Saara Aalto is headlining Birmingham Pride next month. We caught up with her on the X Factor Live touring show...
When did you first realise singing was what you wanted to do, Saara?
Well, I grew up in a musical family; I always sang and my parents sang. It was so natural to me, so I don’t even remember deciding singing was going to be my profession. I just always did it - it was my favourite hobby. It was so natural.
Who are your inspirations and influences?
Because I’ve always studied music and have always wanted to learn so much, my taste in music is really wide.
I love listening to and singing classical music, musical theatre, pop, RnB and different things, so my inspirations come from very different genres.
My inspiration when I went to singing lessons was Charlotte Church, and she used to sing classical music when she was young.
I was the same age as her, and I wanted to know how a young girl like her could sing so well. I really wanted to learn to sing like that. So I took classical lessons, and she was my inspiration for that. And I always loved Destiny’s Child and Spice Girls. The Spice Girls were my first inspiration to write music in English, when I was 10 years old and couldn’t even really speak English.
Then there were female singers like Celine Dion and Whitney Houston - and I really loved the Irish band, The Corrs. I have so many inspirations.
You took part in The X Factor last year - what made you want to audition?
Because since I saw the Spice Girls when I was 10, I always wanted to be an international singer. I wanted to perform on big stages, I wanted to sing in English and I wanted to get out of Finland.
I tried to get onto Eurovision twice, in 2011 and 2016. I came second both times. I thought Eurovision would be the only way to get out of Finland.
Then, when I came second last year, my fiancee asked if I’d ever considered going on The X Factor.
I didn’t think it was even possible. She’d been watching the show for years and told me that every year there were some international singers.
I decided this was my last chance and that I had to try it.
You reached the final, eventually coming second. Did you ever imagine you'd get so far?
No, definitely not. I just took a risk to see how far I could go and what kind of contacts I would make. Every week I thought I would be going home. And then every single week, I kept staying. It was just crazy.
People started voting for me and it was just a great journey. I never ever thought I would make it that far.
How was Sharon Osborne as your mentor?
I was scared of her at first. She dropped me at the six-chair challenge, but then I was brought back. I was quite scared because I was in Sharon’s team and she was the one who’d dropped me in the first place.
But then, when we started working together in the live shows, she was really nice and sweet and really honest. She would tell me if she didn’t like my performances, or if there was something she wanted me to do differently or to change, so I was happy because her opinion was always right. So yeah, I really liked her.
Who did you get on best with during your time on the show?
I would say Kieran from 5 After Midnight, even though we come from totally different backgrounds. Somehow we just connected; it was easy for us to be with each other and talk deeply.
How did The X Factor compare to your time on Finland's version of The Voice, where you also came second?
I also did Finland’s Got Talent in 2007 and I came second there as well! I must hold a world record for coming second in talent shows!
The Voice is just about singing, it’s not about big productions and dancing. The shows in Finland are much smaller; there’s no big money. I felt like I’d never been able to show my versatility on the show, so when I came to The X Factor, I was so happy because they created very big productions for me.
When they realised that I can learn my routines very quickly, they started to give me really challenging performances where I would be lifted up or the dancers would spin me around. I’d never done these crazy things before, but it all worked very well and I enjoyed all of the challenges, so I definitely prefer the X Factor competition.
Stars such as Adam Lambert and Clean Bandit have hinted that they'd like to work with you. Are there any dream collaborations out there that you'd like to make happen?
Of course, yes. I sang with Lambert in the final, and I would really like to sing with him again; maybe a record, maybe a song.
Also Sia and Lady Gaga - all of the big artists who’re really different and have their own style. Hopefully in the future...
As a result of your success on the show, you've landed yourself a major record deal with Sony Music. How did you feel when you heard the news?
It was like a new start. In Finland, I was never signed, because I wanted to sing in English - in Finland, you have to sing in Finnish if you want to be signed.
I established my own label about six years ago, so I’ve always made my music on my own. Now I suddenly have a big team around me and a big label. It’s very new for me and very exciting.
When I was on my own, I didn’t have the resources or the energy to take care of everything, but now I have support from a big label. I’m very open-minded, so I’ll go with the flow and see what happens.
What can we expect from your first album since The X Factor, and when can we get our hands on it?
Well, I was writing the whole of January and the beginning of February. Now that I’m on tour with The X Factor Live show, I can’t really make music that well, but I’m finding songs and writing songs, and hopefully the album will come out later this year.
It will be a mix of pop and ballad. I love to sing the big emotional ballads, but I’m a showgirl too, so I want to have a mix of both.
Are you looking forward to working with Sia?
A song of Sia’s was sent to me, but I won’t actually be working with her. Hopefully I will in the future, but for now I’ll record her song to see how it fits my voice and whether I want to add it to my album.
You were the voice of Princess Anna in the Finnish version of Frozen. It must have been a great honour being asked to voice a character in such a world-famous movie...
I’ve wanted to be a Disney princess since I was a child because I just love Disney movies. I always dreamed that maybe one day I could use my voice as a Disney princess.
So when they asked me to take the role, it was like the best job ever! I loved it, and I think my personality fitted Princess Anna so well. It was just like being myself. It was so much fun and I loved all the songs.
It gave me so much joy. And now, if I have a bad day, I remember that I’m a Disney princess and that nobody can take that away from me!
Away from music, you recently got engaged to your girlfriend, Meri. You've had to delay your wedding plans. Is your work keeping you too busy for marriage?
We had a plan to get married next year. I’ve never had to plan a wedding before, but I’ve heard that it takes a lot of time and effort, so I’m not sure if we’ll be able to do it next year. I hope so.
I think this next six months will show how busy I am and if we’re able to get married next year.
You came out a couple of years ago. Do you hope to serve as a role model for younger LGBT people who may be struggling to come to terms with their sexuality?
I definitely hope so, and that’s why my girlfriend wants to come out with me in public too. She didn’t want to be famous or known, and then she realised that we can actually help.
We have to help people, because there aren’t so many female couples in public. I think it’s really important for us to help both young and older people. I get so many messages from older people saying that because of our story they now have the courage to be who they are.
Sometimes I get negative comments as well, but I’m strong enough to take all the negatives.
You'll be performing at Birmingham Pride this year - are you looking forward to it?
Of course! I’m so happy to be doing all these things, and I’ve never been to Birmingham. It’s very exciting for me, as I’ve just moved to London and I haven’t really seen the other cities that much.
Also, I haven’t been to a Pride festival outside Finland. My girlfriend says we have to travel to see other Prides. I’m just so happy and lucky this year to be coming to Birmingham.
Do you think Pride events are still important, even in 2017?
Yes, definitely. Of course, I’ve only been to Finland Pride. I think that for Finnish people it’s really important.
Finnish people are open-minded but also shy and restricted. I just love the energy and atmosphere at Pride, when people are just so colourful, happy and noisy. I think the world needs that.
The world really needs love because so many bad things are happening. Pride is a celebration of love. We should have Pride every day!
You're obviously going to be busy recording your new album, but what else have you got planned for the rest of the year? When can we expect a tour?
Well, I’m very driven and I definitely want to organise a tour as soon as possible after this X Factor Live tour. I have my own arena concert in Helsinki, which is going to be great as there are 13,000 people coming to see me.
It’s a lot of pressure to have my own arena concert, but after I do that, I can maybe have more of these big concerts - and hopefully in Britain as well.
Saara Aalto will be performing live at Birmingham Pride on Saturday 27 May and meeting VIP ticketholders afterwards. Tickets are available at birminghampride.com
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