WHO: The 24-year-old, Philadelphia-born singer of the hit 'Jar of Hearts" is also the younger sister of Nick Perri, lead guitarist for Shinedown. When she was 16, she taught herself to play guitar with a bootleg VHS tape of live appearances by Blind Melon, freeze-framing the video to see where Shannon Hoon's fingers were. As soon as she knew five chords, she wrote her first song, "The Perfect Man" — about the same guy "Jar of Hearts" was about. "All of my songs are about me, and they're usually about love," she says. "I'm a terrible girlfriend. I've broken up with the same guy literally 20 times."
SOUNDS LIKE: Angsty, unvarnished piano rock. "Jar of Hearts" is a wrenching, string-drenched ballad in which she delivers a kiss-off to an ex who won't stop hanging around: "You're gonna catch a cold / From the ice inside of your soul." "I feel like the song's happening, and I'm just running after it," says the honey-voiced Perri.
ROCKETTE FUEL: 'Jar of Hearts" was played on So You Think You Can Dance in June, before Perri even had a record deal — her best friend Keltie Colleen (a Rockette) passed it to the show's choreographer. The week before the song was played on the show, Perri was waitressing at a Beverly Hills café; the week after, the song was rising into the top 40 and she was flying to New York to meet with record companies. "The song is so vulnerable, but she was stomping on the piano in our lobby with her combat boots. She was so confident and poised — you could visualize her at Madison Square Garden," says Julie Greenwald, chairman and COO of Atlantic Records. A week later, Perri was signed to the label. "I've never seen something move so fast," Greenwald says.
FALSE STARTS, ‘HEART" TREMORS: On her 21st birthday, Perri moved to Los Angeles with a suitcase and a guitar. That same year, she got married and started producing music videos. Eighteen months into the marriage, she knew she had made a mistake in picking domestic security: "I woke up every morning with a hollow feeling in my chest." Divorced and home in Philadelphia for Christmas 2009, Perri wrote "Jar of Hearts" and decided to go back to Los Angeles one more time. "Everything I ever read, artists talked about working their asses off. I thought, 'Well, I haven't done that, let's try that.' " A few months later, she had a management deal and was waitressing by day and recording songs at night, running herself ragged. "My body was falling apart," she remembers. "My eyes were dry, and then gooey. I had acid reflux, and chronic ankle pain. I thought I was dying, but it was so worth it."
POPE JOHN PAUL, GEORGE AND RINGO?: Perri, whose debut album is now slated for a November release, is still amazed that she's becoming successful just by being herself, without changing her name or her musical approach — but she has the confidence of somebody who is used to getting away with things. She started getting tattoos when she was 15, although they were strictly forbidden at her Catholic school. One of her first ones was the names of the Beatles, wrapped around her left wrist like a bracelet. One day, her religion teacher spotted the ink peeking out from under her sleeve, and Perri knew she was in trouble. He examined the tattoo, and said, "John Paul the pope?" Perri agreed, and avoided being busted — "but I didn't turn my hand over for the rest of the year, so he wouldn't ask about George and Ringo."