Create & Cultivate 100: Music: Tori Kelly

When you rise to fame on American Idol, people pretty much expect you to stay in your pop star lane.

But not Tori Kelly. Released in September, her sophomore album Hiding Place is decidedly gospel. A collaboration with legend Kirk Franklin, the album felt like a natural next step to Tori, who grew up listening to gospel music and wanted to come into her own after her first album, a pop sensation that hit #2 on the Billboard 200.

That move took guts. But for Tori, it wasn’t a choice. She wanted to share her truth, even if it wasn’t Top 40-friendly. And that’s how she approaches everything in her career—with honesty, relatability, and the pursuit of fulfillment.

Read on for Tori’s take on following your passion full-force.

You debuted your first gospel album, Hiding Place, after your 2015 pop album reached #2 on the charts. What drove you to release a Christian music album?

Gospel music was always playing in my house as a kid and I really studied a lot of gospel singers growing up. It honestly just started out as a small idea, and when the opportunity came to work with the legendary Kirk Franklin, I knew it would be a special project.

Were you worried about how your fans would receive your new album?

I knew some people wouldn't understand it, but I wasn't worried. I hoped that my fans would at least feel encouragement and hope when they heard these songs. I wanted them to really see my heart and what I was passionate about.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

I've always gotten advice and encouragement from my parents. They have always pushed me to write and produce my own songs. They even got me my first guitar for Christmas one year. I think that really gave me the confidence to believe that I could do this thing on my own and even do shows with just me and a guitar.

What do you hope your fans and listeners feel when they listen to your music?

When people listen to my music I hope that they feel like they're not alone. Whether it’s a sad song or an uplifting song, I hope they feel like someone can relate to them, and that they are loved.

What advice would you give to young women who need courage to make a change or shift in their careers?

I would say to make sure you have a support system around you to push you and challenge you, but also to make sure you have a vision. Set long-term goals and short-term goals for yourself and take it step by step.

Which women in your industry do you look up to most? Why?

I honestly look up to the women on my team. They might not be front and center all the time, but they are the ones that make stuff happen. These confident women have so much drive and determination while also having a loving tenderness and care about them. I'm so blessed to work with the women on my team.

When I focus on the people around me and how they are doing, that’s when I'm the most fulfilled.

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Where do you get your inspiration for your songs?

I have to write songs that I connect with somehow. I mostly write about my own life experiences, but occasionally I'll try to see life through the lens of someone else.

When you hit a bump or hurdle in your career, how do you find new roads + switch gears to find success?

I love this quote by C.S. Lewis: “The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one's 'own,' or 'real' life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one's real life—the life God is sending one day by day.”

Although it can be hard sometimes, I've tried to live like that. It's all about perspective. Something that seems like a "bump" in the road might actually be the very thing you needed.

What keeps you up at night?

Usually when I can't sleep it’s because I start getting creative super late or I'll get a song idea that I have to work out.

What about your job makes you feel the most fulfilled?

I am so thankful that I get to call this music thing a career. It's still wild to me. But I am the most fulfilled when I don't make it all about me. It’s the best feeling when someone tells me how one of my songs affected them or got them through a hard situation. When I focus on the people around me and how they are doing, that’s when I'm the most fulfilled. Life is such a gift, and I believe no matter what your job is or how successful you are, loving people is the most important thing.