You never would guess that Christina Perri had a stomach bug when she stepped onto the Electric Factory stage three months ago. “I’m home,” she sang into the microphone to the capacity crowd of 2,800. Her fans shrieked and nearly blew the roof off the venue as Perri marveled at the scene with aw-shucks bemusement: “I’m just a girl from Bensalem.”
Now back in her current everyday home in L.A., Perri recalls the show with fondness. “It was incredible,” she says. “It wasn’t just that I was playing a hometown show; it was all about playing the Electric Factory. I saw all of my favorite bands there. I remember seeing the Strokes, Coldplay and my brother’s band at the Electric Factory. (Her brother, Nick Perri, played with Silvertide.) I remember they played there around Halloween, and my mother dressed up as my brother. That was unforgettable. Nothing could stop me from playing the Electric Factory”—not even the virus that had left her miserably sick on her parents’ couch earlier that day. “I was uplifted by the crowd’s response,” she says. “I didn’t feel anything but good.”
Now the Archbishop Ryan alum is getting ready for homecoming show 2.0 Friday at Revel’s Ovation Hall in Atlantic City. “I may have grown up outside of Philadelphia, but in many ways, I also felt like I grew up at the Jersey shore,” Perri says. “We vacationed in Ocean City, and we have an aunt in Brigantine. When I turned 21, I would go to the Borgata with my brother, and we had some fun nights there. Atlantic City is close enough for my friends and family. I don’t know if I’ll have 150 guests like I did at the Electric Factory, which was so magical, but I know I’ll have fun. This has been quite a journey.”
It wasn’t that long ago that Perri, 27, was working as a waitress at the Eddington House in Bensalem and, prior to that, at Montesano Bros. in Pottstown. “I loved working in both places,” she says. “I was surrounded by such great people. I remember my last night at the Eddington House, they had a party for me, and the waitresses pooled all their tips together and gave me thousands of dollars since I was leaving.”
Perri left for the West Coast to further her career on her 21st birthday. “I took my little guitar and my big fat dream to Los Angeles,” she says. It wasn’t easy initially for the sensitive singer-songwriter: “I cried myself to sleep every night for three months. Los Angeles is so different than the East Coast. Everyone out here is so beautiful.”
She grinded it out as a waitress for three years ‘til a friend slipped a copy of her ballad “Jar of Hearts” to a choreographer from the Fox show So You Think You Can Dance. The producers fell for the love song, and that TV spotlight set the ball rolling. More than 100,000 fans downloaded the agreeable pop tune—enabling the unknown Perri to crack the Billboard Top 40 two weeks after her song aired on the show.
“It’s a crazy story,” Perri says. “It’s such a unique tale. I got really lucky. I felt like Cinderella. On June 29, 2010, I was a waitress. The following night, the song was on [TV], and everything exploded. All of a sudden, I had 6,000 Facebook friend requests. I quit my job the next day. Every major label approached me about signing with them.”
Within two weeks, Perri inked a deal with Atlantic Records—and she had yet to make her live debut. That changed a week later, when she debuted on The Early Show on CBS. Within a year, the amiable singer-songwriter had released an EP, The Ocean Way Sessions, and her debut album, Lovestrong, which features “Jar of Hearts.”
“It was great to have my single embraced, and then there was the album,” Perri says. “It was a nice start. I owe so much to ‘Jar of Hearts.’ Before the song took off, I wasn’t the most comfortable in front of an audience, but that obviously changed.”
It’s hard to believe Perri, who’s showcasing cuts from her latest album, Head or Heart, ever had issues performing in front of a crowd. During her performance at the Electric Factory, she constantly engaged the audience, joking and dropping anecdotes, despite her stomach bug.
“I’m incredibly comfortable now onstage,” she says. “All of my fear is gone. I have no problem playing any city. It’s an adventure, and it’s interesting playing Philadelphia or places close to it, because Philadelphians either really love you or hate you. They let you know how they feel. I remember going to Phillies games and how fans reacted to certain players. It’s the same with music: If they love you, they embrace you. I love that about Philly. It’s a great place to live. It’s a great place to see anyone perform. I remember the first concert I ever experienced. It was Kris Kross at the Spectrum after a Sixers game. I’ll never forget running down the steps with my pants on backwards. I’m glad that trend ended. But it was a fun night.”
The gritty city has helped shape Perri, who returns home whenever she can, as a songwriter. Head or Heart is full of passionate, introspective and earnest ballads. “I waited until I was inspired,” she says. “It took three weeks for inspiration to hit. The songs come from my life, my way of thinking. But I also think the songs reflect my roots. They’re based on reality, much like Philadelphia, which is a wear-it-on-your-sleeve kind of city. I’m like Philadelphia: I’m rough around the edges. And I won’t take any shit from anybody.”
Fri., July 25, 9pm. $29.50-$49.50. Revel Ovation Hall, 500 Boardwalk, Atlantic City, N.J. 855.348.0500. revelresorts.com