What’s it like to work alongside Hollywood legends like Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon and Scarlett Johansson? Just ask 24-year-old Tori Kelly, who’s already a decade into a remarkable singing career. Currently voicing the character of Meena in Universal’s Sing (premieres Dec. 21), Kelly is on the verge of going from social media phenomenon to household name.
Kelly began her career at the age of 14, posting YouTube videos of herself singing, before appearing on American Idol at age 16. Although she didn’t win (sadly), we can probably all agree she’s the biggest winner now. After Idol she was signed by Scooter Braun at Capitol Records, and at the 58th annual Grammys was nominated as Best New Artist.
Before settling in at the cinema with some popcorn to watch Sing (and be blown away by Kelly’s vocal chops), we got the opportunity to ask the wunderkind about YouTube fame, music industry pressures, that Grammy nomination and what it’s like to be a shy teenage elephant.
What was it like starting out in the music business so young and how did you become a sensation on YouTube?
Singing was all I wanted to do growing up, so even though it wasn't "normal" for a 12 year old to get a record deal, it felt normal for me because that's all I knew. That being said, it was a blessing in disguise that things didn't work out back then, because I needed to just be a kid and grow up without all the pressures that come with the music industry. It was a good thing that I stepped away because that's when I discovered YouTube. I just started posting originals and covers and people started following me. It was very organic and fun.
What has been the most exciting moment in your career?
It's been a crazy few years. One of the most exciting things to happen to me was getting a Grammy nomination. That just rocked my whole world. I always wanted to perform on the Grammys and I got to do that as well. Also putting out my debut album is something I'll never forget. I'm so thankful!
How did you land the role of Meena in “Sing"?
I got approached by the people at Sing because they were looking for someone to play a shy teenage elephant who loves to sing. I went in to audition and when I found I got the part, I freaked out. I've always wanted to do voice acting and this is just a huge dream come true for me.
Meena is a teenager with an incredible voice and severe stage fright. Can you relate to that character at all?
I can't definitely relate to Meena. I was a shy girl growing up but I always loved to sing. It was hard for me to get up on stage and when I finally did, I was really stiff and not much of a performer.
What does it feel like to be part of an A-List cast including Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon and Scarlett Johansson?
It's incredible!! So crazy to see my name on billboards next to such talented actors. I think they're all amazing singers as well.
Do you have any New Year’s resolutions?
My New Years resolution is to focus on other people more. It's easy to get wrapped up in our own lives but I want to learn about as many people as I can because everyone is important and you'd be surprised at the stories you might hear if you just make yourself available to listen.
What projects are you working on next?
I'm currently working on my second album! I've been writing constantly. Excited for people to hear the new stuff.