It's one of modern rock's most heartwarming Cinderella stories. Christina Perri left her small Pennsylvania town for Hollywood on her 21st birthday, got married, dabbled in music-video production, then divorced a year and a half later and fled back home. Defeated, she spun all her breakup frustration into a spare, shimmering anthem called "Jar of Hearts," then rolled the dice on Los Angeles one more time. A wise move.
"And now I'm still in that whirlwind that started at 8 p.m. on June 30th, 2010," the whiskey-throated diva declares, recalling the exact moment in time that her career caught fire, literally overnight. "I still get kind of crazy and scared and nervous and overwhelmed, so that I don't think — I just go. But I have my quiet little moments before bed and when I wake up in the morning, where I'm just like 'Holy cannoli! I get to wake up and play music today! I get to meet a roomful of people who might feel better after they hear my songs!'"
Perri recalls everything about that fateful evening in June as if it were yesterday: How until then, she'd been struggling through a waitress job at the Melrose Café while writing and recording in her off-hours. And how her friend passed "Jar of Hearts" along to the choreographer for FOX TV's reality series So You Think You Can Dance, where it made the cut and would be featured that night in a performance by Billy Bell and Kathryn McCormick. And best of all, she was invited to the frou-frou taping.
"So I took off that day, got my hair done, and I was like 'This could be cool,'" says the 24-year-old, who just recently released her long-awaited lovestrong debut that includes the now-signature song. "And there's actually a YouTube video of me and my best friend driving to the show, going 'Oh my God! This is gonna be so much fun!'
"But what really happened was, at 8 o'clock, my whole life changed, because I'd put "Jar of Hearts" up on iTunes, thinking 'Well, maybe the people who watch this show will go on iTunes and buy the single if they hear it. Or if they even notice it.' And what happened is gonna go down in history — 220,000 people downloaded it. All before I ever signed a record deal."
The next day, she quit her café gig and watched, dumbstruck, as her single skyrocketed onto the charts. Eventually, it would land her a contract with Atlantic Records.
"'Jar of Hearts' broke every rule in the book for radio," she says. "Radio didn't want to play it at all, but it just went and broke down every wall."
But Perri's no one-hit wonder. The delicately plucked, timpani-thundering follow-up ballad "Arms" has already shown her staying power, and more potential smashes beckon, like the orchestral "The Lonely" and a gorgeous acoustic exercise called "Penguin."
There's an honesty to Perri's work that marks her as a songwriter to watch in years to come. And don't expect Auto-Tune any time soon.
"I don't use that stuff because I'm not embarrassed of imperfection — I don't know anybody who's perfect in real life, so I don't ever wanna come across like that. That's just soooo wrong, for little girls who live in the Midwest to think this person's perfect. No, nobody is."