Most people have forgotten Alexandra Burke, the London-born British singer who won the fifth season of UK’s The X Factor exactly ten years ago. And while there really isn’t much to remember about her (this past ten years haven’t exactly been the most fruitfully spent), some of us might still recall her debut single, “Hallelujah”, which joyously broke records back in the day.
Today, “Hallelujah” is best known by the haunting Jeff Buckley rendition from 2007, although the song was first written and recorded by Leonard Cohen in 1984 as a folk rock song.
It was the coronation song both Alexandra and her last-remaining competitor, the urban boyband JLS, had to perform on the show’s grand finals, held December 13, 2008. Both acts were given the same arrangement of “Hallelujah”, a once-folk song transposed into dazzling pop ballad in the vein of Kelly Clarkson’s “A Moment Like This”.
You could say that was the contributing reason why Alexandra, then 20-years old, was deemed the better performer of that song. “Hallelujah”‘s arrangement, complete with a church choir, better suited the aspiring balladeer who had been covering Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey throughout the show, the same way “This Is My Now” inarguably won Jordin Sparks her season of American Idol a year earlier.
That, and because Alexandra blew the entire United Kingdom away with her duet of “Listen” with Beyoncé herself earlier that evening.
It is a surprise how she pulled “Hallelujah” off. In interviews following her win, Alexandra admitted that she was “gutted” when she first found out it had been selected as their season’s coronation song.
Its lyrics were too poetic and abstract, so she struggled to interpret the song, but eventually decided on putting a “Whitney Houston spin” on it. “When I sing it I’m thinking about a girl who is in love with a boy and is trying to get him to notice her,” she told Mirror. “It’s all about my fantasy of meeting a Prince Charming one day, but not meeting him yet.”
“Hallelujah” was released as a digital download shortly after Alexandra was crowned winner of The X Factor that night, and hit stores all around the country four days later. Like the winner’s singles of past X Factor seasons, its release was strategically chosen to coincide with the Christmas number-one race, a week where singles competed to top the UK Singles Chart in time for December 25.
Alexandra’s “Hallelujah” swept the UK and leapt up mid-week chart as the days passed, even when fans of the Jeff Buckley version (and haters of The X Factor in general) campaigned for Buckley’s single to block Alexandra’s from rising. But at the same time, others were pushing for the Leonard Cohen original, leading to a divided campaign.
Ultimately, their resistance failed (a similar one against the TV show would emerge successful a year later). Alexandra rejoiced a true hallelujah when her single finished at #1 that week, selling a whopping 576,000 copies to become the Christmas number-one of 2008.
Although the X Factor winner also emerged the chart winner, the race actually brought all three “Hallelujah”-s to new heights. Prior to it, both Buckley and Cohen’s versions had never entered the Top 40 in the UK. Following Alexandra’s catalytic single, the campaigns shot Buckley and Cohen’s renditions to #2 and #36 respectively.
Meanwhile, Alexandra’s also became the fastest-selling X Factor winner’s single at the time, having sold 105,000 in its first 24 hours, surpassing the record previously set by Leona Lewis’s cover of “A Moment Like This” (82,000).
One week later, it sold enough copies to finish the year as the UK’s best-selling single of 2008, defeating even Duffy’s “Mercy” and Katy Perry’s “I Kissed A Girl”.
After a month of release, “Hallelujah” reached the million-copies mark. In the subsequent years, it has moved a total of 1.39 million units, and has been certified 2x Platinum. Alexandra’s “Hallelujah” was the best-selling X Factor winner’s single ever, a title she held for four years until surpassed in 2013 by James Arthur’s cover of Shontelle’s “Impossible”.
Alexandra has never experienced success that humongous since her X Factor debut single. In 2009, she released Overcome, her chart-topping debut album which spawned four Top 10 singles (two of which went to #1). The album was a bonafide triumph, especially for an X Factor winner, since Leona Lewis was the show’s only legitimate post-show success back then. Alexandra was prized as one of the show’s truest success stories (something One Direction and James Arthur would eventually usurp).
However, Alexandra’s releases following Overcome have been shockingly disappointing. Syco, the Simon-Cowell-founded label she had been attached to after winning Cowell’s TV show, suddenly had to accommodate RCA, the company Alexandra signed with in 2011.
Initially, both companies would jointly release the singer’s new music, starting with 2012’s “Elephant”, a electronic number spearheaded by Syco that debuted at #3. That was okay, but the second single and the sophomore album, helmed by RCA instead, ended up flopping. Perhaps it was behind-the-scenes mismanagement, Alexandra and her music getting lost in the shuffle of two labels.
By the end of 2012, Alexandra officially cut Syco from her life. While her music career never revitalized since (she even spent the last six years without a new album until The Truth Is dropped back in March), the pop singer will always be a part of TV history and music successes.
She may no longer be one of The X Factor’s most remembered alumni, but the success of her “Hallelujah” single cannot be denied. After all, it is a million-selling Christmas number-one, and the only version of that song to date to top the UK charts.
And as a pop ballad, it really is darn good.