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Michelle Gayle

A Brit Award nominee and regular occupant of the Top 20, soul singer Michelle Gayle was undoubtedly one of the most successful soap stars turned pop stars of the '90s. Born in London in 1971, Gayle attended the Barbara Speake Stage School in Acton, where Naomi Campbell was among her fellow students. At the age of 17, she landed the role of Fiona Wilson in the BBC school drama Grange Hill. In 1990, she moved to the hugely popular Eastenders, where, as Hattie Tavernier, she was part of one of Britain's first black soap families. Three years later, she left the show to pursue a career in music, and after signing with RCA Records, she released her first single, "Looking Up," which reached number 11. A year later, she achieved her biggest success with the number four hit "Sweetness," which went on to sell 300,000 copies. Her self-titled debut album soon followed, reaching number 30 and spawning further singles "I'll Find You" (number 26), "Freedom" (number 16), and "Happy Just to Be with You" (number 11), leading to two nominations for Best Female and Best Single at the 1995 Brit Awards.

After an appearance on the Childliners' Christmas single, Gayle next returned to the charts in 1997 with her follow-up album, Sensational. Featuring the singles "Do You Know" (number six) and the title track (number 14), it charted ten places higher than her debut, but failed to sell as many copies and she was later dropped from her label. Gayle quickly signed with EMI and appeared on tracks by Me One and Ivan Matias, but due to a roster reshuffle, she parted company in 1999 before releasing any solo material. In the same year, she played Belle in the West End production of Beauty and the Beast, and after taking time off to look after son Isaiah, she developed her own music production company, M Media Productions. In 2003, Gayle appeared on Reborn in the USA, an ITV show where former pop stars competed to win a new record deal. Initially a rank outsider, Gayle finished a creditable second, behind Spandau Ballet's Tony Hadley.

After working with New York producer Terence Dudley (50 Cent), Gayle began to promote her comeback single, "Got to Be Me," but the release was pulled and her label, N2 Records, later folded. Returning to her soap roots in 2005, she played Cara in Channel 5's Family Affairs and in the same year landed the lead female role, Yvonne, in the World War II film Joy Division. In 2006, Gayle took part in Channel 4's The Games, a celebrity Olympic-style contest, where she finished a respectable third, and a year later she became a regular on ITV's flagship daytime show, Loose Women. In 2008, Gayle returned to the music scene once again to compete in Eurovision -- Your Decision, the TV show that determines the U.K. entry for the Eurovision Song Contest. But despite impressing the judges with her track "Woo (U Make Me)," she finished runner-up to former X Factor finalist Andy Abraham. ~ Jon O'Brien, Rovi
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