What happened to singer/songwriter Christina Perri typically happens only in the movies.
In a matter of hours, she went from being an unknown to being a star.
On June 30, 2010, the 24-year-old's song "Jar of Hearts" was used in performance on Fox's "So You Think You Can Dance."
Perri's best friend had handed off the song to a choreographer who worked on the show. No one expected a thing, but fortunately, Perri's friend and others in her circle were ready just in case lightning struck. They had the foresight to make the song available on iTunes that night, so that people could download the then-unsigned artist's heartbreaker tune the minute they heard it.
And download people did.
Sales were instantaneous, sweeping across the country as the show aired in different time zones. Within two weeks, 100,000 units had been downloaded. As of February 2011, the song had reached platinum status. "Jar of Hearts" continues to sell and draw strong radio support.
On May 10, Perri's first full-length album, "Lovestrong," will be released on Atlantic. As part of her tour to launch the album, Perri plays a show at the Avalon Theater in Salt Lake City on Sunday.
"That was the craziest thing," said Perri, calling from San Francisco, the surprise still evident in her smoky voice. "All this stuff that was not supposed to happen did happen. Even the fact that this girl on the show went to school with my best friend, who happened to have a CD of the song -- so cosmic."
She laughed. "It was universal, hippie-dippie stuff. My entire life had changed that night."
Perri knows full well the implausibility of the situation: "I really want people to know about that help I got, because I had no official managers, no one making money from it or anything. They just believed in the song."
Runs in the family
Perri comes from a solid working-class background. She grew up in Pennsylvania, where her parents, who met at a dance, ran beauty salons.
Her brother, Nick Perri, two years her elder, made his mark in music first, as guitarist for the platinum-selling band Shinedown and other rock outfits.
"I started traveling around with my big brother when he got a record deal -- I was then 14 and he was 16. I would take a couple days off of school here and there and travel with him to California, London, everywhere."
Perri said she didn't realize it at the time, but she was soaking in a lot of information that would help her make wise decisions once the big time looked her way.
"I was learning like a sponge -- all the stuff they went through, decisions they made, good and bad, people they met that could help or hurt."
Perri said she and her brother grew up singing and putting on shows. She started taking piano lessons at about age 8, but that did not last long.
"I would change these scales and practices and make these huge, grandiose endings," she admitted. With a laugh, she added, "My teacher kind of fired me. She said, 'I can't handle you!' So I kind of quit and did theater and stuff. I was always changing."
She started teaching herself guitar at age 15, and also started to play piano in her own fashion. And it was also about that same time that she fell in love for the first time.
"He was a perfect man -- or so I thought at 15. And then he cheated on me, and I wrote my first song, 'Tragedy.' "
She proved strong at songcrafting right out of the gate. "Tragedy" made the cut for "Lovestrong."
"I wrote every time I was feeling something. It was almost a volcano of emotion -- I'd boil and boil, and then it would all come out in a song. Songs come out when I was super-emotional, happy or sad. Fortunately or unfortunately, I have been emotional since I was 15. I've written a bajillion songs since."
Combining art forms
One of the rewarding things about "Jar of Hearts" being used on "So You Think You Can Dance" was Perri getting to see her song interpreted in other art forms.
"My friend and I were there, seated way, way up in these bleachers, and I was sitting there just crying. It is amazing when someone else goes and sings a song, but to see someone take my art and be inspired to do the choreography, and then see two human beings who dance for their art, performing? It was a crazy collision of art. I think that is the reason it ('Jar of Hearts') had such a crazy connection with so many people that night."
As for recording and performing, Perri is still learning how to process the intense emotions required by her heartfelt compositions. She said the 33 days she spent recording the album proved to be both enriching and challenging.
Aside from learning how to record a professional album, she was also attending photo sessions, learning new guitar and piano parts, mastering interviews and meeting important people.
"There was so much in my day, and then when I'd eventually get into the booth, I was like, 'Oh, yeah. I got to step into 2007 for a minute, remember how I felt that one day when that happened.' I knew if I went to the vocal booth and just went at it nonchalant, it would not work. The way my songs are, people would notice that."
Big crowds are still a bit of a challenge, Perri admits. After all, she went from performing for a few friends in living rooms and coffee houses to such programs as "The Tonight Show" within days.
"And then came my first big live show, opening for Jason Mraz at the Santa Barbara Bowl -- 7,000 people. And before I went on stage, he went out and gave me this amazing intro about me being one of his favorite new poets. Meanwhile, I'm back there trying not to barf. It's literally going through my head -- 'don't-barf-don't-barf-don't-barf!' So I didn't even hear Jason's awesome introduction."
But Perri said that she has learned to use those nerves to her advantage.
"I look at it like this -- if I did not get so especially nervous, maybe I wouldn't be so passionate. When I get onstage, I open up and go nuts. There is that moment when I start to lock into that energy of playing live. It takes over from there."