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Saara Sofia Aalto (born 2 May 1987) is a Finnish singer, songwriter, and voice actress. In 2012, she came second in the first season of The Voice of Finland.

In 2016, Aalto finished as the runner-up in the thirteenth series of The X Factor UK, which gained her international recognition.

In 2018, Aalto represented Finland in the Eurovision Song Contest 2018. She qualified for the grand final and finished in 25th place. Later that year, Aalto became a judge on X Factor Suomi.

Early life

Born in Oulunsalo, Finland, Aalto grew up in a musical family and received piano lessons from pianist and pedagogue Olga Maslak, born in Odessa, Soviet Union. Aalto wrote her first song at the age of five. Her close relatives include painter and documentary director Eeli Aalto and magician Simo Aalto. In 1998 at age 11, she won the Kotka Maritime Festival song contest for children with one of her own compositions. Aalto also won the Charlotte Church[4] international singing competition, organised in US, in 2003 with her own composition.[5][6] Aalto represented Finland in the Golden Stag International Song Contest in Romania in 2004. She went to the Madetoja secondary school for music, where she graduated in 2005. After graduation, she moved to Helsinki to study music at the Sibelius Academy, and at the same time also studied singing in the Helsinki Pop & Jazz Conservatory.

Career

2007–2011: Career beginnings In 2007, she participated in Talent Suomi ("Talent Finland"), finishing in the top three.

In addition to her singing career, Aalto is also an actress, having starred as Dorothy and Phannee in the Finnish production of Wicked - The Musical and as Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar. From 2008 to 2011, she appeared in the Helsinki City Theatre musicals, first as Kelsi in High School Musical on Stage! and its second installment, and then in Wicked.

2011, 2016: Eurovision Song Contest Aalto took part on two separate occasions in the selection process in a bid to represent Finland in the Eurovision Song Contest. She participated in the qualifying rounds in Finland for Eurovision 2011, placing second to Paradise Oskar who went on to represent Finland. She received 40.7% of the public televotes, compared to 46.7% for Oskar. Aalto's recording was released as a single by Yume Records, a self-release record label she founded together with Teemu Roivainen in 2011.

Her second bid to represent Finland was for Eurovision Song Contest 2016 through the competition Uuden Musiikin Kilpailu, again placing second. Although winning the public vote, she was disadvantaged with the judging vote going to the eventual winner Sandhja who went on to represent Finland with the song "Sing It Away".

In an interview Aalto described her music.

I call my music Epic Love Pop! I love dramatic and emotional music with a show feeling. I also want to bring love, joy and encouragement for everybody; be yourself and inspire others! I've studied piano since I was a little kid and through music schools, singing competitions, my career and concerts (in Finland and all over the world) I've gotten lots of experience and confidence to be who I am as an artist. (...) I've performed in musicals and big shows in Finland. (...) I'm happy to be versatile performer.

2011–2013: Success in China Following her performance of "Blessed with Love" for qualification in Eurovision 2011, that December she was involved in the Santa Claus Season's Greetings Song Contest, where she sang "Ai De Zhu Fu," a Chinese (Mandarin) version of her Eurovision song "Blessed with Love".

In November 2012, Aalto was guest vocalist at Robert Wells's highly successful show Rhapsody in Rock at Shanghai Daning theatre. Following a successful performance in Shanghai in May 2013, opening for Spanish tenor José Carreras and singing several songs in Chinese, Aalto returned to the city to duet with tenor Han Peng at the Closing Ceremony of the Shanghai International Film Festival in June 2013, broadcast to over 800 million viewers in 10 countries.

Finding great reception from Chinese audiences, in July 2013 Aalto went on to release a full album destined for Mainland China and other Chinese markets also titled Ai De Zhu Fu. On the album she performed nine of the album's 13 tracks in Mandarin language.

2012: The Voice of Finland Aalto participated in season one of The Voice of Finland. In the blind auditions, broadcast on 6 February 2012 on the Finnish commercial television channel Nelonen, she performed "Taking Chances" from Celine Dion with all four coaches, Elastinen, Lauri Tähkä, Paula Koivuniemi and Michael Monroe turning their chairs. She opted to be part of Team Monroe.

In the Battle Round on 17 February, she was confronted with team competitor Anna Inginmaa, both singing "True Colors". Coach Monroe opted for Aalto to go to the next round. In the live show on 23 March, she sang "Barracuda" and was saved by Monroe after failing to get enough votes from the public. She followed it up with the French language "Je suis malade" from Serge Lama and was safe after the public vote. In the semifinals with her rendition of "Over the Rainbow", she qualified for the finals held on 20 April where she sang "I'm Gonna Be Strong" from Frankie Laine and an original song titled "My Love". She placed second to winner Mikko Sipola.

2016–present: The X Factor UK, Eurovision Song Contest and Wild Wild Wonderland Aalto auditioned for the thirteenth UK series of The X Factor in 2016 in front of attending judges Simon Cowell, Louis Walsh and Nicole Scherzinger, singing a cover of Sia's "Chandelier", which earned her three yeses from the judges. At bootcamp, she performed "On the Radio" by Donna Summer and was sent through as part of the over-25s category, mentored by Sharon Osbourne, who was not present at her audition. At the six-chair challenge, she performed "I See Fire" by Ed Sheeran and was sent home by Osbourne who stated a lack of connection. However, after the crowd chanted to bring her back, Aalto was given a second chance and performed "Je suis malade" by Serge Lama, which caused the crowd to turn on her, while Scherzinger criticized her song choice, stating "we ain't in France". Osbourne then asked Aalto to leave.

Aalto was brought back as Scherzinger's wildcard pick for the over-25s category and therefore went to judges' houses. She was chosen to proceed to the live shows after performing "The Winner Takes It All". In week 1 of the live shows, Aalto finished in the bottom three alongside Freddy Parker and duo Bratavio, after performing "Let It Go". As Parker was saved by the lifeline vote, Aalto faced a sing-off against Bratavio, where she performed "Alive", and was saved with only Walsh voting to eliminate her. The following week, she sang "River Deep – Mountain High" and finished again in the bottom three, this time alongside Ryan Lawrie and Parker. As Lawrie was saved by the lifeline vote, Aalto performed "Run" in a sing-off against Parker. Walsh and Osbourne voted to eliminate Parker while Scherzinger and Cowell, who had the casting vote, voted to eliminate Aalto. The result went to deadlock and Aalto was saved as she had the higher public vote. In week 3 she performed "It's Oh So Quiet" coming 2nd in the public vote, and in week 4 Aalto sang "Bad Romance", placing 3rd in the public vote. In week 5, Aalto finished in the bottom three for the third time alongside Sam Lavery and group Four of Diamonds, after her rendition of "Sound of the Underground". As Lavery was saved by the lifeline vote, Aalto had to perform "Who You Are" in a sing-off against Four of Diamonds, and was saved with only Walsh voting to eliminate her. Voting statistics revealed that Aalto would have never been in the sing-off had there been no lifeline vote or if she won the lifeline vote all three weeks. Her following performances were "No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)" in week 6 placing 2nd and "My Heart Will Go On" in week 7 again placing 2nd. In the quarter-final, she sang "The Winner Takes It All" and a medley of "Diamonds Are Forever" and "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend", topping the public vote for the first time. Following the eliminations of Relley C in week 3 and Honey G in the quarter-final, Aalto became Osbourne's last remaining act in the competition.

In the semi-final, she sang a medley of "White Christmas" and "All I Want for Christmas Is You", and "Chandelier" as her second song, topping the vote again reaching the final, where on 10 December she performed "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" and "Bohemian Rhapsody", the latter as a duet with Adam Lambert, again topping the public vote. With the elimination of the group 5 After Midnight she was in the top 2 alongside Matt Terry. In the final on 11 December, she performed "It's Oh So Quiet" and "I Didn't Know My Own Strength". In the ensuing public vote, she placed as the runner-up to eventual winner Matt Terry with 40.4% of the votes.

The X Factor performances and results In a press-conference in December 2016, Aalto revealed that she works with the joint effort of ROAR Global and Global career management companies,[25] and that she has signed a five-album recording deal with Sony Music UK and Sony Music Finland.[26] In October 2017, Aalto announced she had left Sony Music for Warner Music Group. In a statement, she said: "I was honoured I was signed to Sony. But later I felt like they weren't the right team. When I met the people at Warner they were very excited about my style and making me into this big theatrical artist."[27] On 7 November 2017, it was announced that Aalto would represent Finland in the Eurovision Song Contest 2018 in Lisbon, Portugal.[28] The three bidding entries were released by Yle and Saara Aalto, along with an accompanying music video.[29] Aalto was a judge on the second series of the Finnish version of The X Factor, mentoring the girls. Aalto could not attend the finale night of The X Factor Finland due to her commitments with Eurovision, so Terry represented her instead, but her category's last girl, Tika Liljegren, was crowned the winner, making Aalto the winning mentor.[citation needed] Aalto announced in March 2018 via social media that her first album under Warner Music Group, Wild Wild Wonderland, would be released on 27 April 2018.

In 2019 Aalto participated in the eleventh series of Dancing on Ice. She was partnered with Hamish Gaman, and after reaching the final, she and Garman finished in third place. Aalto's song Dance Like Nobody's Watching was the official song of Pride in London 2019.

Personal life

Aalto had a nine-year relationship with singer Teemu Roivainen, but the couple broke up in 2013. Aalto and Roivainen continued collaborating in music. Aalto later began a relationship with a female fan, Meri Sopanen, who worked as a personal trainer and life coach.[35] They became engaged on their two-year anniversary in August 2016. Aalto now identifies as a lesbian. Aalto and Sopanen moved to London in January 2017. They got married in April 2020 and Meri took Saara's last name.