Chelsea Lee: Girl Next Door
Chelsea Lee

For a while, the only place Chelsea Lee was comfortable singing was in the shower. But at 15, the aspiring singer tried her hand at a local open mic -- and her attempt was received with praise.

"I'm downstairs running the club, selling beer, and she's soundchecking, and instantly I was blown away," says her manager, Daniel Brindley, who owns the suburban-D.C. music club Jammin Java.

Brindley began inviting Lee to open for his acts, and in a few months she was headlining shows. Armed with an alarmingly pure voice, down-to-earth charm, and a songwriting maturity that's rare for her age, Lee appears to have the entire package. In 2008 she got the attention of Atlantic Records, and in June she signed with the label just days after her 18th birthday.

With less than three years between her first open mic and her record deal, Lee's ascent is remarkable, especially given how quickly she's taken to performing. "I was really nervous at first" she says, but as an audience member you'd never know it.

A gorgeous girl with organic songs is bound to draw comparisons to Taylor Swift and Colbie Caillat, but Lee's voice carries an emotional depth that's more like Patty Griffin or Brandi Carlile. "A lot of people ask me, 'who do you sound like?" she laughs, "but I never have an answer for them."

Though she's well-known in her native D.C., in February a pair of synchs on MTV's "The City" for her songs "Figure Us Out" and "Long Way Down" provided some deserved national exposure. Around that time she spent three weeks in London writing with Martin Terefe, producer of Jason Mraz's platinum-selling "We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things." Currently she's working out of Charlottesville, Virginia, with writer/producer Chris Keup (Parachute, O.A.R., Josh Kelley).