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Singer Christina Perri lives the dream

By Jessica Iavazzi, CNN
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Christina Perri's Cinderella story
  • Christina Perri got her big break from "So You Think You Can Dance"
  • Perri now has a record deal and has recorded with one of her musical idols, Jason Mraz
  • The singer says it's been a whirlwind since being discovered

Los Angeles, California (CNN) -- Christina Perri can tell you the exact moment her life changed: a 2-minute performance where her song "Jar of Hearts" was the backdrop for a contemporary routine performed on "So You Think You Can Dance."

Perri had been a waitress by day and was recording demos at night when her best friend, Keltie Colleen, gave her "Jar of Hearts" demo to "So You Think You Can Dance" choreographer Stacey Tookey, which ultimately landed the 24-year-old artist's song in the national spotlight.

When CNN caught up with Perri at her new Los Angeles home, it had only been 35 days since her song debuted on the hit dance show. In just over a month, Perri has seen her fan base grow by the thousands, inked a deal with Atlantic Records and even ended up in a recording studio with one of her musical idols, Jason Mraz.

After her newfound fame, she even had to quickly move out of her Los Angeles apartment when her neighbors began giving their opinions on the new music they heard her writing and playing. Perri's friends say that she is now living her own Cinderella story in her new home reminiscent of a castle tucked into the hills. Her walls are scattered with her favorite Beatles and "Twilight" memorabilia, showing two passions of the petite, tattoo-clad singer/songwriter.

Perri talked with CNN about her background, her quick shot to fame, and her musical and emotional inspirations.

CNN: Why did you decide to move from Pennsylvania to LA to pursue music? Why was it the right time for you?

Christina Perri: Nostalgically on my 21st birthday. You know, one guitar, one suitcase, one big dream, got on a plane and came to LA. ... I had been floating around doing so many different things, like I'd been following my brother around for years, and then I had to go to college, then I hated that, so then I moved to Italy, then I came back.

I was just trying to find my place in the world, you know, as cheesy as that sounds, but that's really what it was. My brother had just moved out to LA, and he was like, you know, why don't you come, and that was really the thing that kind of made me even think about it. And then I just got up and did it.

CNN: Your brother [ex-Shinedown/Silvertide guitarist Nick Perri] is also a musician. How has he influenced your own musical career?

Perri: I followed him around like I was little Penny Lane to his band, and, you know, he's my big brother, and he taught me so much stuff and I wanted to be like him, so he was like my first real idol and person that I wanted to be like.

CNN: You were originally recording demos for an EP at night while waitressing in LA during the day. Describe how you balanced that and your writing process at the time.

Perri: I was discovered by my management company [Bill Silva Management] in February, and that's when they put me in the studio to do an EP like millions of other people. I was just working at my own pace, there was no real rush, there were no deadlines or timelines of any sort.

No contracts were signed, like it was just kind of whimsical about it, but it was the most I had been doing because I was just a waitress, and it had a big break-y kind of feel to it because it's Silva Management, they manage Jason Mraz, he's my favorite. So I was like, "Hmm something might be going on here?" I just took it one day at a time and just worked on music, but it wasn't until the big break with "So You Think You Can Dance" that anything really happened.

CNN: What was your initial reaction when you heard that your best friend Keltie Colleen had given your demo of "Jar of Hearts" to a choreographer and it was being considered for "So You Think You Can Dance?"

Perri: I mean, it's Hollywood, like this stuff just like never happens, you know? It sounds like it might happen, you know, sometimes, but ultimately the chances are very slim. So when [Keltie Colleen] told me she gave it to Stacey Tookey, I was like that's awesome, thank you. Then I told my managers, and they were like, "Oh cool, you know, good luck with that" [sarcastically].

They were supportive, but they also were just like that normally doesn't ever happen, especially unsigned. ... When I found out, it was a magical moment. It was kind of like, uh, something's about to happen. I felt it, my friend felt it, my team felt it because they, like, set up iTunes and set up all the logistics, and we were totally prepared, if our version best-case-scenario were to happen, which is still nothing like what has happened, you know?

CNN: The contemporary routine that [Billy Bell and Kathryn McCormick] performed to your song was pretty emotional. What was it like watching that performance in the live audience?

Perri: It was quite a moment. I have a couple moments in the past 35 days that I hope to never forget that I've kind of put in a little filing cabinet. That one was the beginning, obviously. ... I was sitting there, my best friend's [Keltie Colleen] bawling her eyes out, you know, this thing's happening in front of me, and I had never even heard the song that loud, let alone onstage, on television.

There were so many components to it just being such an over-the-top moment for me. ... I don't think I took one breath, like I was like, [breathes in] you know, and watched the whole thing, and then took a breath after they were done, and you know, that alone would have been sufficient. The fact that all that stuff happened afterwards and hasn't stopped happening is just such icing, really, but that was like, for an artist, to see something like that, it was awesome.

CNN: What was your inspiration behind "Jar of Hearts"?

Perri: I wrote this song from a super real place. ... I was in [Philadelphia], and this guy I dated for a really long time was looking for me, like it's so kind of exactly to the song. ... It was like I could either see him or not, and I chose not to, and I wrote the song instead that night and posted it on YouTube, you know, and it was just kind of my way to get over him for the night. ... It was almost like a journal entry or a diary. ... I have a feeling that's why it's connecting with people so well, because it's like you just can't fake it if it's coming from such a real place.

CNN: Does the guy you wrote "Jar of Hearts" about know it's about him?

Perri: He totally knows it's about him, and he's all proud. And I'm like, um, did he listen to the lyrics? Because they're not so great. You know, he's all like, "Yeah, that song's about me." It's terrible.

CNN: The last month or so has been a whirlwind for you. Have you had any big "pinch me" moments?

Perri: Well, it's funny. I keep thinking that I have one, and then it gets topped, which is kind of like, you know, a really cool place to be. I will share my most recent moment. ... I was in London two days ago, and I was sitting, just recording a song that I wrote, and I'm playing and I've got a band and we're all jamming and I'm recording, and I look over and my guitar player is Jason Mraz, like he just grabbed a guitar and sat in.

And there was a moment where I just like looked over and went, like, through the roof. I felt myself just be like this is not real. I think I had my happiest moment so far right then. It was like a 30-second, you know, little moment, but I went back to the song and just was like whatever, he's my friend now, cool, you know. But it blew my mind.

CNN: "Jar of Hearts" is a powerful ballad. What can fans expect from other songs on your album?

Perri: "Jar of Hearts" I feel like just has its own little life, you know, with the strings and the piano, and it's just perfect for dancing, and that's really kind of going to be its own thing.

I originally came up with this idea ... and I'm going to have a full show, like bass player, guitar player, I want a utility dude that plays piano ... and I play the guitar and the piano, so it's going to have a full band sound. It's going to sound like Jason Mraz-y, like Fiona Apple-y, like Regina Spektor, like Bright Eyes ... like the Beatles, Amy Winehouse, like there's just going to be a lot of stuff cause they're all my favorites. So it's like, if all those people had a love child, it'd be me, that's kind of what I say.

CNN: You have been through so much since your song debuted on "So You Think You Can Dance." Is there anything else you want your fans to know about you?

Perri: I got discovered as just this, you know, unsigned singer, singing songs about a boy, and that's still who I am right now, except that I'm signed. I feel like. .. what everybody's seeing and reading is totally true to who I am, so I think I would just like to say thank you because I'm just very grateful that the way my life is going and that all my dreams are coming true, and I feel very lucky.