Elesha Paul Moses has been striving for success in the music business for 20 years, via traditional grafting and TV talent shows.
And now she’s back in the limelight taking her singing career to new heights, starring in the critically acclaimed international stage sensation Whitney: Queen Of The Night, which returned to stages across the UK in the summer following the Covid-19 pandemic. The 2021 tour returns following a string of sold-out shows at The Savoy Theatre in London’s West End and performances across the UK, Europe and Brazil during 2019.
Elesha, who lives in Hampshire and grew up in Surrey, appeared on The X Factor in 2010, alongside One Direction and in the same category as the bongo playing wild card Wagner. She then reached the battle rounds – twice – on The Voice, and was mentored by Mathew Knowles – Beyonce’s dad – on a Channel 4 talent show. She is also touring the UK as Tina Turner in smash hit show What’s Love Got To Do With It?.
We spoke to Elesha about her love of performing, life being put on hold during the pandemic and how she recreates the stunning Whitney vocals.
Whitney: Queen Of The Night has been touring for a few years now. When did you join the show?
I joined Whitney – Queen Of The Night back in 2018, initially understudying Whitney and as a backing singer, then I moved into the lead role performing throughout 2019, including the amazing West End and Brazil shows. We were really getting stuck into the 2020 tour when Covid-19 struck – and theatres were closed.
Now we’ve been back up and running since the summer, it’s like we’ve never been away. The fans have been awesome and it’s been just so, so good to be out on the road again.
The pandemic hit the entertainment industry so hard. How was it for you?
It was very strange at first, and I’ll be honest, I welcomed the break thinking it would be for a few weeks. As time went on, and the adrenaline passed, I started to feel quite low with not knowing what was going to happen.
Like so many entertainers I got a job as a supermarket delivery driver – and ended up in their Christmas TV advert. That was pretty crazy, but a great experience among all that’s happened. I also did some acting, trained in stage fighting, and wrote music. I had to stay busy and active. I’ve trained in nutrition and as a personal trainer, so I found things which all add to my ability to make the shows the very best they can be.
While I absolutely love being on the road and performing, having that time with the kids was brilliant and we had a lot of fun. So, as much as it was hard at times, the time at home was lovely.
You perform as both Whitney Houston and Tina Turner – they’re very different artists. What’s it like recreating these iconic female performers live on stage?
You need a huge amount of stamina to do Whitney as well as Tina – vocally, physically and mentally. Whitney is the vocal challenge, while Tina is the physical, and they are such different sounding performers, of course. But each role makes me stronger in different ways which then pays off on both shows.
As Whitney, there’s nowhere to hide as it’s a slower, more mellow show. I actually had to focus more on Whitney when we started doing them both together to keep that laid back vibe, even though I’d been in Queen Of The Night for longer.
Compare that to What’s Love Got To Do With It? and Tina... Once you’re on stage, there’s no letting up from the moment you start. I love that contrast between the two.
What’s new for Whitney – Queen Of The Night in 2021?
We’ve had an all-new cast of singers and dancers – Iva, Vanessa and Joey, new choreography, new costumes, more storytelling, more interaction. And it’s all come together so well! Joey is our first guy in the show, and having him on board is great, as it adds some new dynamics in the performances. It’s funny, as I’d talked about having a guy in the cast, but we weren’t sure. Then they did the auditions and there he was.
For me personally, there’s even more choreography, which was been fun to learn alongside the new cast. It’s hardcore! I aim to do two hours a day in the gym because I need to be able to do that to keep up the energy and have the stamina to sing and dance for two hours.
Vocally, I wasn’t doing too much during lockdown – although I always sang in the car. My voice was ready for the break, I’d been working almost non-stop singing Tina and Whitney for about five years. Coming back to rehearsals and then to performing, it was all still there and is now stronger than ever.
How did you feel about getting back to performing?
Seeing an audience singing and dancing along with us is incredible. It always was, but it feels even more special now. It’s such a huge part of why entertainers do what we do. I’m up there singing these incredible songs that people love, and hopefully for those couple of hours I’m doing a good enough job that we take them back to believe we’re the real thing. The feeling of a crowd singing along to I Wanna Dance With Somebody or How Will I Know, it’s just great.
It’s a very busy schedule with both shows running alongside each other. How do you manage that with family life?
My eldest daughter Kookie is nine, and she’s only ever known me to be a singer. My little one Teddy didn’t know any different before Covid, I was lucky she was so young then – it’ll be interesting how she adapts now. But my husband Mark is amazing; I definitely couldn’t do it without him.
For me, I’m able to shut it off to an extent, as I know this is all about building for their future – whatever job you have, you have to balance family life. But we use Facetime a lot when I’m away so we can catch up easily and speak to them at home every day.
What’s the secret to the lasting popularity of singers like Whitney?
I’d say Whitney audiences are 80 or 90 per cent female – it’s people getting together for a real girls’ night out. Her songs have never gone away. People still know the hits, I Wanna Dance With Somebody or I Will Always Love You. You do those songs and they’re all over it, it’s not fading away.
It’s such a shame that Whitney’s life ended too soon. I sometimes wonder what it’d be like if Whitney had come through her problems, if she was still alive and I was able to see her live.
How did you get into singing and performing as a tribute artist?
When I first realised I could properly sing I was about 13 – I was always mimicking others and that’s how I taught myself. Then it was by listening to people like Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey, those kind of artists, that the big, belting voice came to me. It was when I was singing in a club and a friend suggested trying something different, I said ‘Shall we try Whitney or something?’. I went home, put down a couple of lines and realised I could sound like her – and it went from there.
I wasn’t necessarily a die-hard fan as a kid, but things were different when I was growing up; we were out playing on our bikes and running in fields. You had tapes or albums maybe, but you didn’t listen in the same way as kids do now to get into singing like their favourite stars. Music wasn’t so available where you click a button and have an album on your phone. But then the older I got, the more I appreciated the music and her voice and character.
How was your time on The X Factor and The Voice – and what did you learn from the experience?
When I did X Factor – in 2010 – I was in the year of One Direction and Wagner, he was in Louis Walsh’s Overs category with me, but I went home after judges’ houses.
I was asked to audition for The Voice when I was pregnant with Kookie but realised the live shows would be on when I was due so had to back out. I then auditioned in 2013 as part of a duo [getting to the battle rounds in Team will.i.am], and again in 2014 [again, getting to the battle rounds with Team Tom].
Doing both of these did give me a boost at the time, even though I got so close but ultimately wasn’t successful. I’m so grateful and glad to have those experiences, but also to have moved on to what I’m doing now.
Forget being mentored by Louis Walsh – tell us about working with Mathew Knowles, Beyoncé’sdad!
So, yes, I did a TV show a long time ago, where I was mentored by Mathew Knowles – Beyoncé’s dad – that was pretty mad. It was Chancers on Channel 4’s T4, and I won the chance from UK auditions to spend a month in Houston, where the group of us chosen had various challenges. Mine was to sing at the same studio where Whitney Houston had recorded, little did I know what was to come all these years on.
But, that experience gave me a really tough skin, to know that whatever you do don’t worry about what’s happened in the past; it’s all brought me to where I am now.