Rebecca Ferguson’s transformation from X Factor novice to seasoned performer was evident in last night’s performance at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall.
She appeared onstage, back-lit, wearing stunning full length white dress with long sleeves, a front slit and gold accents. The star appeared to be very much the lady that X Factor judges praised her for being throughout last year’s competition.
But as she sang the opening line of ‘Fighting Suspicion’ in a delicate vibrato, the artist revealed how far she has come since trembling on stage before the likes of Simon Cowell.
Her vibe is a blend of soul, vulnerable but strong, and just a tad sad – throw in her brand of ladylike professionalism, and the overall effect is charming.
These are the early days of her tour, which will see her perform at more than a dozen gigs in England, Scotland, and Wales.
“I live around the corner from here so I quite like singing here,” she said, after welcoming her audience.
She projected coyness through ‘Mr. Bright Eyes’ and, in ‘Glitter and Gold’, seemed such an authority on soulfulness that when she warns you to ‘take care of your soul’, it seems like the stern forewarning of the enlightened.
But following those lofty, preaching lyrics, it doesn’t take long for Ferguson to show that she’s not an expert, but just a girl who’s been there and is communicating the lessons we all live to learn.
Her giggles and chatty conversation made a stark contrast from her serious soul session and lightened the mood.
After ‘Diamond to Stone’, in which she glided back and forth across the stage like a swan, she sat for an evocative performance of ‘Teach Me How to Be Loved’.
In covers of the Kings of Leon’s ‘Knocked Up’ and the Rolling Stones’ ‘Gimme Shelter’, Ferguson opened up her voice in rock-ballad fashion, but distracting strobe lights complicated what was already a dissonant arrangement in the first song. Then, as Ferguson introduced her band during the second, the names were completely unintelligible.
If Ms Ferguson could do anything to appear more of a seasoned performer, it would be to let herself get, well, wild. Her voice has unusual nuance – rich, dark and rolling – but her stage presence is predictable and stagnant. I wanted her to get her hair out of her face, and to put a touch of that giggly personality that’s visible when she’s speaking into some of her performance, instead of this bipolar effect cast between singing and talking.
She finished with ‘Shoulder to Shoulder’ and other selections from her album, including ‘Too Good to Lose’, and ‘Fairytale’, which she introduced by telling the audience about her sister’s crush on Justin Bieber.
She thanked the audience and said that she wasn’t the shy girl she was last year on the X Factor. She said: “I’m a completely different person than I was – and that’s down to you.”
She said goodnight and walked off the stage, but, looking like a person incapable of even telling a white lie, she gave a backwards glance that read ‘see you in a minute – I haven’t done my big song yet’.
We may hate to admit that Simon Cowell has one more thing to be smug about, but he should be genuinely praised for bringing this fine lady out of obscurity.
‘Nothing’s Real But Love’ is a ballad from a woman preoccupied by change, but determined not to get caught up in fame and distractions. The song drew a perfect close to a splendid, if tame, gig that made one thing clear – though Ferguson’s star power outside of the X Factor fame machine is being put to the test on this tour, she can more than make it on her own.