Friday, 24 April 2009on
When God came to handing out gifts, Alina Puscau got more than her fair share. Already famous as one of the world’s most beautiful women, the Victoria’s Secret model and GQ cover girl is now set for pop stardom with a debut single destined to be one of the defining songs of this summer.
Two months before its release, Alina’s When You Leave (Numa Numa) had already notched up more than four million views on YouTube, made the Billboard dance chart Top 10 and been lauded by P Diddy and Kanye West. Effervescent Eurodisco at its most infectious, the song is proof that some models can do much more than look pretty.
Remixed by Swedish wunderkind Basshunter and based on an English language adaptation of Romanian band O-Zone’s hit Dragostea Din Tei, When You Leave (Numa Numa) exploded online at the start of this year thanks to a steamy video shot by A-list Hollywood director Brett Ratner (Rush Hour, X Men and happens also to be Alina’s boyfriend) and choreographed by Fatima Robinson, who has previously worked with Aaliyah, Rihanna and Mary J. Blige.
“The video captures the energy of the song,” says Alina. “It’s fun, fresh and colourful, a little bit naughty, but always playful. So many videos these days look the same. This one really stands out.
“Every scene was filmed in Brett’s house in L.A., which has a disco downstairs. He built the hospital set in one garage and, in another, tried to recreate the red light district of Amsterdam. “We shot from 7am to 4am the next day, which was totally exhausting, but also good fun. I’ve been on lots of long modeling shoots, but nothing like that. I don’t think I’ve ever done a tougher day’s work.”
Born in Bucharest, Alina spent the first 15 years of her life dreaming of fame. The youngest of three children, she sang Madonna and Mariah Carey songs in to a hairbrush in front of the mirror, though never imagined she would one day meet both her idols. Music didn’t run in the family – her father is an electrician, her mother a carpet weaver – and money was so scarce, she couldn’t afford to go to concerts.
At 16, Alina’s life changed overnight when she won Elite Model Look, a global modelling competition. Signed to the world’s most prestigious model agency, she immediately began flying to jobs all over the world. She appeared in Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, Cosmopolitan and Vogue and was shot by leading fashion photographers, including Bruce Weber, Patrick Demarchelier and Marc Baptiste.
For the first two years, she returned to Romania as often as possible to continue her studies, but at 19, moved permanently to New York. Within months, she was a star of Victoria’s Secret – she appeared in their taboo-breaking TV commercials and infamous catalogues – and bagged a role in the film Shallow Hal, alongside Jack Black and Gwyneth Paltrow.
“I loved making the movie, but at the time, my English was terrible,” recalls Alina. “I decided that if I wanted to act again, I’d have to study first. I signed up at NYU to study speech and at Lee Strasberg to improve my acting.”
Then a Romanian producer called Rad heard her sing and insisted she make a record with him. At first, she turned him down. After six months, Alina relented and returned to Romania, where she recorded a tongue-in-cheek track called Everybody Wants Me. She thought she was singing for fun, but when the song was passed to Brett Ratner, then directing Rush Hour 3, he was so impressed, he put it on the soundtrack.
“It was an amazing break for me,” says Alina, “Every artist wants their song in a big movie. It’s in a great scene too, where Chris Tucker is directing traffic, listening to his iPod."
Last year, Alina was invited to Mariah Carey’s house and was shocked to discover her idol knew the song.
“She was singing it back at me,” laughs Alina. “It was one of those moments that will forever be fixed in my mind. Mariah is a goddess to me. We met and got on like a house on fire. When he said ‘You’ve got a great voice, girl’, I was so flattered, I almost fainted.”
When You Leave (Numa Numa) is the real launch of Alina’s pop career and she can’t wait to promote it.
“I’ve only performed it live a few times so far,” she admits. “The first time was for a radio station in Seattle. The second was on New Year’s Eve at a party in Miami. The DJ put on my song and everyone went crazy for it. When he found out I was there, I was asked on stage to sing it live. I went on right after Jamie Foxx had performed, which was scary enough, then I looked down and Joaquim Phoenix was right in front of me. The next day, I was in a hotel and P Diddy came to tell me how much he loved the song. I hadn’t even known he was there.”
It was Alina’s mum who discovered Kanye West was also a fan, after the rapper made the model his Girl Of The Week on his website. Alina’s celebrity fans and startling start to her pop career mean she is more in demand than ever – she was recently announced as the face of Playboy.com.
After performing alongside The Prodigy at dance festival Ultrafest in March, and with scores of shows being set up throughout the summer, for the time being Alina wants most to concentrate on music.
“I only started singing for fun, but now that’s it’s going so well, I couldn’t be more excited,” says Alina. “As long as I’m enjoying it, I’m going to keep at it and see how the future unfolds.”
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