SHE found fame as a young teenager but Cleo Higgins still says she can’t comprehend what her hero Michael Jackson went through as a child prodigy and then global superstar.
She is one of four singers who celebrate the music of the ‘King of Pop’ in Thriller Live, and she loves his music. Cleo – who found fame in the ’90s as one of trio Cleopatra with her two sisters Zainam and Yonah – says young pop stars can be exploited, but maybe Jackson was ‘overprotected’.
“All the young girls in the music industry are being exploited,” she says “I’d never judge someone like Miley Cyrus because I don’t know what she’s been through.
“When we were in Cleopatra my mum came with us virtually everywhere – she’d rather be there because she wanted to protect us. We were very innocent.
“I can’t begin to put myself in the same shoes as Michael Jackson, I can’t understand what he was going through, but he was overprotected I think. People call him weird but I think he was just so innocent.”
Thriller Live is a concert that takes the audience on a journey through Jackson’s long pop career from his days as ‘Little Michael’ with The Jackson Five to his untimely death just before a massive comeback tour.
“He was always trying to change the world and help people, and his music always touched the soul – it went through you,” says Cleo, explaining his appeal.
“Whenever I listen to Michael Jackson I reflect on what he’s done and how far he came from being a baby on stage. He didn’t just do what the industry wanted, he did what the public wanted and he did what made him feel something.
“Nowadays we have music that’s just a blast in the ear or dancing to in a club, but it doesn’t stick around.”
She says she wants to change that with her own material, which she aims to release this year after reaching the semi-final in last year’s TV talent show, The Voice. “The music that I’m about to release this year is much more me,” she says. “I wrote some of the songs with Cleopatra but they were changed and I didn’t mind at the time, but now I want to do what’s really me.
“My influences might surprise some people. I love Mariah Carey, Kate Bush, Whitney Houston, but also some early ’90s rock like Heart or Toto.”
Cleo says she was apprehensive about taking part in The Voice because of her previous fame with Cleopatra, who had hits like Life Ain’t Easy and ironically a cover of The Jackson Five’s I Want You Back.
“I was scared to do it because I knew people would say it’s for newcomers, you’ve had your chance,” she explains. “But I was a child when we were in Cleopatra, it was 1998 when we released that album, plus it was a three-piece and now I’m doing my own thing.
“It was probably harder to go on with my background than to come at it completely new. I had two panic attacks because I was so nervous and I’d never had one before, I didn’t even know what a panic attack was!
“Luckily, as soon as the music kicked in I was fine, nothing could stop me from performing.
“I was so proud to get all the way to the semi-final and to win a public vote, I thought I’d be straight off but I had to do it to let people know I was here and I’m serious about singing and my songs.”
In the meantime though, she’s taking centre stage – alongside three male singers – paying homage to Michael Jackson.
“I get to sing The Way You Make Me Feel, Blame It On The Boogie and P.Y.T., and most of I’ll Be There, but we’re all on stage for most of the show and take turns to take the lead,” says Cleo.
“For most of it you can’t stop moving but there are a lot of tears in the audience – and I get emotional on stage too.
“The Way You Make Me Feel is scary for me because it’s very sexy and I have to be flirty with the guys on stage.
“I find that hard because I was always the awkward kid at school, and I’m still a bit of a geek now.”
Thriller Live will be at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking, from Monday (February 10) until Saturday, February 15, and songs will include ABC, Off The Wall, Smooth Criminal, Beat It, Dirty Diana, Dangerous and Thriller.