Atlantic Records artist Joanna “JoJo” Levesque, 25, is poised to make a comeback after a years-long legal struggle with her former record label. Raised in Foxborough, she was a pop sensation at 13, when she became the youngest solo artist to have a No. 1 single with her hit “Leave (Get Out).” Two years later, she released “Too Little Too Late,” which climbed to No. 3 on the charts. At the end of 2013, she was freed from her former label and began creating a new album that captured her adult self, due to release later this year. She lives in Los Angeles.
JoJo I really attribute that to my New England upbringing, to be totally honest. I come from a blue-collar background. We don’t fuck around. I didn’t have a nice cushion to fall back on, and I take this very seriously. If I fuck up, it’s my fault. And my family’s going to be embarrassed. So have I gone off and done things they wouldn’t be thrilled with? Absolutely. But I think there’s a way to keep that to yourself and not broadcast it. I was never the one falling out of cars at clubs or advertising that I was high.
Was there ever a temptation to do that just for attention when you were struggling in your career? Hell, no. I don’t like that type of attention. I was struggling because my label didn’t have the ability to put out music anymore, and being a public mess wouldn’t change that. I was thinking about the future.
What do you think is most different about you now from when you started out? My boobs. [Laughs.] Seriously, I’ve grown up. I’ve gotten to see the world a few times over, and I realize that I know a lot less than I thought I did when I started. There’s so much more to learn.
Isn’t 25 young for a “comeback”? Yes. It feels strange, but I guess that is the word for it. I am coming back to being able to play in the major leagues. Call it what you want.
Song you sing in the shower? All kinds of stuff. Sometimes, because it brings me comfort, I’ll sing the church hymns that I used to hear my mom sing at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, when I was hanging out in the choir loft. I know that sounds random, but I guess I feel extra Catholic in the shower. Maybe I’m washing away my guilt. [Laughs.]
Song that sums up your life? Ooooh. Right now, I’m driving to the studio, and I’m thinking of the John Mayer song “Why Georgia.” I think he was young when he wrote it, but it’s about the choices he’s made in his life. I’m pretty emo, so I think that song sums it up for me.
Fantasy duet partner? Bruno Mars.
Person you’d most like to sing for? I like to sing for anybody who wants to listen.
Last time you Googled yourself? I don’t. You get enough feedback on social media. Googling yourself is just a slippery slope.
New Kids on the Block, *NSYNC or Backstreet Boys? New Kids! I mean, “Hangin’ Tough” is my jam. I like to listen to it before I go onstage. It makes me feel so badass.
Best perk of being a pop star? It’s funny, because people want to send you free things, and if you’re a pop star, you don’t really need free things.
Best swag you ever got? I got a vacation to Bermuda, and I was able to take my mom.
Worst part of being a pop star? I really can’t complain. I’m unbelievably lucky that I get to do this for a living. I think now with social media, there’s an expectation to respond and be everybody’s best friend. It’s hard to be everywhere at one time and still maintain your sanity.
Biggest extravagance? My car. I love to drive, and living in LA, I do it a lot, so I invested in a car with a great sound system and one I’ve always wanted since I was a little girl. A Jaguar.
Female vocalist you idolize? I’ve always idolized Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Chaka Khan, Lalah Hathaway, Jill Scott…the list goes on.
Are you a huge Patriots fan? I am, just by proximity, growing up in Foxborough. The stadium was my backyard. I could walk through the woods and hear the crowds, or concerts going on there.
Individual you admire most? A couple of people. My aunt and uncle, Connie and Dale. They’re an example of a marriage that’s lasted, and I haven’t seen a lot of that in my life. But the way that they are with their kids, the way they both have thriving careers—he owns a paint company, and she’s in real estate—I admire that. They’re high school sweethearts. They’re just solid people. That’s what I admire most.
Thing you’d tell your younger self? Be nice to your mom. She’s doing the best she can.
What biopic would you be perfect for? I’m not sure it’s perfect casting, but it would be amazing to play Janis Joplin.
Three adjectives that describe your voice? Powerful. Vulnerable. Imperfect.
Funniest thing you ever read about yourself? Well, there’s this persistent rumor that I’m related to Triple H, the wrestler. He has the same last name as me.
Strangest fan encounter? A couple of times, guys have tried to kiss me on the mouth. They were probably just drunk, but that’s always fun.
That fits the category of worst thing about being a pop star. Yes. That people think they can just tongue you down.
Favorite venue to play? I love playing any House of Blues—the energy, the acoustics, everything about it. But I really love the one in Boston.
You got into Northeastern, but will you ever matriculate? I don’t know. I would love to. It’s such a great school, and they have a great sociology department. But I have no idea where life will take me in the next few years.
Thing you do to relax? I like driving to the beach late at night and walking out into the sand and feeling very small under the stars and the sky and having waves wash over my feet. That’s very calming and grounding. Otherwise, I read to take me out of myself and my worries. It puts me in another place.
One thing most people would be surprised to learn about you? [Laughs.] I don’t know if it’s surprising, but I swear like a sailor and I can handle my liquor.
Photographed by Martin Rusch in Los Angeles; Styling: Alvin Stillwell; Hair: Karina Vega; Makeup: Michal Cohen; Wardrobe: Tibi sweater (top), Nasty Gal shirt, Zara skirt, KissKill bra (middle), N°21 sweater, Marimekko trousers, Sergio Rossi heels (bottom)