Isabelle Boulay was born on July 6, 1972 in Sainte-Flicit, a small town in Quebec’s rural Gasp peninsula in Canada. The eldest of three children, Isabelle showed early signs that she had a voice to be reckoned with. In fact, her parents encouraged her to sing to friends and relatives in the family-owned restaurant.
In no time, Isabelle was singing to the clientele. The young girl, with her chanson and country repertoire, was a local celebrity, attracting visitors from neighboring towns. So it made sense for her to enter regional singing contests. It made a lot of sense: she won her first prize at age 7.
A bizarre event, which certainly influenced the honest longing felt in her chants, marked Isabelle’s childhood. Her father suffered a serious accident and moved out of the house to live in the woods. She didn’t see him again until just before his death in 1995.
The teenaged redhead sought her education in a nearby village, where a friend pushed her to enter the annual singing contest. It wasn’t a contest, really, it was a massacre.
Isabelle dazed the judges and spectators with her voice, winning the attention of a journalist who felt that she had changed his life. The writer, Joslito Michaud, urged the young woman to sing professionally, but she hesitated.
But only a few months later, because Michaud would not leave her alone, she began to trust him. In effect, she left school and took Michaud as her manager.
Boulay was shy and uncertain of her talent at first. She would have to leave the familiar safety of her community and hit the daunting big cities. But with Michaud’s steadfast conviction, she signed up for the song festival in the southern Quebec town of Granby in 1991. Her jitters dissipated when she snagged the top prize with a rendition of Jacques Brel’s “Amsterdam” and Dan Bigras’ “Naufrage.”
From then on, she would only play the big scenes. So big, she performed that summer in the biggest French music festival in the world: Montreal’s Francofolies. The following year, the girl from the French colony was dazzling her ancestral land, singing alongside French stars in Paris.
It was time for her to headline her own tour. Isabelle returned to Gasp, where each little town welcomed back their prodigy with pride. In what would be another career-boosting move, Isabelle proceeded to work with major Quebecois musicians.
Boulay returned to France in 1993 for the Semaine de la chanson festival in Prigueux. Her streak went on unabated. She carried off the Best Singer award for French chanson and her countryman, Luc Plamondon, a noted songwriter, snagged her for his rock opera Starmania.
Between 1995 and ’98, Isabelle’s name slowly earned household status as Starmania rocked the reviews. Her work in the soundtrack to a TV show didn’t hurt either. So it was time, she thought, to immortalize her voice. She would record an album, Fallait pas, which was the first real low point in her life. The 1996 album fell short of her expectations and hardly made a blip on the sales chart.
Unfazed, she kept singing and touring. Again she took the top prize, this time at the Dial d’Or contest in Paris. She returned to Francofolies in 1996, even more famous than before. She was such a hit that she got her first solo concert in Montreal, the arts mecca of Quebec.
It was time to give recording another shot. Isabelle left Starmania and was able to recruit some of the best talent of the French-speaking world to work with her.
In 1998, she released tats d’amour, and was soon swamped with tours and interviews. She achieved gold as her album sales surpassed 100,000. She had finally become a major star.
Nominated for four ADISQ awards (The French-Canadian version of the Grammys), she went to France to give the Old World the full treatment. She won them over in a heartbeat. She found herself kiting between the two continents, collaborating with the biggest names and headlining shows herself.
It was no surprise when, in 1999, she won the ADISQ award for Best Female Singer of the Year. It was the perfect backdrop to her third album, Scnes d’Amour, released that year. Again, she recruited the heavyweights of French music, culminating in a work of maturity and unbridled honesty about her emotions. It sold nearly a million units.
In 2000, Mieux qu’ici-bas, her fourth album, saw comparable success.
She went on to tour not only in Quebec, but throughout all of France too. They liked her so much they gave her the top French music award in 2001, the Victoires de la Musique, for both Best New Artist and Best New Album. She was now touring the European continent and was welcomed home as a hero. The world-class Montreal Symphony Orchestra gladly backed her up in a show.
The concert became Au moment d’tre vous, her live album, released in 2002. She again swept the ADISQ awards clean, winning the award for Best Female Singer for the fifth straight year.
In 2004, Isabelle released her seventh and most intimate record, Tout un jour. Today she stands as French music royalty all over the world.
Isabelle currently lives in Quebec with her boyfriend, who she tries to keep secret.