Adele Laurie Blue Adkins was born on May 5, 1988, in North London, England. She was the only child of Penny Adkins, an "arty mom" who was just 18 at the time of her birth, and a Welsh father, Mark, who left the family when Adele was only 4 years old.

Mark, who never married Penny, remained in contact with his daughter up until her teen years, when his problems with alcohol, and increasing estrangement from his daughter, caused their relationship to deteriorate. By contrast, Adele grew close to her mom, who encouraged her young daughter "to explore, and not to stick with one thing."

Early on, Adele developed a passion for music. She gravitated toward the songs of Lauryn Hill, Destiny's Child and Mary J. Blige. But her true, eye-opening moment came when she was 15, and she happened upon a collection of Etta James and Ella Fitzgerald records at a local junk shop. "There was no musical heritage in our family," Adele told The Telegraph in a 2008 interview. "Chart music was all I ever knew. So when I listened to the Ettas and the Ellas, it sounds so cheesy, but it was like an awakening. I was like, oh, right, some people have proper longevity and are legends. I was so inspired that as a 15-year-old I was listening to music that had been made in the 40s."

While clearly bright, Adele wasn't a match for regular classroom work. Instead, her mother enrolled her in the BRIT School for Performing Arts & Technology, which counts Amy Winehouse as an alum.

While at school, Adele cut a three-track demo for a class project, which was eventually posted on her MySpace page. When executives at XL Recordings heard the tracks, they contacted the singer and, in November 2006, just four months after Adele had graduated school, signed her to a record deal.

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