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Given her powerful pipes and sexy swagger, it’s hard to believe singer-songwriter Gabriella Cilmi is only 17. But while her peers are finishing high school, the Melbourne native, who describes her music as “pop-blues glam-rock,” has already scored a runaway hit in Australia and Europe with her catchy up-tempo single “Sweet About Me.” “I must have sung that song a million times last year,” says the teen, who swept Australia’s version of the Grammys in the fall and scored a BRIT nod earlier this year.
And Cilmi (pronounced “chill-me”) will have the chance to sing that song a million more times when her album “Lessons to be Learned,” which features “Sweet about Me,” drops Stateside on March 17. “I’ve already built a name for myself around Europe and Australia,” says Cilmi. “It’s kind of like starting from scratch.”
This story first appeared in the March 2, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS: The performer actually began her career at age 12, when she was signed on the spot after belting out the Rolling Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” at a community festival. “The only people I’d really sang to before were my mates in the garage,” recalls the artist, who credits her parents’ love of classic rock with inspiring her interest in music. Just two years later, Cilmi left school in Melbourne to record her album full time in London. “I didn’t want to stay and learn math and theorems. I’m crap at math.”
STYLE FILE: “When you are on stage, you like to make more of an impact,” says the singer of her concert wardrobe, which includes such flamboyant pieces as iridescent leggings and high-heeled Dr. Martens. She insists her off-duty uniform is a bit more low-key, but adds, “even if I am wearing jeans and a T-shirt, I’ll just chuck a load of jewelry on, like a thousand rings. You can never have too much bling.”
DON’T SWEAT IT: In addition to its Top 40 status, “Sweet About Me” is the jingle for the European ad campaign for Unilever’s roll-on Sure/Rexona deodorant. “I never expected my song to be advertising deodorant,” admits the artist, whose lyric “the world is a better place when it’s upside down” ties in with the product’s reverse roll-on technology. Still, the singer doesn’t exactly sweat the exposure. “The commercial was done pretty classy, even though it was a deodorant ad.”
HAIRY SITUATION: Cilmi’s father, Joe, is a hairstylist, but you won’t catch him giving his daughter’s tresses a preconcert touch-up. “When I was little, I wanted to get my hair cut like Ginger Spice, and he cut it like Posh Spice. So I chucked this full on tantrum. Now he’s really scared to cut my hair.”