Artist To Watch: Tori Kelly's The Idol You've Been Looking For, America

Meet the SoCal singer-songwriter, and watch her perform 'Dear No One' live.

Tori Kelly is a 21-year-old, genre-blurring singer-songwriter from Southern California who seems poised for a breakout in the coming months -- but things weren't always on the up and up for MTV's latest Artist To Watch.

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In fact, she was eliminated from Season 9 of "American Idol" without even making it past the Hollywood round. But much like Beyoncé and Aaliyah, who both lost on "Star Search" before striking it big, Tori didn't let a little early rejection slow her down. She now has two EPs (2012's Handmade Songs By Tori Kelly and 2013's Foreword) to her name and is hard at work on her debut full-length album.

So, take a sec to get to know her below. It's really not that hard to recognize how special Ms. Kelly's talent is -- despite Simon Cowell's best efforts to the contrary.

Who She Is

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"One of the most important things to me as a songwriter is to make music that's young and fresh, but also soulful and real," Tori says in a release. "I want people to feel like they know me once they listen to my songs."

She never said she'd make it easy on us, though.

Her lyrics are introspective and frequently contradictory: On "Dear No One," she describes how much she values "being independent" while expressing a desire for "somebody to hold," while "Confetti" finds her both dreaming big and keeping her big dreams "in check." She doesn't have her life all figured out yet, and she's not afraid to admit it. "You don't have to know exactly who you are," Tori sings on "Daydream," "because figuring it out could be the best part."

Why You Should Listen To Her

There are songs you listen to when you want to feel unstoppable. (See my personal DGAF playlist, which consists of Tinashe's "2 On" and only Tinashe's "2 On.") Then, there's the music you play when you're at your most vulnerable. Tori Kelly's guitar-driven ballads fall into the latter camp.

What You Should Listen To

"Dear No One" and "Paper Hearts" have your #foreveralone bases covered, but new song "Funny" offers a slightly more optimistic vibe. It's a mid-tempo ode to the ups and downs of stardom that any listener can relate to -- no matter how far away from the spotlight they stand.

Why Simon Cowell Was Soooooo Wrong

I mean, literally just watch her perform John Mayer's "Gravity" at her "American Idol" Season 9 audition above. The judging panel's resident grumble-pants straight-up gave Tori a "No," and, for the life of me, I still can't figure out why.

What's Next

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According to a new video Tori uploaded to her personal YouTube account late last month, she's "just getting started." That same video also confirms that her as yet untitled debut album will be released in 2015, too. I'd take that major milestone over making it past the Hollywood round on "American Idol" any day, but maybe that's just me.

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