Live from New York: Five weeks ago, Sam Smith sauntered onto the Saturday Night Live stage, mesmerizing folks at home with his heavenly pipes and signature falsetto, and blowing up online in the process. The British crooner trended on Twitter throughout the night and shot up the iTunes charts with single Stay With Me, which entered Billboard's Hot 100 at No. 68 a week later. "It was ridiculous just watching the song go up the charts afterward," says Smith, 21. "I normally don't feel I deliver on TV because I get so nervous, but I was really happy with my performance."
SONG OF THE WEEK: 'Stay With Me'
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Simultaneous success: SNL stardom is hardly Smith's biggest achievement to date. After a string of top 20 hits in the U.K., he's now featured on two songs on USA TODAY's top 40 airplay chart: Naughty Boy's La La La (No. 12) and Disclosure's Latch (No. 28). The recipient of the Brit Awards' Critics' Choice trophy (previously given to Adele and Ellie Goulding), Smith recently wrapped a sold-out, 10-city North American tour, and played with Disclosure both weekends of Coachella, where he was snapped hanging out with Katy Perry. So how is it breaking out on both sides of the pond? "I've always witnessed artists releasing their albums in the U.K. and then America gets ahold of it one or two years later," he says. "It's been amazing for me to be able to straddle both worlds at the same time."
False starts to jumpstarts: Smith grew up listening to Whitney Houston and Chaka Khan in a small village in Cambridgeshire, singing and doing musical theater from an early age. He pursued a professional singing career at 12, but to little avail. "I'd be told one week I was going to be on the radio, and I'd go and tell my school friends, and then it would never happen," Smith says. Motivated by those false starts, he moved to London at 18, where he worked as a bartender and found a new management team. "Now when I say something's going to happen, it happens, which is not only a lovely relief for me, but for my family," Smith says. "When I tell them I'm performing on Saturday Night Live, I'm performing on Saturday Night Live."
A 'courageous' debut: Debut album In the Lonely Hour is out June 17 in the U.S. Having never been in a relationship, he says the songs address themes such as unrequited love, one-night stands and the hope of finding someone."It's not an Adele record where it's all about one person," Smith says. By calling it In the Lonely Hour, "I'm admitting to the world that I feel lonely. That's not depressing; that's brave, that's courageous. I hope people listen to the lyrics and think, 'Wow, I can't believe he's actually saying this.' "
The male Adele? Not quite: As a young singer who wears his heart on his sleeve, he's often called a "male Adele" by those unfamiliar with his dancey, uptempo radio hits. "That comparison to me is amazing, because she's one of the biggest artists in the world right now," Smith says. "Our music is completely different, but for people to put me in that bracket is incredible. I hope that's because of the honesty in the lyrics."
Taking the stage with T-Swift: Smith has fans in superstars such as Bruno Mars and Taylor Swift, who brought him onstage to sing his song Money on My Mind during her show at London's O2 Arena in February. "We got a call from her team about three weeks previous to it and were like, 'Yeah, of course,' " he says. "When I arrived for soundcheck, she was so warm and friendly, and she loved my song. I had the best night."