Mon 18 Oct 2021
Elesha, who lives in Hampshire and grew up in Surrey, appeared on The X Factor in 2010, alongside One Direction and in the same category as the bongo playing wild card Wagner. She then reached the battle rounds – twice – on The Voice, and was mentored by Mathew Knowles – Beyonce’s dad – on a Channel 4 talent show.
She is also touring the UK as the late, great Whitney Houston in Whitney: Queen Of The Night, which has enjoyed a run of sold-out shows at the Savoy Theatre in London’s West End and dates across Europe and in Brazil.
Brought to you by the award-winning producers behind Whitney: Queen Of The Night, What’s Love Got To Do With It? is the ultimate tribute concert paying homage to one of the most iconic musical artists of the 20th Century.
They spoke to Elesha about her love of performing, life being put on hold during the pandemic and how she loves to party with Tina fans all over the UK.
What’s Love Got To Do With It? launched to sell-out audiences across the country in 2019. What’s it like paying homage to a rock and soul legend like Tina Turner?
It is incredible. When we started the show, I’d been pretty full on with Whitney: Queen Of The Night so didn’t have too much time to think about it as we were so busy with the two shows. We were up and down the country non-stop from February 2019 until the point when Covid-19 struck – and theatres were closed.
There had been so much love for the show from audiences and on social media – it was amazing. We love being on the road, meeting all the fantastic fans and that makes preparing for and launching the 2021 tour even more exciting, as people’s reactions will be even bigger after all this time without live music and live performances.
The pandemic has hit the entertainment industry and performers so hard. How has it been for you?
It was very strange, as we’d been so busy with the tours. I’ll be honest, I welcomed the break at first as we thought it would be for a few weeks, but as time went on, and the adrenaline passed, I started to feel quite low with not knowing what was going to happen.
I started running. The roads were empty, there were no cars, I could run anywhere – so long as it was only for an hour… Remember that? We were busy keeping the children entertained, as while I absolutely love being on the road and performing, having that time to be with the kids was brilliant and we had a lot of fun. So, as much as it has been hard at times, the time at home has also been lovely.
When it reached the autumn, I had to look for work, and like so many entertainers I got a job as a supermarket delivery driver. I posted a picture on Instagram, saying ‘I quite like this lime green T-shirt’, and the next day I got a call saying they wanted me in their Christmas TV advert. That was pretty crazy, but a great experience among all that’s happened.
I’ve also done some acting, trained in stage fighting, and been writing music. I had to stay busy and active, that’s been the key to it. I’ve trained in nutrition and as a personal trainer, so I found things which all add to my ability to make the shows the very best they can be.
You perform as both Tina Turner and Whitney Houston – they’re very different artists. What’s it like recreating these iconic female performers live on stage?
You need a huge amount of stamina to do Tina as well as Whitney – vocally, physically and mentally. Tina is the physical challenge, while Whitney is the vocal challenge, and they are such different sounding performers, of course. But each role makes me stronger in different ways which then pays off on both shows.
Tina’s not got a growl as such. People think it’s shouting but it’s not, it’s a very particular tone that she has, and she’s so free with her performance.
Then Whitney is almost the opposite – there’s nowhere to hide as it’s a much slower, more mellow pace of show. Compare that to What’s Love Got To Do With It? and Tina… Once you’re on stage, there’s no letting up from the moment you start. I love that contrast between the two.
Now you’re back on the road with What’s Love Got To Do With It?, what’s different for 2021?
We’ve got an all-new cast of singers and dancers – Iva, Vanessa and Joey, new choreography, new costumes, more storytelling, more interaction. And it’s all come together so well in rehearsals, it’s going to be awesome! Joey is our first guy in the show, and having him on board is great, as it adds some new dynamics in the performances. It’s funny, as I’d talked about having a guy in the cast, but we weren’t sure. Then they did the auditions and there he was.
For me personally, there’s even more choreography now, which has been fun to learn alongside the new cast. I’ve warned them though, they’re in for a shock with the shows – it’s hardcore! I’m doing two hours a day in the gym because I need to be able to do that to keep up the energy and have the stamina to sing and dance for two hours.
Vocally, I’ve not been doing too much during lockdown – although I do always sing in the car. My voice was ready for the break, I’d been working almost non-stop singing Tina and Whitney for about five years. Coming back to rehearsals, it’s all still there and is getting stronger with every session, so I’m raring to go and I’m fitter and stronger than I was before.
How do you feel about getting back to performing?
Seeing an audience again, singing and dancing along with us, is going to be massive. That is such a huge part of why entertainers do what we do. I’m up there singing these incredible songs that people love, and hopefully for those couple of hours I’m doing a good enough job that they believe we’re the real thing. The feeling of a crowd singing along to Simply The Best or Proud Mary, it’s just great.
It was hard watching sports happening with big crowds while theatres were still being held back. I’ve loved seeing it, seeing people together having fun, but it’s also been very frustrating too – and that’s been reflected right across the entertainment industry. How was that allowed but we weren’t able to have full theatres?
I was so, so pleased when the announcement came for restrictions being lifted, which means we can get back out on the road – and I can’t wait. But I was also reflective, it has been a long time, far longer than we could have ever imagined, all our lives have been on hold. We had plans as a family for last year, and they’ve got to wait now.
For now, though, I’m grateful to be getting back out there and seeing our amazing audiences again.
You have such a busy schedule with both shows running alongside each other. With two young children, how do you manage that with family life?
My eldest daughter Kookie is nine, and she’s only ever known me to be a singer. My little one Teddy didn’t know any different before Covid, I was lucky she was so young then – it’ll be interesting how she adapts now. But my husband Mark is amazing; I definitely couldn’t do it without him.
For me, I’m able to shut it off to an extent, as I know this is all about building for their future – whatever job you have, you have to balance family life. But we use Facetime a lot when I’m away so we can catch up easily and speak to them at home every day.
What’s your favourite song to perform as Tina Turner?
There are so many I love. Proud Mary is obviously so much fun, but I also love Typical Male and I Can’t Stand The Rain. It always used to be Simply The Best which people really loved and went mad for – but these days it’s definitely Proud Mary.
Tina Turner is still such a huge name in music, why do you think she’s still so popular?
She is just such a great all-rounder, and she appeals to men as well as women. She’s a great rock and roll artist. Her songs have never gone away. Even youngsters now, they know tracks like Proud Mary. You do those songs and they’re all over it.
Tina’s had difficult times too over the years, but she came through it. I think people like that side of her story too, as well as the brilliant music.
How did you get into singing and performing as a tribute artist?
When I first realised I could properly sing I was about 13 – I was always mimicking others and that’s how I taught myself. Then it was by listening to people like Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey, those kind of artists, that the big, belting voice came to me. It was when I was singing in a club and a friend suggested trying something different, I said ‘Shall we try Whitney or something?’. I went home, put down a couple of lines and realised I could sound like her – and it went from there.
I wasn’t necessarily a die-hard fan as a kid, but things were different when I was growing up; we were out playing on our bikes and running in fields. You had tapes or albums maybe, but you didn’t listen in the same way as kids do now to get into singing like their favourite stars. Music wasn’t so available where you click a button and have an album on your phone. But then the older I got, the more I appreciated the music and her voice and character.
How was your time on The X Factor and The Voice – and what did you learn from the experience?
When I did X Factor – in 2010 – I was in the year of One Direction and Wagner, he was in Louis Walsh’s Overs category with me, but I went home after judges’ houses.
I was asked to audition for The Voice when I was pregnant with Kookie, but realised the live shows would be on when I was due so had to back out. I then auditioned in 2013 as part of a duo [getting to the battle rounds in Team will.i.am], and again in 2014 [again, getting to the battle rounds with Team Tom].
Doing both of these did give me a boost at the time, even though I got so close but ultimately wasn’t successful. I’m so grateful and glad to have those experiences, but also to have moved on to what I’m doing now.
Forget being mentored by Louis Walsh – tell us about working with Mathew Knowles, Beyoncé’s dad!
So, yes, I did a TV show a long time ago, where I was mentored by Mathew Knowles – Beyoncé’s dad – that was pretty mad. It was Chancers on Channel 4’s T4, and I won the chance from UK auditions to spend a month in Houston, America, where the group of us chosen had various challenges. Mine was to sing at the same studio where Whitney Houston had recorded, little did I know what was to come all these years on.
But, that experience gave me a really tough skin, to know that whatever you do don’t worry about what’s happened in the past; it’s all brought me to where I am now.
Tickets are on sale for What’s Love Got To Do With It? at Ipswich Regent Theatre on Tuesday 28 September 2021. Click here to book now.