Born and raised in Temecula, California, Tori Kelly is of Puerto Rican, Jamaican, Irish, German and English descent. She is the daughter of musicians, her father is a singer and bassist and her mother plays piano and saxophone.
She was humming melodies and reacting to songs before she could talk and has been performing since she was three years old. Kelly can play the piano, guitar and drums.
Kelly cites such early influences as gospel singer Crystal Lewis, Jill Scott, Jeff Buckley, Lauryn Hill and Maxwell in shaping her style.
Her first appearance on television was as a Star Search contestant at the age of 10. That was followed by a victorious appearance in 2004 on America's Most Talented Kid, where performing Christina Aguilera's "Keep on Singin' My Song," Kelly beat out her fellow young singer, one Hunter Hayes.
Her victory on America's Most Talented Kid, led to a recording contract with Geffen Records at the age of 11, which didn't work out. Kelly recalled to Billboard magazine that was "huge but also a blur. I was in all of these studio sessions, writing with all of these people, but I didn't even know who I was."
Tori Kelly was a contestant on Season 9 of American Idol, at the age of 16, making it through to Hollywood Week. Looking back at being eliminated from the singing competition, Kelly told Seventeen in 2016: "Deep down, I knew I was good, and I knew I could do it. I needed to get knocked down and to build up a thick skin. Who knows what I would have been singing about otherwise? You have to go through things in order to inspire others with your story."
Kelly later found success as a social media star via YouTube. Her cover of Frank Ocean's "Thinking About You
," went viral, racking up over 22 million views.
In 2013 Scooter Braun became her manager. Braun, who shepherded Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande into the spotlight, introduced Kelly to the heads of Capitol Records, who were impressed enough to award her a recording contract.
," the lead single from Kelly's debut Unbreakable Smile
album was her first Hot 100 hit. It was co-written by Swedish songwriter Max Martin, who has co-penned hit tunes for the likes of Britney Spears, Katy Perry and Taylor Swift. Martin said, "After hearing Tori sing, we felt so inspired that we had no choice but to get involved. It's been such a pleasure to be a part of her journey."
Kelly is a committed Christian. Asked by Billboard magazine how she factors her faith into her music, she replied: "My faith is a huge part of my life. I don't force it into my music, but it's in my experiences so it comes through. People pick up on what they want to pick up on, but any way strangers connect to a song that I wrote is awesome."
Tori Kelly is committed to taking care of her voice. "I do a lot of vocal warms-ups right before I go on," she told Billboard. "I've had the same vocal coach since I was 8 years old, and he'll Skype in and we'll work on cleaning up my voice [before each show]."
Tori Kelly's logo features a feather quill under her name. The inspiration is Psalm 91:4 - "He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart."