Through the sheer force of her phenomenal talent, bold vision, and larger-than-life personality, pop singer Bleona has achieved international stardom. A beloved luminary in her native Albania since her teens, she’s sold more than 1.5 million albums, won multiple music awards, graced 35 magazine covers, and performed for millions of fans — all while operating as a completely independent artist.

In spring 2015, pop singer Bleona took the stage of the Albanian edition of The X Factor to unleash an unforgettable, can’t-look-away performance of her new single “Take You Over.” Emerging from a metal cage, clad in a sheer black bodysuit, the stunningly gorgeous force of nature tore through her irresistible club anthem while getting up close with her wildly adoring crowd.

Now poised for her American breakthrough, Bleona first hit U.S. audiences with such Timbaland-produced tracks as 2010’s “Show Off” (feat. Petey Pablo) and 2012’s “Pass Out” (feat. Timbaland and Brasco). Her 2013 single, “Take It Like a Man,” shot to No. 7 on the UK charts entirely on the strength of its fierce attitude and club-ready beat — with no promotional support from a music label — while 2014’s fabulously tongue-in-cheek “F**k You I’m Famous” made its way into steady rotation on SiriusXM. She was also a celebrity judge on the fourth season of the Albanian The X Factor and the breakout star of the 2014 Bravo TV reality series Euros of Hollywood, winning over viewers with her offbeat humor and outrageous personality.

On her forthcoming album, due in late 2017, Bleona broadens her appeal by teaming up with A-list producers like RoccStar (Usher, J.Lo), Fuego (Sia, Iggy Azalea) and Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins (Beyoncé, Lady Gaga) to bring to life the beat-heavy but deeply melodic dance-pop found in such songs as “Take You Over.” For the song’s dreamlike and sensually charged video, Bleona collaborated with director Dennis Leupold (a high-fashion photographer known for his work with Rihanna and J.Lo) and director of photography Jeffrey Kelly (Beyoncé’s “Drunk in Love”) to create a striking showcase for her arresting style and classic glamour.

Spotlighting Bleona’s soaring vocals and her playfully brash persona, “Take You Over” which peaked at #3 on the Billboard dance Charts In the USA, perfectly embodies the defiant spirit at the heart of her music. “My songs are rebellious and all about girl power,” Bleona says. “I don’t ever want to sing lyrics like, ‘Oh, you left me and now I’m crying.’ I’ve always had a strong do-it-yourself attitude and believed that if something’s important to you, you will find a way to make it happen.” With all the inspirational sway of a true pop icon, Bleona channels that self-assurance into songs that empower her listeners as well.

Born in Korçë, Albania, Bleona Qereti first tapped into her vocal talents at age five when she was cast in the Albanian answer to The Mickey Mouse Club. At 13, she began sneaking away from her rigorous finance high school (“My parents basically said, ‘You will not be tra-la-la ing your whole life’”) to rehearse six days a week in a nearby theater, her homeland’s equivalent to Broadway, where she landed starring roles. At 14, Bleona took a major step forward in her musical career by singing at Albania’s National Music Festival (the country’s premier music event), where she was recognized as its youngest performer. The following year, Bleona took the same festival by storm with a showstopping performance of her original number “Let Me Be Free,” casting off her shawl mid-song to reveal a racy blue-leather ensemble that the producers had warned her against wearing. “When I finished my song, the place was dead quiet for about three seconds,” Bleona recalls. “And then everyone went crazy screaming, and the next morning I was on the front page of every newspaper.”

Seizing on her overnight fame, Bleona spent much of 1996 through 2000 touring Albania and building her reputation as an electrifying live performer. In 1998, she put out her debut album I Run My Own Game — a self-funded, self-released effort and utter anomaly in her country. “Albums weren’t even a concept in Albania then,” Bleona points out. “Everyone just lived off the one song they’d sung in the festival.” By 2001, she’d released two more albums (1999’s If You Really Love Me and 2000’s I Could Care Less) and landed a deal to perform 80 concerts a year all over Europe for the next four years. In the meantime, Bleona earned her degree in acting from the Academy of Arts in Tirana, starring in such plays as Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. She also continued to turn out chart-busting albums, including 2002’s Need to Learn How to Love (which she supported with a multi-city tour attended by up to 50,000 people per show) and 2003’s You Weren’t Man Enough For Me (which sold an unprecedented 300,000 copies within months of its release). After releasing Boom Boom in 2005, she offered up 2007’s Mandarin and saw her career climb to dizzying new heights as the album sold more than 800,000 copies around the world.

Soon after performing in America for the first time — at New York City’s Webster Hall — Bleona decided to make her way to the U.S. “I’d hit the ceiling back home, so it was time for me to go global,” she says. “I was on tour in Germany and Timbaland had just come out with ‘The Way I Are’ and it was just so clear to me: ‘Why don’t I go to America and make a record with this guy?’ I didn’t even have a visa, but that didn’t matter.” Her plan was set in motion when she was invited to perform for Donald Trump at his private membership club Mar-A-Lago, a performance that led to Bleona’s making the acquaintance of 16-time Grammy Award-winner David Foster, who encouraged her to relocate to Los Angeles.

After moving to L.A. in September 2010, Bleona crossed paths with Timbaland at the Grammy Awards and began pursuing collaboration with him. The two eventually paired up on “Show Off” and “Pass Out,” and in 2012 Bleona enlisted members of Timbaland’s crew (including his official DJ Freestyle Steve) for a spur-of-the-moment European tour that she organized and booked herself in a matter of days. “We got to the first concert and there’s 70,000 people there, and the guys are like, ‘Whoa, is this for us?’” Bleona recalls. Blown away that “the same girl who’d spent a year hanging around Timbaland’s studio asking for a song” was able to draw a sold-out stadium-sized crowd, Bleona’s tourmates reported back to Timbaland to clue him in on her diva status and star power. “After Tim saw the footage of that first concert he told me, ‘All right, when you come back, we’re gonna speak in a different language,’” she says.

Along with spending the next couple of years developing material for her upcoming album, Bleona also found herself winning over fans within the LGBT community. Not only did she serve as the grand marshal at the 2013 Las Vegas Pride, she also became the only artist, apart from Lady Gaga, to be invited to perform two years in a row at the legendary White Party — an honor that included headlining the 2014 party’s 25th anniversary celebration. As a result, her single “Famous” has become an anthem for the gay community.

Bleona has also invested in the world’s most illustrious fashion photographers (including Vogue’s Vincent Peters) and art designers to create the luxurious and elite “BLEONA” — a global brand that is consistent with her music, personality, and message. In addition to launching www.shopbleona.com (an e-commerce site featuring custom jewelry, apparel, and shoes), she also launched a fashion line in partnership with ShoeDazzle, which has become a bestseller for the site. Always looking for new ways to outdo herself within the fashion realm, Bleona hit the red carpet at the 2014 American Music Awards in a netted dress that drew major headlines — only to make generous use of all that lavish attention by donating the couture piece to a silent charity auction at the 2015 MusiCares event honoring Bob Dylan. The dress ended up taking top dollar.

Through it all, Bleona has embraced the thrill of playing by her own rules and following through on an unlikely dream, rising up from a place where opportunities are limited to none and ultimately transforming herself into a global phenomenon. “When I was a little girl, I set a goal to be an icon in my country,” she says. “When that happened, I needed to set a new goal, and that’s why I am here. I could have stayed back home and enjoyed my status there, but I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and take it to the next level. And I love the challenge of that more than anything. If you tell me, ‘No, this can’t be done,’ then guess what? That’s exactly what I’m going to do.”

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