6 Background Singers Who Rose to Stardom!

The singers we know and love weren’t born stars and had to start somewhere! We are celebrating these famous singers who have worked their way up starting as background vocalists!

Mariah Carey

The queen of Christmas songs is now a long-running singer, but she began her gigs singing for Brenda K. Starr. The “All I Want for Christmas Is You” singer moved to Manhattan right after she graduated high school to pursue her singing career. While she worked as a waitress and coat checker to earn money for her demos, she auditioned as a backup singer for Starr, who recognizing Carey’s talents, acted as her mentor, and as Carey calls Starr her “best friend.” She encouraged Carey to keep chasing her dreams and connected her to the president of a record company which kicked off Carey’s fame.

Katy Perry

The “California Girls” singer is known for her whipped cream rocket bras, but she originally launched her music career singing as a backup vocal for a Christian metal band called P.O.D. Fans can see a cameo appearance of her contributing her vocals for the band’s song, “Goodbye For Now.” Before her huge breakthrough with her iconic song, “I Kissed A Girl,” in 2007, she was also a Christian songwriter herself. Even after her hit debut, the iconic star seems to still show support for the band as she tweeted a music video that they released in 2015.

John Legend

R&B singer John Legend did not become a singing legend overnight. Not only did he sing backing vocals, but he also contributed his piano skills to artists such as Alicia Keys, Britney Spears, Janet Jackson, Jay-Z as well as Kanye. The “All of Me” singer had his soulful voice featured in songs like Jay-Z’s “Encore” and Ye’s “Jesus Walks” in “The College Dropout” album. With Ye being a big supporter and collaborator, Legend soon debuted his single, “Used to Love You” produced through Ye. In a 2004 interview with MTV, Legend describes his initial career as a background vocalist saying, “it gave me a lot of experience working with great artists on classic albums. Anytime you get that kind of experience it will rub off on you. I learned to make the best of those opportunities, and it helped me to make my project better.”
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Gwen Stefani

The “Hollaback Girl” singer kick-started her music career when she was a teenager. She initially performed as a backup vocalist for No Doubt which was founded by her brother and his friends. After tragically losing their lead singer by suicide, Stefani stepped up and took his place. People could not doubt Stefani’s talent, her impactful fashion styles, and the red lipstick look that she still holds today! The band still performs to the present day and just celebrated their 25th anniversary of their popular song, “Don’t Speak.”

Sheryl Crow

The country singer had her big break in the music industry when she landed her spot as a background vocal singer on Michael Jackson’s Bad tour. Although Crow was hired as a background singer, she was spotlighted with the star dueting “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You.” She strutted the stage in confidence with her big hair and black dress while Jackson serenaded her by singing, “The Way You Make Me Feel.” Crow also appeared in Jackson’s “Dirty Diana” music video.

Judith Hill

Sheryl Crow was not the only one who was in the limelight besides Michael Jackson. Soul singer Judith Hill also started off as his background singer along with other stars like Stevie Wonder and Elton John. Like Crow, she also sang “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” at Jackson’s This Is It tour. Fans may also remember her shocking elimination from The Voice where Maroon 5 lead singer Adam Levine, who was a judge for the show, disapproved of the decision saying, “I hate this country.” In an interview, she was asked who her dream collaborator was and answered “Prince.” Indeed she manifested it because he saw the interview and wanted to work with her too. He even helped her with her album, “Back In Time.” Although she loves her work as a solo artist, on a short NPR podcast, she admits that sometimes she misses the times when she was a background singer saying she loved the community and sisterhood she had with her other background singers. As a solo artist it is a different experience, “When you’re an artist, it’s very much you’re the boss and you’ve got people working for you….a lot more responsibility.”


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We can’t wait for these artists to make more music for us to listen to!

About the Author

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Maria Sato

Maria Sato is a senior at Emerson College majoring in journalism, with a focus in TV broadcast. As a student journalist, she has covered stories from hard news to entertainment both in the U.S. and in Japan.