At first viewing, 19-year-old Adele Laurie Blue Adkins' performance last August on popular U.K. music program "Later... With Jools Holland" is the picture of composure and grace.At first viewing, 19-year-old Adele Laurie Blue Adkins' performance last August on popular U.K. music program "Later... With Jools Holland" is the picture of composure and grace. Only after repeated viewings can a viewer catch the occasional glances of awe and panic in the young woman's eyes, as well as the palpable sense of relief as she finishes the song to loud applause. Her slightly jangled nerves are understandable; after all, how many teenagers would be cool and collected sharing a stage with Björk and Paul McCartney, let alone a teenager who had just signed a record deal a few months before?
The way Adele tells it, her rise to the top of the U.K. charts was a rather charmed experience. "I went to the BRIT School [a performing arts magnet school that boasts alums like Amy Winehouse, Leona Lewis and Kate Nash] because I was bored at my regular school and wanted to be productive," she says. "I recorded some songs and my friend set up a MySpace page for me in early 2005. At that point, MySpace wasn't that big of a deal in the U.K., but about a year later, all the record companies got on there to look for the next Lily Allen."
One of those record companies was XL, whose overtures Adele -— as she is known —- initially ignored. "XL e-mailed me and invited me for a meeting, but I ignored them to focus on finishing school and planning my 18th birthday party," she says with a giggle. "They just kept hassling me, and so I finally talked to them, and they offered me a deal."
Deal in place, Adele ran into a snag: writer's block. For eight months, she says, she had nothing to write about. "I was overwhelmed by the deal, because it came out of nowhere," she says. "Then I met and broke up with my ex, and the songs just poured out."
Once the record was finished, XL started the promotion process by pushing her first single, "Hometown Glory," to U.K. radio. National stations Radio 1 and Radio 2 also played a big role in making her second single, "Chasing Pavements," peak at No. 2 on the U.K. singles chart.
Another early adopter was TV host Jools Holland, who brought her on his show before her record was even released. The buzz around Adele continued growing throughout the fall of 2007, and on Dec. 10 she was awarded the first BRIT Awards Critics' Choice prize.
With all the acclaim came one name that Adele couldn't seem to shake: Amy Winehouse. The famously troubled singer seemed to follow Adele, as many of the articles written about her contained some form of the phrase "the next Amy Winehouse." A few members of the press even took to lumping Adele in with Duffy and Kate Nash, calling the young women "the next Amys."
To establish an individual persona, XL and Adele's management have steered clear of trying to sell the artist as a personality or build a brand around her. "I only want to be known as a singer," Adele says. "I'm not interested in writing columns for the Guardian or being a star with my own TV show." Adele's album has sold approximately 300,000 copies in the United Kingdom since it was released Jan. 28, according to the Official U.K. Charts Co.
Building awareness of Adele in the United States has only been ongoing for a short period of time; she played her first shows here in March, the same month she signed to her U.S. label, Columbia. Her first real tour kicks off May 21, and, according to promoter Kirk May, "they sold out instantly." Plans are already under way to bring Adele back stateside in August and do bigger shows, like the Bumbershoot and Austin City Limits festivals.
In meantime, Adele is already thinking forward. "I don't think you come into your own until your second or third record," Adele says. "I don't want to get too big too fast and then have to deal with the sophomore curse. It's more important for me to be able to make a lot of good records than to just have one hit and be forgotten."