being real with yourself. It’s important to take those rose-coloured glasses off and see what’s going on.’

On that note, I’m curious how Rowland feels about discovering X Factor contestant Frankie Cocozza had been booted off the show during a TV interview (her surprise was captured onscreen) – but she is professionally tight-lipped on that matter. Her abilities as a panellist have been brightly evident, though. ‘When Simon said: “You’ll be a mentor,” I was like: “Done.”’ she beams. ‘I’ve been in the music business for 15 years and it’s time to share some stuff that I’ve learned.

‘When I hear someone saying: “I’m tired,” I think: “So was I. You gotta work hard. How bad do you want it?” I’m sorry but there is no excuse in the book that I could not relate to – and that’s another reason why I thought it’d be fun to take this on.’

Is there a Kelly Rowland mentoring hotline? ‘Absolutely – the girls know that if they’re uncomfortable with something, I’m nothing more than a phone call away, right down the street,’ she reveals. ‘Well… quite far but I’m here for them. As the finals approach, you see how strong people are and how far they’ve grown. I just want everyone to put their best foot forward.’

Have Rowland’s fellow X Factor judges, Gary Barlow, Louis Walsh and Tulisa Contostavlos, been taken aback by her ‘put it down’ catchphrase? ‘Yeah, Louis is like: “Yo, all right girlfriend?” she says. My British accent isn’t very good,’ Rowland admits, before correcting herself. ‘I mean, my Irish one.’

She has experienced both sides of the TV talent show process. As a youngster, Rowland auditioned in the group Girls Tyme (alongside Beyoncé Knowles) for US series Star Search – does The X Factor induce terrifying flashbacks? ‘No, we were just kids but we loved music and we were starving in the way I think people should still be now,’ she replies.
Currently, the biggest challenge in Rowland’s world turns out to be the transatlantic time difference. ‘I don’t get a lot of sleep: four hours in the past two days,’ she says. She still looks beautifully fresh-faced. ‘Great make-up,’ Rowland laughs warmly. ‘Right now, I’m thinking about my video, the girls’ clothes, different projects and my brain can’t shut down. But when I sleep, I sleep hard – and I’ll be just fine.’ It’s a cheerily determined statement; Rowland is a trouper in the industry of dreams.

Kelly Rowland’s single, Down For Whatever (Motown), is out today. Her album, Here I Am, is out on November 28. www.kellyrowland.com

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