Alesha DixonView in iTunes
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Like Matt Willis, Kenzie, and Kerry Katona before her, Alesha Dixon became a household name not through her music, but thanks to an appearance on a reality show. One of seven children born to an English mother and Jamaican father, Dixon grew up in Welwyn Garden City and initially planned to become a physical education teacher. After completing a diploma course, she was about to take a position at Loughborough University when she was approached on a train by a record producer, asking if she could sing. Putting her degree on hold, she spent the next few years trying to set up various girl bands without much success. Working in a factory packing toothpaste to fund her musical ambitions, she eventually met Sabrina Washington at Dance Attic, a jazz/hip-hop dance academy in West London. The duo recorded a demo together, "Inspiration," before meeting Su-Elise Nash, who joined with Dixon and Washington to form the Mis-Teeq trio. Mis-Teeq signed to Telstar Records and, after fourth member Zena McNally joined, the group released its debut single, "Why," in 2001. Initially an R&B act, the group soon embraced the garage sound that dominated the charts in the early noughties to become one of the biggest girl groups in the U.K. All five singles from their platinum debut album, Lickin' on Both Sides, reached the Top Ten and the band was nominated for both Brit and MOBO awards. With her photogenic appearance and quickfire MC skills, Dixon became the unofficial frontwoman of the group and earned a reputation as one of Britain's most exciting pop stars. In 2004, Pharrell Williams personally asked her to be the female lead in N.E.R.D.'s "She Wants to Move" video after spotting her on the cover of Arena magazine. Second album Eye Candy spawned their biggest hit, "Scandalous," but the group broke up in 2005 amidst financial problems with the Telstar label. Alesha soon signed a £500,000 deal with Polydor Records and started work on her debut album, Fired Up, with some of the U.K.'s most illustrious songwriters, including Richard X and Xenomania. Debut single "Lipstick" reached number 14 but follow-up "Knockdown" failed to reach the Top 40, and she soon parted company with her label. Dixon retained the rights to Fired Up and eventually released it in Japan in 2008. Her inclusion on the hugely popular BBC show Strictly Come Dancing at the end of 2007 managed to steer her career back on track. A favorite with judges and fans throughout the series, she was crowned the winner alongside partner Matthew Cutler. This led to several high-profile gigs, including recording a song for a new Ford Focus promo, presenting a BBC documentary on airbrushing, and working with Solange Knowles and Marsha Ambrosius from Floetry on her second album. ~ Jon O'Brien