A Conversation with LeRoy Bell: Part One

LeRoy Bell X Factor audition Lean on Me

Seattle-based singer LeRoy Bell performed “Lean on Me” at his audition to secure a place in “X Factor USA’s” first season. (Photo property of Syco Broadcasting, FremantleMedia North America and FOX Television.)

By: Jacob Elyachar

“Who says at 59-years-old that a dream is not going to come true?”

That was former X Factor judge Paula Abdul’s first comment to singer LeRoy Bell before voting the Seattle-based singer into the show’s inaugural season.

Before he wowed fans with his amazing covers of “Nobody Knows,” “I’m Already There” and “Don’t Let Me Down,” LeRoy has performed in countless venues around the country and opened for music royalty including Joe Cocker, B.B. King and the late Etta James.

I caught up with the soul singer recently to talk about his lengthy musical career, and the first stages in the FOX singing based competition.

Jacob Elyachar: When did you get started in music?

LeRoy Bell:  I started in music for two reasons.  I always liked music as a kid and I think when I was 12 or 13-years-old when the Beatles came to America and I saw all the girls screaming and I said: “You know, I think I like to do that…” (Laughs)  I liked music already but I haven’t really thought of it that way.

JE: You opened for Al Green, the late Etta James, Joe Cocker and Mavis Staples.  What lessons have you learned from them that helped you out throughout your career?

LB: I think that you learn something from different people. I just learned about how much effort you have to put into it if you want to be an artist, you are either consumed by it or you’re not.   With all of these great artists, you have to give 110-percent all the time and when I was with some of them, they always came with their A-game and it wasn’t like, “Oh! This is a smaller crowd, so I’m just going to hold back.”  It did not matter who they were playing for, they gave the best show they could give.  Whether it is for five or 500 or 5,000 people, you give them what they came to see.

JE: In addition to music veterans, you have also performed with Sheryl Crow, Idina Menzel and LeAnn Rimes. How did you get the opportunity to work with them?

LB: My bass player was also my manager for a little while and he would set that up through our agent and we would just research a lot for who was on tour, who was playing where and people that we liked and we would like to open up for and we had the agent contact them.  Once we played at the venues, they were always pulling for us to come back and wanted us to be on the show.

JE: Five years ago, B.B. King himself invited you to open his return to the Filmore Auditorium in San Francisco.  What was your reaction when he asked you to do that?

LB:  That was amazing!  We had done a couple of shows with him and we all got along really well.   He is an amazing artist.   One day we were talking after the show and B.B. said to me that he was doing the show down at the Filmore.    When he said that, I told him it would be awesome to open for him down there and B.B. said, “Okay! You got it!”  and he invited us to come down with him.   We always had a good rapport with him and B.B. would always invite me up on stage at the end of his show to come and take a bow with him.   He never had to do that, we just got along very well and he was extremely gracious.

JE: Do you have another memorable story to share about working with B.B. King?

LB: The first time I opened for him was in Spokane and I was starting to get nervous because I was going to open up for a legend.   After we performed, we had a really good response from the crowd and I listened to him play for a little while and then I left to go across the street to do something and all of a sudden, Terry (my bass player) comes up and says that B.B. King is calling me up to join him on stage.  I was like: “What? He’s calling me up to join him on stage?” I just did not feel comfortable getting up on that stage and I thought that I was going to play one of his songs or something.  So I ran back but it was too late and then afterwards I went to thank him for inviting me up and he said: “LeRoy. The crowd really wanted you up there tonight and when I ask you to come up on stage, you should be there.” (Laughs)  It was great fatherly advice, don’t leave town until the show is over for any reason.

JE: Why did you originally want to audition for the first season of the U.S. edition of X Factor?

LB: My friend and bass player, Terry Morgan, mentioned to me that the show was coming to Seattle and said that this was the show from the same guy who did American Idol…Simon Cowell.   I was like: “Oh c’mon! I can’t do a reality T.V. show, it’s just for kids.”   Then, I saw a couple of advertisements for it and just did a little bit of research and thought about it for a week and called him back and said that I did not have anything to lose and if nothing else, I get a little bit of publicity and it is something I have never done before and I never had put myself out there like that.

JE: Were you surprised by the reaction you got from the crowd and the judges when you sang “Lean on Me” at your audition?

LB: I was surprised with the reaction I received.  What X Factor did not show you was that during my audition, I sang an original song, which was called “A Change was Coming.”  Right at the last-minute, they would not let me use the track because I had some background vocals on it.   I had to make up my mind whether I did the song or not and I did it anyway and people seemed to like it.   Both the crowd and the judges liked it except L.A. Reid wanted to hear something else because they didn’t hear that song before.   I was trying to think on my feet and the only song that popped in my head was “Lean on Me.”   So I sang the chorus knowing full well that I wasn’t really sure of the whole verse and hoping that I didn’t have to get to the verse and I didn’t have to get to the verse.

JE: After you get your four yeses, you headed to the show’s bootcamp.  Could you please share your bootcamp experience?

LB:  Bootcamp was really hard because I was basically in a room with 90 other acts and it was pretty chaotic.  You were there all day long for days and they set up different scenarios for you.  First, they put you in a group with other people and you had to learn a song and perform it.   After that, you had to learn different songs and perform it each time and at this point, people are getting cut from the show because they had to get it down to 15 or 20 different people.  The eliminations were very scary and the week and a half was very rough, which bootcamp should be.

Part two of our conversation will be posted on my Examiner.com column: http://www.examiner.com/reality-tv-in-kansas-city/jacob-elyachar

To watch LeRoy’s audition, click here: http://youtu.be/seioRcLrcFc

To find out what LeRoy has been up to, visit his website: http://www.leroybell.com/home.html

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