From Karaoke to Opening for Kanye West: Inside Pop Singer Che'Nelle's Unconventional Rise to Fame

Christina Dugan

Pop artist Che’Nelle was destined for greatness at a young age.

The Malaysian-born artist, who released her new single, “Hand It Over,” on Thursday, opened up to PEOPLE about her journey to success — and that time she opened up for Kanye West.

Born to a Chinese father and a mother of mixed Indian and Dutch heritage, Che’Nelle moved to Australia as a young girl and instantly discovered a love for music.

“I remember being at my father’s karaoke lounge when I was 6 or 7,” says the 36-year-old singer. “That was the first stage — that’s where it all started. It started off where I was just humming along to songs. As I grew older, [my dad] said I would start making up words and my own melodies on top of whatever he played.”

From there, Che’Nelle started to write and sing her own material, competed in music competitions around Australia and eventually landed a deal with Virgin America Music (now known as Capitol Records).

“I took a risk,” she says of making the move to the United States to pursue her dream. “Everything moved super fast.”

Before she knew it, Che’Nelle began writing songs for hit artists like Leona Lewis and had song placements in TV shows such as Fox’s Empire and TBS’s Reverse.

But her career highlight? Opening for West on the Australian leg of his 2008 tour. “It was really crazy,” she says. “I got offered this opportunity and it was a really fun experience.”

Now, the rising star is excited to share her most recent single, “Hand It Over.”

“The whole concept of the song started in a playful, flirtatious manner,” she says of her single, which will hit radio next week. “That’s where my headspace was at the time. Whether it’s your love, your money, your time. Stop holding onto what you’ve got and hand it over.”

And while navigating Hollywood can be tricky at times, Che’Nelle says she’s found a way to push through.

“It’s very easy to fall into a world of come and goers,” she says. “I’ve been blessed to have really good people around me. People that I trust and that I can open up to and get an idea of where I’m at. I really take my alone time really seriously. That’s where I really get to be away from all the noise.”