Rita Ora was only 12 years old when Amy Winehouse released her debut, Frank, but the now-classic album made a major impression on the then-aspiring pop/soul artist. At the time, she was a student at London’s Sylvia Young Theatre School, Amy’s alma mater.
“I remember when Amy released her first album, Frank, which is one of my favorites,” Rita tells Yahoo Music during an exclusive interview. “I remember hearing: ‘This girl used to go to our school.’ That was the first album I physically went out and bought.”
Rita was especially drawn to Amy’s deep singing voice. “I was always kind of fascinated being on more of the husky side of things,” she continues. “I kind of always wanted to hear what she did, ‘cause her voice was so smoky. It was a wakeup call for me. It was like, ‘Whoa, this is really cool.’”
Rita, who is currently on her Body on Me tour to promote her forthcoming worldwide debut LP, has always been willing to take risks to advance her art. She eventually dropped out of school to focus more her music.
“When I was 17, I took it upon myself to take charge of my destiny,” she says. “Yes, I took a risk. I had to get a part-time job. I scarified my relationship with my family because they are very traditional. I said, ‘If I’m going to do it, it has to be done.’”
Rita used her wages to pay musicians to perform with her. She played at her father’s pubs and other venues. “I never stopped performing, even if it was like two people in the room.”
Even after landing a publishing deal, moving to the U.S., and signing with Jay Z’s Roc Nation, the 24-year-old singer continues to push the boundaries, recently exposing one of her breasts in a cover story in the September issue of Glamour U.K.
Rita said it was her idea. “It’s OK to have curves and breasts,” she explained. “But the type of shoot it was, I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t feel right. I wanted to be an example for the kids that do buy Glamour. It’s OK if you got big titties and a bit of ass. You don’t have to have a model figure.”
Rita also pushes the sex appeal in her music video for “Body on Me,” a steamy duet with Chris Brown, who portrays her next-door crush. In a dream sequence, they meet up for a rendezvous. “We were giggly, because Chris is so funny,” she said, describing their interaction between takes. “I feel like we’re so similar. We both just got on with it. Our friends were there. It was very like, ‘We get what we need to do.’ Some women are like, ‘He’s so attractive,’ but you’ve got to be professional and not get distracted. Chris is so easy to work with. It was fun working with him.”
Watch the entire interview with Rita to find out what kind of advice she gets from Beyoncé and Prince, why her mother is her idol, the backstory on her Adidas fashion line, and why she described playing a drug addict in Southpaw as “cool.”