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She’s just 21, but Adele Laurie Blue Adkins – you can call her simply ADELE – sings like a woman three times her age, a soul sensation in her native UK who is poised to conquer America with 19, her debut album, which came out last year in the States on XL/Columbia Records after debuting at No. 1 in the British charts.
Brash, wise beyond her years, but down-to-earth and focused, Adele was raised by a single mom to whom she’s devoted in the racially mixed, working-class London neighborhoods of Tottenham and Brixton, where she worshiped pop idols like Backstreet Boys, the Spice Girls, Take That, and Britney Spears, not daring to dream one day she might follow in their footsteps to stardom herself.
“I didn’t realize this was something I could do until I got my record deal,” Adele admits. “I taught myself how to sing by listening to Ella Fitzgerald for acrobatics and scales, Etta James for passion, and Roberta Flack for control.”
You can hear Ella’s scats in “My Same,” Flack’s flair for sensuous melody in Adele’s version of Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love” from his Grammy-winning Time Out of Mind, and James’ slow-burning urgency in “Melt My Heart to Stone.” But there’s also plenty of Adele in songs like “Tired,” where she reveals an otherwise hidden working-class British accent, “When I don’t get nuffin’ back.”
Together, the songs on 19 compose a diary of a year in Adele’s life, one that began with her deciding to stay in London rather than attend university in Liverpool, which led her to write “Hometown Glory,” a paean to the city and her cherished memories of growing up there. And while insistent she knows little about politics, the verse, “I like it in the city when two words collide/You get the people and the government/Everybody taking different sides,” was about her taking part in a post-9/11 protest march against the Iraq war.
The latest in the current spate of talented female singer-songwriters emerging from the UK scene, Adele was the first recipient of the BRIT Awards’ newly inaugurated Critics Choice prize in 2007, even before her debut album was released. She was also honored as the winner of BBC Music’s Sound of 2008 poll of music critics, editors, and broadcasters, as the most promising new musical artist likely to emerge that year.
Her first U.S. performances in New York and Los Angles sold out just on the basis of a mention on her MySpace page, which has received more than 2 million profile views and 2.2 million plays since it was launched on New Year’s Eve in 2004.
All you need to know about Adele can be learned from her live performances, accompanied by just a piano or an acoustic guitar, with a one-of-a-kind voice that conveys a rainbow of emotions, from sorrow to triumph, longing to sensuality, solitude to solidarity, a blues-soul hybrid steeped in the past, yet fully alive in the moment.
“I get really scared right before I go on-stage, but as soon as I’m there, I love it,” she says. “I feel more at ease performing than when I’m walking down the street. I love entertaining people. It’s a huge deal that people pay their hard-earned money, no matter how much or little, to spend an hour of their day to come and watch me. I don’t take that responsibility lightly.”