Soulful British diva Jess Glynne was just 15 when she stumbled upon an unlikely route to stardom. Midway through a promising audition process for UK TV competition The X-Factor — which is a more consistent star-making vehicle than its Stateside version — she simply walked away.
"I just didn't want to do it, because I realized that that course wasn't right for me," she recalls. "I liked making music, and I liked being in control. And if I was to take that road, I would not have been in control. I was very strong-minded, and I just knew what I wanted."
And from that one decision, a career was serendipitously launched. Glynne, now a wise old 26, went on to top English charts as guest vocalist on Route 94's "My Love" and Clean Bandit's addictive "Rather Be," the latter of which actually won her a Grammy in 2014 for Best Dance Recording.
It was a full year later before she finally issued her own album, I Cry When I Laugh, which debuted overseas at No. 1 and spawned five No. 1 singles. Last year, her life came full circle when she appeared as a guest star on The X-Factor — the prodigal daughter returning, having proven that she could do it her way.
"I just feel like everything happens for a reason," she says, "and if I did the program when I was younger, my life would have been very different. But I didn't, and it's worked out just perfect."
As it turned out, the teenage no-show helped set in motion the events that led to Glynne becoming the serious Etta James/Aretha Franklin-inspired R&B stylist she is today. Following high school graduation and a year of travel in Asia, South America and Australia, she settled into a posh straight job at a music management firm called ATC, which handled top-flight clients like Rumer, Faithless, Radiohead and Eliza Doolittle.
"I learned everything whilst I was there," she recalls. "The ins and outs of contracts, touring, promotion, and dealing with certain people in the industry from radio, newspapers and record labels."
Her worst experience? Working with one particular young artist who didn't realize the opportunities he'd been given.
"I'd have to call him at 7 o'clock in the morning for a 1 p.m. interview," she grumbles. "I mean, you should get yourself up and you should want to be at that interview — you want to take every opportunity because this is what's going to make you. But he didn't, and things like that taught me what not to do."
After leaving the firm, Glynne was determined to write 100 songs, to keep composing until she finally hit on her sound. That turned out to be the most useful strategy that she gleaned from her agency gig.
"Musically, you need to make people's heads turn, you need to be different, and you need to have people believe in what you're saying," she muses. "So for me, my music is honest, and it's nothing but those things. I want to make music that people feel like they've never heard before."