6 Artists Who Started Out as Back-Up Singers

Looking at some of the biggest musicians in the world today, it can be easy to forget that we all have to start out somewhere. Few people are born stars, and many have to work their way up the show biz totem pole to get to the top.

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One solid way to cut your teeth is by being a backup singer. While it can be hard work, supporting a more established star on stage can open the door to valuable connections and opportunities.

These six artists were able to successfully pivot their backup roles into massive solo careers.

1. Mariah Carey

It’s almost impossible to go through the holiday season without hearing Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” dozens of times. But Carey wore a lot of hats before she found her footing as a pop star. After going to school for cosmetology and waiting tables, she broke into the music industry as a backup vocalist for “Love Me Like The First Time” singer Brenda K. Starr. It was actually Starr who helped Carey launch her solo career, after passing her demo to a Sony Music executive who recognized her potential.

2. Katy Perry

Katy Perry smash hits like “Last Friday Night,” “Firework,” and “Dark Horse” aren’t exactly hard-rocking. But before she was headlining Super Bowl Halftime shows and living a comfortable Hollywood lifestyle, she provided backup vocals for the Christian metal band P.O.D. Her impassioned voice appears on the band’s single “Goodbye For Now.” She can even be seen belting in the background of the music video, and on a performance from The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

3. Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston did some of her most recognizable work in the ‘80s and ‘90s. But the “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” singer got started young. Her mother Cissy was a backup singer for artists, including Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett. Whitney got her first big break at age 14 when she was asked to fill in for one of her mother’s colleagues, who hadn’t shown up for a session. Her talent was instantly recognized, and she ended up supporting artists as notable as Chaka Khan before cementing her status as one of the biggest hitmakers of the 20th century.

4. Dido

Dido’s “Thank You” is one of the most beautiful songs of the ‘90s. But she first found her footing as a singer in her brother’s electronic act, Faithless. They were offered a record contract by Artista, and Dido was able to negotiate a deal for herself in the process. After she released her debut album, No Angel, in 1998, it became apparent that she had been the star of the family all along.

5. Phil Collins

Phil Collins penned one of the most recognizable hits of the ‘80s with “In The Air Tonight.” But he wasn’t always the one in the spotlight. The prodigious drummer got his start playing in the progressive rock band Genesis, where he sometimes supported Peter Gabriel on backing vocals. So when Gabriel left in 1975 to pursue a solo career, it only made sense for Collins to take center stage. The rest is history.

6. Sheryl Crow

Sheryl Crow is best known for hits like “All I Wanna Do,” “If It Makes You Happy,” and “Soak Up The Sun.” But she got her start singing backup vocals for Michael Jackson in the ‘80s. She even appears in The King Of Pop’s music video for “Dirty Diana.”

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