Alicia finds keys in darkness

R&B SINGER Alicia Keys is enjoying a successful worldwide tour, a chart-topping album and will act in an upcoming movie, but it might not have happened, she said, were it not for a near breakdown two years ago.

Keys, whose current hits include “No One,” is in the middle of her “As I Am” tour. The new “As I Am” album debuted on record charts at No.1 and has sold over 3 million copies.

In October, she makes her film debut in “The Secret Life of Bees,” starring Queen Latifah and Jennifer Hudson. Based on the best-selling novel of the same name, the movie is co-produced by Will Smith and backed by indie powerhouse Fox Searchlight.

While Keys seems to lead a charmed life and has the sort of career that most other 26-year-olds could barely imagine, it hasn’t always been so rosy.

Two years ago, the singer went through a troubled period that nearly derailed her life and career.

A workaholic lifestyle and the death of a close relative from cancer pushed her “very close” to the breaking point, she admits.

Instead of having a public meltdown, Keys faced her demons in private.

“I knew I needed time away, so I went to Egypt for a month - on my own, which gave it a whole different perspective,” she said in a recent interview.

“It allowed me to see things I’d never seen before - all the temples on the Nile, the Pyramids, the history. It was so rich and beautiful and strong, and it inspired me so much, and renewed me.” Time to reflect Keys said she felt like it was important to be alone so she could reflect on her thoughts and examine her life, away from the media spotlight. She also cut back her work schedule.

“I’m definitely a workaholic in some ways, although less than I was before,” she said.

Ultimately, she said, the near-breakdown brought about an artistic breakthrough that helped shape the music on her third album and her edgier stage persona.

Billboard magazine, in its review of “As I Am,” said Keys “takes a step closer toward the soul revival popularised by John Legend, with full band arrangements and bright horn hooks, only occasionally falling back into the piano/melisma combination that drove the singles off her first two albums.” Keys has always prided herself on being in control of her career and music, producing her records and writing songs, but ironically, she was able to push herself more on the new album by giving up some of that control, she said.

“I purposely didn’t have such a kind of controlling approach about it and I allowed the music to flow,” she said. “I’ve come more into my own, and really, with experience comes confidence and a little bit more of awareness of how I would like to do it, having learned from the past.” She added that she is anxious to experiment even more and wants to work with rock acts like the White Stripes, Green Day, U2 or Coldplay.

“Things that are not quite of the same world, or so you think,” she said, “but when you put them together it’s just really interesting.”

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