With a karaoke machine, an old stereo, a couple of tapes and a bag of rice as a shaker, Laura Izibor embarked on a journey that eventually would land her on the Atlantic Records label.
"It's still kind of crazy to me because I don't know how it really happened, to be honest with you," Izibor, 22, says from her childhood home outside Dublin, Ireland.
Izibor's musical story began when she was 13, when a drama teacher made her sing in front of the class.
"I sang and tried my best, and the class was like, 'You can really sing,'" she says.
From there, she played Judas in the school musical Jesus Christ Superstar, sang Whitney Houston's Where Do Broken Hearts Go in the talent show ("a cappella," she says with a laugh), and started taking piano lessons from a friend during lunch.
"Some of the other girls were out smoking and pulling up their skirts for the boys," Izibor says. "I wasn't a nerd or a dork. But I wasn't cool."
Then came the karaoke machine and her brothers' second-rate stereo, which Izibor used to record her first song, layering harmony upon harmony so thick that the finished product sounded faint and blurry. No matter. The recording gained her entrance into a national song contest in Dublin when she was 15.
"I'm not going to win," Izibor recalls telling her sister. "Everybody else is rock, and I don't sound like them."
But win she did, and with the $14,000 in prize money, she bought a piano, a 16-track recording unit, a keyboard and a microphone. She also met her manager at the competition, who told her, "Don't ever send a demo (tape) like that to anyone again."
They made a new demo, and record companies from the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany began calling. At 16, Izibor flew to the States to sing for 10 labels. She signed with Atlantic and completed her first full-length album, Let the Truth Be Told, last year.
Izibor's music can be described as R&B soul in the vein of Alicia Keys. There is wisdom and maturity in her sound, which she says has been influenced by Stevie Wonder, Candi Staton and Roberta Flack. Her songs have been featured on Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice and can be heard in the upcoming movie When in Rome.
"I never wanted to be famous," Izibor says. "That's a really crazy thing to say when you're doing what I'm doing. I've always had a fear of being super-super-famous."
Super fame might not be imminent, but Izibor hopes that another album is. The songs on her first album were written when she was a teenager. Now she has much more material and is open to new ideas. "It's nice to be able to explore different feelings or emotions and sounds," she says.
These days, lucky for her, that sound doesn't include a karaoke machine. "I gladly threw that out," she says.