2019 American Music Awards

Women in Music 2015: Tori Kelly, Breakthrough Artist

Tori Kelly won America's Most Talented Kids when she was 11, advanced to Hollywood Week on American Idol in 2010 and became a YouTube sensation after her cover of Frank Ocean's "Thinkin Bout You" went viral in 2012. But even though she has spent half her life in show business, the 22-year-old singer-songwriter from Windomar, Calif., emerged this year in an ­unexpectedly huge way -- first with a standout performance at the Billboard Music Awards, then with the No. 2 Billboard 200 debut of her first LP, Unbreakable Smile. "I'm definitely looked at as a new artist," says Kelly. "But ­everything has just been a gradual growth throughout the last 10 years."

That decade of preparation has allowed Kelly to slip easily from a quiet, no-frills crooner into a stage-commanding pop star -- as she did at the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards, slaying her bluesy torch song "Should've Been Us" so ­masterfully that Pink pledged ­lifelong fandom on Twitter. "As a kid, I would always dream about this happening, and having it happen doesn't make it any less awesome."

FAN-GIRLING

"I did the BET Awards with Smokey Robinson, which was incredible. I also met Justin Timberlake, and was fan-girling so hard. We talked about possibly working together. And I put Prince on the guest list when I was in Minneapolis. He walked in right when we started a cover of 'Kiss' and invited us to his place afterward."

DO-IT-YOURSELF

"Even if you're not told this directly, the message for women in the industry can be, 'Oh, you shouldn't produce.' Or, 'You should just be the singer.' So I get excited when other women take on the whole project - write it, produce it, sing it. That's how I started out."

WOMEN SHE'D LOVE TO WORK WITH

"Jill Scott is definitely on the list. Gladys Knight has talked about me in interviews and I keep geeking out about that -- I would love to do ­something with her. Also, Pink."

TOUR-BUS WIND DOWN

"I got hooked on The Walking Dead. After shows, I would run to the back of the bus and watch a new episode."


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