Breaking: Adele

January 7, 2009 4:24 PM ET

Who: Neo-soulstress Adele, a 20-year-old Londonite whose debut album 19 became the surprise hit of the Grammys after getting nominations for Best New Artist and Record of the Year.

Sounds Like: Like U.K. exports Amy Winehouse and Duffy, Adele brings a retro R&B sound with a hint of "heartbroken soul," as she's dubbed it. The style is evident on her hit "Chasing Pavements." The song was inspired by a bitter breakup that soaks into the fiber of 19: After discovering her boyfriend was cheating on her, Adele punched him in the face at a pub and promptly got thrown out. "As I was running away, the phrase 'chasing pavements' came to me," Adele remembers. "I sang it into my phone, went home and got three chords together."

Vital Stats:

• Adele isn't your typical pop star, with her thick British accent, a heavy Marlboro habit and a relaxed attitude about her un-pop-star body. "She's not going to get anywhere — she's a fat girl," Adele recalls her detractors saying. In fact, Adele first considered a job in A&R before recording a demo, which grabbed the attention of XL Records. "I went from thinking I could get a scouting job — then they said 'We want to sign you.' "

• Adele is the product of the BRIT School of performing arts in Croydon, a district of London. In recent years, the school has rivaled the Mickey Mouse Club in terms of producing talent: Leona Lewis, Amy Winehouse, Kate Nash, Katie Melua, Imogen Heap and the Kooks' Luke Pritchard are all former students.

• Adele performed in front of 15 million people when she was the musical guest on an episode of Saturday Night Live last October. Why the huge audience? Sarah Palin made a not-so-surprise cameo. "I met her, and she said 'I'm a huge fan,' " Adele remembers. "I had an Obama badge on. I felt like a backstabber."

Hear It Now: 19 is in stores and digital music services now, and she's currently touring the U.S. until the end of January. Click above to check out Adele's video for "Cinders and Smoke."

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