Linda Perry, the prolific producer and songwriter for Pink, Christina Aguilera, Gwen Stefani and others, was in London to get a jolt of inspiration from the city's trendsetting music scene when a friend slipped her a demo from an unknown singer-songwriter.
It was poorly produced and Perry deemed it mediocre as a whole. Yet the scratchy tenor and lyrical content left Perry transfixed when she heard it three years ago.
"Anybody with an ear could hear that this guy was amazing," says Perry, who maintained her poker face while she was listening but recalls "kicking my manager under the table like, 'Oh my God!"'
Now the rest of the world knows why Perry was so riveted. The singer on that demo, James Blunt (whom Perry signed to her fledgling label) has become music's latest It Boy due to his soulful, stirring single, "You're Beautiful." The ballad, about a split-second encounter with a stunning woman that leaves him wondering what might have been, became a mainstay on adult contemporary formats before crossing over to top 40 radio, where it has become a top 20 hit.
"Every time we play it, we get phone calls and messages asking, 'Who is it?"' says Sharon Dastur, the assistant program director at pop station WHTZ-FM (Z-100) in New York City. "It's just one of those songs that people are just so drawn to that people want to keep hearing it."
But Blunt doesn't want people to get too caught up in "You're Beautiful" -- because he thinks his debut album, "Back to Bedlam," has a lot more to offer.
"It's like a book, like 10 chapters," he says of the disc, which was released last fall and is approaching gold status. "It seems sometimes ludicrous to sometimes focus on Chapter 4."
While the chapters on "Bedlam" may captivate, they may not be as interesting as some chapters in the 28-year-old Blunt's life. He knew since he was a youth that he wanted to be a musician; he was trained in guitar, piano and violin and began writing songs at 14.
But instead of focusing on music full time when he became of age, he got a military scholarship and served four years in the British army after graduating from college. That led to him being stationed as a reconnaissance officer in Kosovo in 1999 as part of the NATO peacekeeping force.