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Tori Kelly on whirlwind year, tribute to Orlando victims

Singer-songwriter Tori Kelly performs onstage during the 2016 MusiCares Person of the Year honoring Lionel Richie at the Los Angeles Convention Center on February 13, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.

Larry Busacca, Getty Images for NARAS

It's no surprise that Tori Kelly is one of the biggest up-and-coming stars in music today.

The 23-year-old first gained attention nearly a decade ago on YouTube for singing covers of popular songs and playing her guitar. Today though she is busy making her own music, and recently celebrated the one year anniversary of her debut studio album "Unbreakable Smile."

Tori spoke to CBS News at the Propel Co: Labs Fitness Pop-Up in New York City fresh off her first U.S. tour.

This has been a huge year for you for so many reasons. When you think back on the year since your first studio album was released, what has been the pinch me moment?

I have had a few pinch me moments. I date it back to a little over a year ago simply when I put out my album. That to me was, of all the things I've gotten to do, that was still that childhood dream. Because as a kid I knew I always wanted to be a singer; I knew I always wanted to be on stage and stuff. As a kid you're not really thinking of the little details around being a performer. But I think any kid can see an album and be like "oh I want to put one of those out."

You see the cover and you're like "I want my face to be on one." So that I think was just such an innocent sort of feeling when my album came out; and after ten plus years in the industry it finally happened.

Does it feel any different making music now that you have a studio album?

I think there is a different kind of pressure. A couple years ago when I was just recording my debut album there was a certain type of pressure because no one had heard my music. There was maybe a couple things online, but everyone was kinda like okay what's the sound? Now, I think there is a whole other set of pressure because there is a sound; and so now they are asking "okay what is she going to do next."

So I try to block that out and just get to the heart of you know that little girl who just liked to sing; that fifteen year old girl who just wanted to pick up her guitar and write songs from the heart. I think it's easy to just let different things kinda come into play, but that is kinda my main focus with this album is just kinda getting back to the basics.


You recently released a song called "Blink of an Eye" after the tragedies that happened in Orlando. What does this song mean to you?

Yeah you know what I had written that song a couple days after Christina (Grimmie) had passed away and it just kinda put me in shock. I didn't know her that well personally, we met maybe once or twice but we had a lot of mutual friends. Especially with her coming from YouTube and me kinda being from YouTube, it's kinda like our careers were so parallel. And the fact that it happened at a meet-and-greet was also just so close to home.

It definitely shocked me and so it was the type of song that I didn't give much thought to, I just had to write it. It was pressing in my heart and I thought I can't actually sit still with this feeling. I actually wasn't expecting to release it but I'm glad I did, because I ended up releasing it the same week as just a lot of terrible things were going on. I was so exhausted that week just from being sad and it was like a weight was lifted when I put it out. There's a lot going on in the world.

You've also got a part in the upcoming animated film "Sing." What's been your favorite part about being a part of this production?

Yes it's very exciting. I think it is one of the coolest things I have been a part of for sure. I have always wanted to be the voice in an animated movie, but I didn't think it would happen now in my career. My character's name is Mena and she loves to sing but she has stage fright.

I'm sure you can't relate to that.

No I actually can that's why this role felt strangely perfect when I stepped into it. When I was little I hated singing on stage and loved to sing at home. It's cool though throughout the movie Mena kinda gains confidence and then shows the world that she can do it.

Earlier this summer we heard that several artists were joining a pledge against YouTube - saying the streaming service wasn't paying artists enough for their music. Given the impact YouTube had on your career, what are your thoughts on streaming platforms?

I have to look into it more and do more research on it because I am someone who has kinda built her whole career on a platform like YouTube; even on something like Spotify where for new artists -- like me -- it's been amazing. But I totally understand where other artists might be coming from with getting more rights, so I feel like I'm kinda in the middle of that one.