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Skylar Grey Parlays Hit-Making for Eminem, Dre Into Solo Career
The story reads like a page out of Cinderella 2.0.
Against all odds, a young, relatively unknown artist is chosen to sing the hook she penned for a track by a high-profile rapper. Not only that, she's also asked to perform the single on the industry's biggest music stage: the Grammy Awards. And the singer nails the performance. So much so that she becomes a top trending topic on Twitter, and her phone starts ringing off the hook with more collaboration requests. In the meantime, the clock shows no signs of striking midnight as the singer/songwriter is also busy finally fulfilling a longtime dream: writing and recording her own solo album.
Video: Skylar Grey performs with Eminem, Dr. Dre at 2011 Grammys
That scenario is just what happened to Skylar Grey, who, along with
Skylar Grey isn't the only female hitmaker striking out on her own. Here are four more singer/songwriters to watch:
1) Wynter Gordon
Wynter Gordon (@wyntermusic) sang her way to a No. 5 Billboard Hot 100 hit when she was featured on Flo Rida's "Sugar." Her break came when the song's writers needed a female vocalist to reference the song for them. "It sounded really good when I did it," Gordon says. "They said, 'We'll keep you on it. This could be good for you.' "
Nearly a year elapsed before Gordon returned to the charts, this time with the dance hit "Dirty Talk." The Jupiter Ace-produced track hit No. 1 on Billboard's Dance Club Songs chart and No. 4 on Dance Airplay. But Gordon says she would've liked her first single to come out soon after "Sugar."
"I didn't follow up with anything right away so people could connect the singer from 'Sugar' with me the artist," she says. "Bruno Mars sang the hook for B.o.B and soon after that, Bruno released his own single. There was no disconnect."
Signed to Big Beat/Atlantic, Gordon's solo album is due later this year. In the meantime, she'll be heard on Mr. Vegas' new single, "Take Off"; Chris Brown's "The Fame," with Young Money rapper Tyga; and Steve Aoki's "Can't Go Back." In addition to past writing credits for Danity Kane and Mary J. Blige, Gordon says she has three songs on Jennifer Lopez's forthcoming Island Def Jam album, "Love?"
2) Bridget Kelly
"In the beginning, I was very nervous," Bridget Kelly says of filling in for Alicia Keys when Jay-Z performed "Empire State of Mind" during his 9/11 concert in 2009 at New York's Madison Square Garden. "I didn't want everyone to be like, 'Oh, she's trying to be like Alicia.' I just wanted to bring the same kind of life to the song that she did."
After singing at subsequent Jay-Z appearances, including Coachella and "Saturday Night Live," Kelly (@theycallmeBK) has loosened up. "I started doing ad-libs here and there to put my own flavor on it," she says. "When you get to sing the biggest song of the year about your city, it's huge. It started as an opportunity to sing background and fill in, but it generated more press and attention than anybody thought."
The next big event for the singer/songwriter will be her first Roc Nation album. The still-untitled set is due later this year and will be prefaced by a mixtape. Her latest guest stint was on British rapper Tinchy Stryder's "Take the World," from his 2009 album "Third Strike."
Kelly says she's taking a hiatus from cameos. "Until I release some of my own material, I want to stray from that a little. I don't want to come across as being 'the girl who fills in and sings all the hooks.' "
3) Eva Simons
While Dutch singer Eva Simons (facebook.com/evasimonsmusic) was in London for a gig, pictures of her appeared on entertainment blog ConcreteLoop.com. Soon after, her manager relayed the news that Chris Brown wanted to work with her after hearing her song "Silly Boy." "I just gave it my juice," Simons says of the French lyrics she wrote and sings at the beginning of "Pass Out," a Euro/dance track featured on Brown's 2009 album "Graffiti." The song also samples Eric Prydz's international dance hit "Call on Me."
"I knew 'Call on Me,' " says Simons. "When I heard the beat I thought it needed some sensual lyrics. Since I speak French, I wrote something French."
While "Pass Out" wasn't a single, Simons says the track's Internet exposure helped raise her U.S. visibility.
What's heightening her stateside profile even more, however, are her vocals on DJ Afrojack's "Take Over Control," whose lyrics she penned with partner Mike Hamilton. The track spent six weeks at No. 1 on Billboard's Dance Airplay chart.
"It's crazy to be No. 1 in the U.S. with a European dance song," says Simons, who's working on her own album. "While features are fun and can help, I don't forget that I'm a solo artist."
Northern California native Dev (@DEVisHot) is best-known as the featured voice on Far*East Movement's No. 1 hit "Like a G6." The singer/songwriter is also on the latest New Boyz single, "Backseat," as well as her own debut track, "Bass Down Low" -- produced by and featuring the Cataracs, the production duo behind "G6," which samples Dev's own viral hit, "Booty Bounce." The duo is finishing up Dev's first solo set, "The Night the Sun Came Up" (Indie-Pop/Universal Republic). In addition to working on songs for Timbaland and 50 Cent, Dev appears on Travis Barker's "Give the Drummer Some."
"Doing hooks isn't anything I put too much pressure on," Dev says. "I like doing it to add my flavor on different styles of tracks and seeing how different artists work. Sometimes hooks can be the hardest part. But it's an opportunity to get my name out there -- as long as I get to do my own projects."
Universal Republic co-president/COO Avery Lipman says a strong hook performance adds "impressions that build a story for an artist with their own record and single. But [with someone] like Dev, you've got to have that X factor. Doing a hook might look easy but the nuances are subtle -- between good and remarkable. You have to be able to make it all work."