The J-pop singer Kana Nishino belongs to the small host of Japanese performers who made it through high-profile music contests -- in her case, the 40,000-strong Miss Phoenix Audition in 2005.
But the ground was being prepared long before that: Nishino, who was born in 1989, studied English from an early age and visited the U.S. twice as a child, acquiring a love of hip-hop and R&B, which in her case became combined with an interest in Japanese folk music. She sent her demo tape to the contest without informing her parents, but they allowed her to get signed to SME Records in 2006, although she went on to study at the university as well, majoring in English literature. There she met the Aussie duo Nervo, who gave her their song "I Don't Wanna Know"; Nishino translated the tune into Japanese, renamed it "I" and used it as her debut single, releasing it digitally as well as physically in 2008. Things picked up fast for her, as her third single "Style" (2008) was used in the anime series Soul Eater, and the fourth one, "Make Up" (2009), was featured in Chocolate Underground, an anime adaptation of the BBC miniseries Bootleg. Her fifth R&B-tinged single, "Tokutemo," featuring Wise, was her first to enter the Oricon Top 50, and "Kimi ni Aitaku Narukara" climbed to number 14. Her debut album, Love One, which featured all of her singles to date, as well as a guest appearance by Verbal from M-Flo, came out in 2009 and charted at number four. ~ Alexey Eremenko, Rovi