Leona Lewis has stayed out of the spotlight since her last album came out in 2013, but as she gears up to release her next LP, I Am, the singer admits this is the first collection of music that really speaks to who she is. “It’s an empowerment record,” she tells EW. “I really just wanted to speak about the experiences I’ve been going through the past seven years.” That includes the end of a romantic relationship and her split from Syco and Simon Cowell, who is credited with discovering Lewis on The X-Factor.

“I’ve just been delving deep into myself and finding out who I am and finding out how strong I am,” she says. “I want to, through this record, empower people and myself as well.” Lewis says the record, which was mostly produced by Toby Gad (John Legend’s “All of Me,” Beyoncé’s “If I Were A Boy”), was heavily influenced by soul and gospel music. “It’s quite choir-like,” she says. “Even though sometimes some of the songs were coming from a place that were maybe sad or a bit down, the songs lifted me out of that.” The two already released tracks, “Fire Under My Feet” and “Thunder,” both embody that spirit.

The collection will also include a track written by famed songwriter Diane Warren. According to Lewis, Warren wrote a song, “You Knew Me When,” just for Lewis. “She’s only written songs for specifically two artists, Cher and Whitney Houston,” Lewis says. “So I was so honored to have this one on the record because she specifically wrote it for me. I’ve known Diane for a long, long time and I always wanted to work with her, but for some reason or another it never panned out. This time I was sure I wanted something by her on the record.”

Lewis says Warren was touched by an emotional letter Lewis wrote to fans last year, detailing her split from Syco and addressing rumors about a lack of new music. “I wrote this letter just being very honest and talking about good days and bad days I had,” she says. “Diane got inspired by the letter as well and she basically wrote the song about the letter. It’s about growing as a person and sometimes people think they know you and then a few years later they’ll probably think you’re the exact same person, but everyone changes and matures and you have life experiences that mold the person. It’s just about embracing the evolution and the fact that you’re a stronger person, or you’re a wiser person.”

Now that she’s a year removed from Syco and Cowell’s oversight, Lewis clarifies that she left on good terms. She’s now signed to Island Records under Def Jam Recordings. “A lot of people have tried to make it out to be so much more than it is. I had come to the end of my deal and I wanted to pursue a different direction,” she says. “I wanted to song write. Simon and I still have a great relationship. He’s very supportive but it was time to go.”

Leona Lewis’ I Am is due out Sept. 11 via Def Jam.