Grammy Nominee Tori Kelly Reveals Secret Jam Session at Scooter Braun's Home With Ed Sheeran

The California native also dishes on her upcoming tour, Braun's best advice and the bucket list item that she has just checked off thanks to an A-list-heavy project.
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Tori Kelly

A version of this story first appeared in the Jan. 29 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

One benefit of being on Scooter Braun's client roster is scoring invites to backyard jam sessions.

Best new artist Grammy nominee and Billboard Breakthrough Artist Tori Kelly, 23, recalls a night in 2015 at Braun's Brentwood digs (purchased from Stacey Snider for $13.1 million in 2014) that was attended by Ed Sheeran, The Wanted's Nathan Sykes, the band Rixton and "a couple of actors from Game of Thrones."

"The jam nights are fun. I played my brand-new song, ‘Unbreakable Smile.' It was a good way to test out new material," Kelly recalls to THR.

She's been testing out a lot of material after releasing her debut album of the same name in 2015, and dropping jaws with standout performances at the BET Awards and the MTV VMAs, among many others. She did a bit of jamming recently at Hollywood coffee spot Rise N Grind, where she played an acoustic set as part of her ongoing gig with American Express Unstaged: Artist in Residence Program.

Kelly is part of Amex's strategy switch for its Unstaged: Artist in Residence program. The third installment will focus on growing and developing one talent — Kelly in this current round — rather than multiple artists at the same time like in previous cycles. (Previous Artists in Residence include Rae Sremmurd, Børns, Pia Mia and Gavin James.) "We fell in love with her instantly," American Express vp entertainment Walter Frye tells THR, adding that Kelly is a "professional" with a great story. "As we focus on one artist at a time, we wanted to launch with somebody really special — Tori is that artist."

Minutes before she performed exclusively for an intimate group of wide-eyed fans, Kelly sat down with THR to talk about her breakout career, the animated film she's working on (alongside a slew of A-listers), her red-carpet style and the best advice she's ever received.

Tell me about your American Express partnership with Unstaged: Artist in Residence. Why did you decide to sign on with Amex for this project?

I'm super excited to be involved because they've always been on the forefront and had a pulse on what is new and fresh and up-and-coming [in music]. The fact that they chose me to be one of those artists and make me the current face of that is a huge honor. All day today, we've been shooting and I've been able to reminisce a little bit and share my story [for Unstaged]. It's been great.

You've been performing a lot recently. Do you have a favorite song to perform live?

I like "Funny" because on the record it is recorded as a live track. It feels true to the album version. It's raw and simple.

I've seen the promotional materials for the animated film Sing, from Universal Pictures, and in the shot, there's a marquee with your name alongside Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson, Seth MacFarlane and others. How does that feel?

It feels amazing. I don't know how much I can actually say about the movie because I don't want to get in trouble. Being the voice of an animated character is something I've always wanted to do — that's been on my bucket list forever. It's cool because it's the same lane as being a performer and an artist but it's this side project that is so much fun. I can really let loose in the studio and experiment.

It seems that a natural progression would be for you to act in a live-action film. Have you been approached to do that? If you did, what kind of vehicle you would want to star in?

I could see myself acting. I've always loved musical theater and I did a few plays growing up. There's something about the stage where you get one shot to make it work and you don't get a bunch of takes — that excites me. But as far as other acting gigs, we'll have to see. Right now, I'm so into music that it's hard to think that far ahead. But, yeah, I'd be down to do a cameo or something, and I always thought it would be really cool to be in an action film or something totally opposite of real-life. Fantasy or sci-fi would be really cool too, like something that would involve stunts.

Tori Kelly performs at Hollywood's Rise N Grind while filming a segment as part of American Express Unstaged: Artist in Residence on Jan. 14, 2016. (Photo Courtesy of American Express Unstaged.)

Scooter Braun is your manager, and he's got a bunch of big names on his roster including Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande. I always wonder, with him as your manager, do all his clients ever get together and hang out?

Our schedules are all so different and all over the place that we're lucky if we're ever in the same room. I love his whole roster — they're all so awesome. I love working with him because he understands an artist's vision. He doesn't have just one style in the way that he does things. He can really help you express what you're trying to say as an artist.

I would imagine that he gives good advice. Anything that sticks out in your mind?

He's full of advice all the time, and he's good at being brutally honest. Sometimes it's not what you want to hear, but even if I disagree with him, it's a healthy conversation that we have and it gets me to think. It always seems like he's a step ahead of everyone.

Tell me about your upcoming tour?

It's a dream tour because there are a couple venues on there that I've always wanted to play. I'm doing a little U.K. run too, playing Brixton Academy out there. I've seen a couple shows there and I can't believe that I'm playing there. The Ryman (Auditorium) is legendary. The one that I'm most stoked about is the Greek Theatre.

In terms of fashion, you work with stylist Karla Welch. Can you talk about your collaborations with her?

I've been working with Karla for a while now, and she's helped me step outside of my comfort zone while understanding that I always like to comfortable. As you can tell, I'm wearing a hoodie right now (laughs). She will hold something up on a hanger and I look at it like there's no way that I would ever wear that. But then I put it on and I love it. She is so good at pushing the limits just enough where I'm able to shine a little bit more, and feel good. She's really fun to work with and she kills it every time.

You've got a Grammy nomination for best new artist, and you were recently named as Billboard's Breakthrough Artist of the Year. This all follows your breakout year. What's the best part about being you right now?

It sounds so corny, but the people I have around me. All the crazy things happening in my life are so amazing, but I'm so thankful that I have solid people around me to keep it all in check and stay down to Earth to see what really matters. A very successful person told me recently that when she was looking back at her life, it wasn't about the Grammys she won or the different lists of achievements she had, it was the people she met along the way. I was tearing up when she told me. It was deep but so true. I'm feeling that right now.

Tori Kelly performs at Hollywood's Rise N Grind while filming a segment as part of American Express Unstaged: Artist in Residence on Jan. 14, 2016. (Photo Courtesy of American Express Unstaged.)

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