In some ways, Christina Perri has one of the oldest stories in the book. Started playing music as a kid, dropped out of art school to travel and find herself, moved out to Los Angeles with a guitar and a dream, got her heart broken, wrote songs about it. It's a trope as old as the Sunset Strip is long.
But the 24-year-old's tale also possesses some decidedly modern qualities. Perri wasn't discovered when she handed her demo to a producer or when a label president saw her busking, but when a friend forwarded a YouTube clip of her performing in her bedroom to a manager. A few weeks later, another friend passed along her song "Jar of Hearts" to a choreographer on a reality TV show. The track was an instant hit when it appeared on "So You Think You Can Dance" on June 30. When another pop star with a homophonic surname (Katy Perry) pulled out of the show a few weeks later, Perri was tapped to play and her star rose even higher.
There was only one problem -- "Jar of Hearts," which has sold more than 400,000 downloads, according to Nielsen SoundScan, was all Perri had. And while the EP "The Ocean Way Sessions" debuted two weeks ago at No. 1 on the Heatseekers Albums chart with 4,000 copies sold, and Perri is all over VH1 as the channel's current "You Oughta Know" artist, fans who want to buy a full-length record from her will have to wait until spring, at least.
Watch: Billboard.com's Christina Perri Interview, "Jar of Hearts" Performance
In the meantime, Perri's managers, Tom Gates and Ryan Chisholm, both at Bill Silva Management, and her label, Atlantic, have to keep her in the spotlight while ensuring she also has time in the recording studio. It's a difficult balance that has felled many an emerging talent-the cut-out bins are filled with artists that never broke back through when their initial fire cooled.
Beyond her skills as a singer/songwriter, Perri's personality might be what will carry her through. Cheerful and bubbly, with an intelligence that lights up after a few minutes of conversation, Perri lacks the manufactured gloss of many pop stars. The daughter of hairdressers, she grew up in Philadelphia and spent time on the road with older brother Nick, who played guitar with Shinedown and Silvertide. She tried college and spent time in Italy, then moved to Los Angeles on her 21st birthday. After a stint producing music videos with her now-ex husband, Perri says she hit a breaking point in the fall of 2009.
"I left everything and moved into my own place," she says. "I made the decision to dedicate my life to music and focus on developing myself as a songwriter."
Shortly after that, Perri started posting videos of her songs to YouTube, one of which found its way to the inbox of Tom Gates. After spending nine years at Nettwerk, Gates had returned from an extended vacation and was looking for new clients. He says he was "blown away" when he saw the video. At the time Perri was unsigned, and the two, along with Chisholm, had just started working together when "Jar of Hearts" hit "So You Think You Can Dance."
At first listen, "Jar of Hearts" might not seem like a natural fit for a dance contest. The song, a rock-edged piano ballad about a failed relationship, sounds more like Evanescence unplugged than Lady Gaga. But Perri says the song's timeless "I Will Survive" message has resonated with listeners.
According to the show's celebrity talent producer, Steven Schillaci, choreographer Stacey Tookey hit up her friend Keltie Colleen for music, and Colleen passed along a demo by her friend Perri. On June 30, two dancers performed a routine to the song while Perri sat and watched in the audience.
Gates and Chisholm, meanwhile, scrambled to ensure the song was available on iTunes before the show aired, and they sat glued to their computers as they watched it climb that chart.
"When the show aired on the East Coast, it broke the top 100," Chisholm says, "and it just went higher and higher as the show aired in each time zone. We were in contact with iTunes, and by the time the show was on in the Pacific time zone, it was on the front page of the store."