Last year kicked up a veritable whirlwind of acclaim for 20-year-old British newcomer Adele Adkins. After conquering her homeland, the retro-soul-steeped stylist was invited to duet with longtime idols Alicia Keys and Burt Bacharach, and appeared as musical guest on the Saturday Night Live episode where 17 million viewers tuned in to watch Tina Fey meet Sarah Palin. The next day, 19 the ultra-sultry debut from Adele, who performs sans surname topped the iTunes chart, and, along with its flagship single, "Chasing Pavements," became a bona fide Stateside hit.
Yet the ribald-humored gal has remained remarkably humble. Where was she when her four Grammy nominations were announced?
"I was at home with my mom, and to tell the truth, I'd completely forgotten about 'em," she says in the cockney-coarse accent that's been parodied by U.K. comic Katy Brand. "So I wasn't really that interested, and I certainly wasn't sitting at home waiting for 'em. But my mom reminded me, and I thought, 'Oh my God, yeah! Leona!' 'Cause I'm the biggest Leona Lewis fan.
"So I was Googling Leona, trying to see how many she'd gotten, and then my phone just started buzzing, with people telling I'd been nominated for a Grammy. Over the next hour, I must've gotten a thousand e-mails, saying I got nominated for this, nominated for that. I never thought I'd be considered for anything like that, so I'm still stunned by it all."
Adele has rooted herself in reality. To preserve her voice, she's given up drinking. She's chosen a top-shelf American producer for her sophomore album ("I don't wanna say who it is yet, in case it doesn't work out when we finally get in the studio," she whispers), which will be tracked in distant Malibu. And she's spent her royalties on sensible things, like a vintage Mercedes for her mom and a new Notting Hill apartment for herself.
"I'm quite relieved to have put my money somewhere," she admits. "My mom thinks it's hilarious, but I'm actually quite proud of myself."
The former grunge-rocker who once dressed in heavy mascara, studded dog collar and chain-clanking black jeans began defying teenage convention after entering a glassed-in section of HMV Records on Oxford Street one day.
"It was the kinda room for parents, that kids just don't go into," she recalls. "It was all adults, and I felt like I shouldn't be in there. But that's where I saw an Etta James record and an Ella Fitzgerald record, two for five pounds, and I loved their hair they had this crimped kinda '60s hair. So I bought 'em with my pocket money to show my hairdresser cousin."
Today, she covers Etta James's "Fool That I Am" in her live set. She's also finished four new songs for her 19 follow-up, with more nearing completion.
But her most daunting task, she grumbles, is furnishing that new apartment.
"I've gotta buy a sofa, a TV, a kitchen and all kinds of stuff, like cutlery and cookery. Even a bed and dining table." She pauses for comedic effect. "And maybe a nice man! I'll have to find out where they sell 'em ..."