Monday, 23 June 2008


Less than a year ago, Lemar Obika’s hopes of making it as a singer seemed to be dead in the water. Having actually achieved his ambition of securing a record deal with a major record label, the twenty five year old singer’s dream suddenly turned to dust when, before even getting a record out, his contract was cancelled: a victim of internal changes at the label.

This was a cruel blow for the twenty five year old Tottenham born singer who had spent nearly seven years building his reputation on the London R&B scene: performing alongside the likes of Destiny's Child and Usher along the way.

Reluctantly, Lemar returned to his old day job as an accounts manager at the Nat West Bank and weighed up his options. Chief amongst these was a return to full time education: the singer having earlier turned down a place to study Pharmacy at Cardiff University in favour of pursuing his singing career. As it turned out, however, fate was to have different plans in store for him.

"I'd left my keys in the staff cafeteria one lunch time and went back to get them," he remembers. "That's when I saw the TV advert for Fame Academy. It was completely a chance thing. I think if I hadn't of gone through what I'd gone through with my record deal I wouldn't really have been interested. But I really thought there was no other option - here was one final chance for me to say - 'This is me'. It really was the last straw."

As is so often the case, it would be this last throw of the dice that would provide an unexpected breakthrough. For having entered, not only did Lemar make his way through the qualifying rounds and onto the finals of the BBC Fame Academy show but his performances of Al Greens's - Let?s Stay Together and duet with Lionel Ritchie on Easy Like A Sunday Morning would become highlights of the programme’s ten week run.

With his all too obvious talent and charisma confirming him as an early favourite with the programmes huge audience, Lemar would eventually make it to the show?s final week before ending up coming third in the overall competition. Well aware of the pitfalls of appearing on such a programme, Lemar feels that overall Fame Academy was a positive experience: the key point for him is that he managed to achieve his success on Fame Academy whilst also managing to stay true to himself, both musically and personally.

“I had a lot of apprehensions about doing the show because the only thing you could compare it to at that point was Pop Idol,” he now admits. “I didn?t want to be ridiculed or forced to sing pop. In the advert they said you could sing your own genre of music and that’s what convinced me - because I felt there would be scope for me to do what I wanted to do. And it turned out to be true,” he says.

Certainly those viewing were struck by the authenticity of Lemar’s talents and his lack of affectation. Amongst the millions captivated by Lemar?s appearances was the Queen of UK R&B, Beverly Knight, who was so impressed by the aspiring singer that she wrote to the shows producers inviting him to join her onstage at her gig at the Hammersmith Apollo when he finished the show.

"I only caught Fame Academy on TV a couple of times and saw Lemar on both occasions,” says Beverly. “I just thought he was really good and promising, so I asked Lemar to join me at The Hammersmith Apollo. I perform a duet in my live shows and I thought it would be a perfect opportunity for him to showcase his talent within a more soulful and different environment.”

With the concert falling the day after Lemar actually left Fame Academy, it would be his first taste of life after Fame Academy and his first opportunity to really gauge public opinion. As it turned out he had no reason to worry. “The reception was absolutely amazing. I hadn?t even sung and there was a standing ovation. Then we sang her song Beautiful Contradiction together and the place went mad. So I was over the moon - it was like wow,” he says.

This positive response has been repeated virtually everywhere Lemar goes, whether it be on the nationwide Fame Academy tour that followed the TV show, or out on the street as Lemar goes about his daily business. He says: “Everyone has been so nice. From the streetest streetest cat to the most sort of middle class lady, everybody’s been great. I was just walking down the street now and this young guy came up to me and was like, ‘Yo, Lemar, you’e large’.”

It’s this mixture of street credibility and mainstream appeal, together with Lemar?s outstanding vocal abilities, which have seen the cream of the UK’s writing and production teams lining up to work with him. Stargate, So Solid Crew, Cut Father & Joe and Blacksmith are just a few of the names Lemar has been in the studio with amassing more that twenty seven songs in little over a month.

Lemar’s first single is set to be Dance (With You)- released August 11th. A song which Lemar describes as – “a cross between Michael Jackson and Musiq Soulchild.” The song cleverly manages the balancing act of staying true to the R&B scene where Lemar comes from and also keeping in tow the audience he built up with Fame Academy.

Says Lemar: “When I did the Fame Academy Tour I really saw that my audience is very broad: so I want to make sure that I incorporate people. On my album I want to pull in the street side and make sure there’s enough there for them, because that?s where I from, but I also don’t want to lose the audience that I built up on TV. So, it’s basically going to be soulful R&B, that will be the base, and when I do mainstream it will be tasteful and in keeping with that.”

With his days at Nat West less than a year behind him, whatever happens, Lemar says he will be keeping his feet firmly on the ground.

“I just want to take things one step at a time. The only thing I can do is to do what I feel is best and take whatever hail stones come my way,” he says.
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