Name: Fleur East
Back story: At 17, East (yes, that’s her real name) made it past X Factor U.K. auditions with her girl group Addictiv Ladies in 2005 — much to judge Simon Cowell’s skepticism — but only lasted a week on the show. Still, it sparked a hunger: “I knew from that moment that music is 100 percent what I wanted to do,” the singer-rapper-dancer says.
Second chances: After a stint at journalism school, East eked by as a session vocalist and waitress. “It got to a point where I had to take my final shot or switch to a different career,” she says. She took a friend’s advice to audition for The X Factor in 2014 again, this time as a solo act. “Simon said to me, ‘We don’t want to repeat the last time,’ ” she recalls. “I thought, ‘Great, thanks, no pressure.’ ” But East rose to the challenge and then some: She came in second place — thanks to a performance of Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk!” that hit No. 1 in the U.K. iTunes store — then signed with Cowell’s Syco imprint in 2015.
Up next: East closed her breakthrough 2015 by dropping her Tina Turner-meets-James Brown debut, Love, Sax & Flashbacks, in the United Kingdom, and now has an eye on U.S. domination with ’80s-funk-inspired single “Sax.” “There were times I didn’t believe this would happen, and I would just give up a little bit,” she says. “Now it’s like I’m living a dream.”