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Ella Mai remembers growing up wanting to play like — and look like — Alicia Keys


Interscope recordsElla Mai is one of the breakthrough artists of the year, thanks to her number one hit, “Boo’d Up.”  She says growing up, her musical and style inspiration was another young artist who topped the chart with her debut single: Alicia Keys.

The British singer tells Billboard that after seeing Keys in the 1990s, “I learned to braid my hair.”  Mai also says the 15-time Grammy Award winner inspired her to learn piano.

Named after the legendary Ella Fitzgerald, Mai moved from London to New York City with her family. When she volunteered to sing the national anthem at her high school graduation, the reaction was so positive that she was inspired her to pursue a music career.

“They were like, ‘You can sing?’’ she remembers people saying. Mai moved back to London and studied music. After appearing on The X Factor U.K as part of a group, Mai got her big break when she began posting cover songs on Instagram.

DJ Mustard, whose credits include songs with RihannaChris BrownJohn Legend, Snoop Dogg,Lil Wayne, and Nicki Minaj, was so impressed with Mai’s music that he slid into her DM’s. 

“I went on his page to make sure it was really him,” Mai remembers. “I never would have imagined it would land me where I am today.”

Mustard ended up signing Mai to his label, 10 Summers Records.  He also produced her three EPs, as well as “Boo’d Up.”

Mai is performing at the BET Awards Sunday in Los Angeles, and at the Essence Festival on July 7 in New Orleans.

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