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As a story, Jewel's origin is impossible to beat: on her way up, the singer/songwriter lived in a van on the West Coast, struggling to find an entrance to a career as a professional musician. This hardscrabble tale, only enhanced by her Alaskan upbringing, stood in direct contrast to the sweet, gentle hits "Who Will Save Your Soul," "You Were Meant for Me," and "Foolish Games" from her 1995 debut album, Pieces of You, songs that never suggested a tough background. Jewel could tap into her blue-collar beginnings as often as she relied on her sensitive side, a skill she transferred to a number of settings, including books of poetry, acting and reality TV, collections of holiday and children's songs, a glitzy pop makeover, and an earnest few years as a country singer. Although her run on the Billboard singles charts came to a close in the last years of the 2000s, Jewel never stopped working, touring steadily and appearing regularly on television, appearing on Nashville Star, Dancing with the Stars, and The Voice before triumphing as the winning contestant on the sixth season of The Masked Singer in 2021. Her success set the stage for 2022's Freewheelin' Woman, the liveliest pop album she's made in years. Jewel Kilcher is a native of Homer, Alaska, where her family relocated after her 1974 birth in Payson, Utah. Jewel began singing at an early age, performing at tourist attractions in Homer, and after her parents' divorce, she stayed with her father, performing with him as he toured the country. As a teenager, she attended Interlochen Fine Arts Academy in Michigan, which is where she made her first stabs at songwriting. Once she graduated Interlochen, she moved to San Diego to be with her mother, and after working for a while, she decided to pursue music as a career. She ditched creature comforts and moved into her van, attempting to get gigs wherever she could, eventually landing a regular spot at the Inner Change coffeehouse in Pacific Beach. She soon built up a loyal following, which translated to a contract with Atlantic Records and its release of the live-sounding Pieces of You in early 1995. Pieces of You was not an immediate hit, but Jewel and Atlantic worked it steadily, with the singer/songwriter touring the country and the label releasing single versions that eventually caught hold over a year after the album's release, beginning with "Who Will Save Your Soul." "You Were Meant for Me" and "Foolish Games" followed over the course of 1996, helping send Pieces of You to an astonishing 12-times-platinum level, making it one of the best-selling debuts of all time. Its success allowed Jewel to pursue whatever she wanted, beginning with Night Without Armor, a collection of her poetry. This was a rest stop on the way to her sophomore set, Spirit, a string-heavy sentimental record. Although not the sales triumph of Pieces of You, it still reached the U.S. Top Three and achieved multi-platinum status. Jewel followed Spirit with the seasonal Joy: A Holiday Collection for Christmas 1999, while Chasing Down the Dawn -- a spoken word album featuring unabridged selections from the book of the same name -- appeared in the fall of 2000. This Way arrived one year later and featured such stand-out singles as "Standing Still"; it also hinted at Jewel's growing fondness for dance music, as a remixed version of "Serve the Ego" wound up topping the American dance/club charts in 2002. Even so, fans and critics were shocked when the singer's next release, 0304, turned out to be a slick dance-pop album (it became her highest-charting, at number two). Just as unexpected was Jewel's decision to allow a leading razor brand to use her album's hit single, "Intuition," for an advertising campaign. Her new image didn't last long, however, and Goodbye Alice in Wonderland -- released in May 2006 -- marked a return to the warm sound of the singer's earlier work. Although it debuted in the Billboard Top Ten, the album failed to go platinum or gold, and marked the end of Jewel's association with Atlantic Records. Working with producer John Rich of Big & Rich, Jewel subsequently refashioned herself as a country singer for 2008's Perfectly Clear, which debuted atop the country albums charts. It was followed in 2010 by the similarly successful (and dutifully countrified) Sweet & Wild. Jewel released a children's album, The Merry Goes 'Round, the following year through the Fisher-Price label. A greatest-hits album came out in 2012, followed by another Christmas album in 2013 (Let It Snow: A Holiday Collection), but Jewel's most prominent placement in pop culture came as a judge on the televised competition The Sing-Off in 2013. In 2015, she returned with Picking Up the Pieces, an album that recalled her folky beginnings and was accompanied by the release of Never Broken: Songs Are Only Half the Story, her second autobiography. Over the next five years, Jewel busied herself with film and television, appearing as home renovation expert Shannon Hughes in a trio of Hallmark Channel movies called The Fixer Upper Mysteries (2017-2018). Another notable project was Lost in America, a 2018 documentary on homelessness, which featured her song "No More Tears" as its theme. Jewel re-entered the mainstream spotlight in 2021, when she was the Queen of Hearts on the sixth season of the televised singing competition The Masked Singer. That December, she took home the crown and issued the companion covers EP Queen of Hearts. Not long after her win on The Masked Singer, Jewel released Freewheelin' Woman, a vibrant, soulful album produced by Butch Walker that was heavily inspired by the R&B groove of Muscle Shoals. Freewheelin' Woman featured a new version of "No More Tears" sung as a duet with Darius Rucker; Train's Pat Monahan also appeared on the record, singing with Jewel on "Dancing Slow." It reached the Top 100 of the Billboard 200.
© Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo


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