BLU CANTRELL’S VOICE WAS HOARSE after celebrating with some of the biggest names in pop music the night before. She would be a guest at MTV’s Video Music Awards party in a few hours.

“I went to Pink’s birthday party, and that was great. And Puffy P. Diddy had a party and everybody was there and it was all just really great,” the singer/songwriter told POLLSTAR between yawns from a New York City hotel room.

That’s some pretty heady company to keep for a Rhode Island girl whose striking good looks caught the eye of a RedZone Entertainment employee while she was visiting Atlanta only about a year ago.

“Basically, someone approached me in a hotel lobby and said that I looked like a singer,” Cantrell said of her discovery. “And I said, ‘Well, actually, I am a singer.’ I guess it was a pickup line but he brought me to RedZone and they signed me after they heard me sing.”

“They” are hip-hop entrepreneurs Tab and C. “Tricky” Stewart, who set Cantrell up with local showcases, sparking an immediate bidding war for her services. They also called another friend, newly installed Arista Records CEO L.A. Reid, to come down to Atlanta to see her.

Reid signed her on the spot.

His instinct was right on the mark. Blu Cantrell’s debut album, So Blu, was released July 31st and hit No. 8 on the Soundscan album chart its first week on the strength of the lead single, the lover’s revenge ditty “Hit ‘Em Up Style (Oops!).”

The song, about a woman who takes her payback in the form of a shopping spree on her cad’s wallet, quickly vaulted to the top of the singles chart.

“The women just love that song,” Cantrell said, laughing. She reflected on the single that skyrocketed her from an unknown backup singer to star, and quickly turned serious. “It’s definitely, definitely so much of a surprise. It’s nothing that I expected to go that far and it’s been really great. I’m really glad that people like the song it’s a cool song.”

Success is never as sudden as it seems, of course. Arista knew it had a star in the making, and artist relations VP Mark Shimmel told POLLSTAR how the label went about spreading the news.

Blu Cantrell

“First, we showcased her at the Impact convention. Then she was our live performer on what we call the Arista Roadshow, where we went to four different cities to do radio, retail and press. We played our upcoming music and she was the live attraction that we presented. That got a really big buzz going,” Shimmel said.

“We really don’t look at Blu as comparing to a lot of the current niche of certain R&B female singers, whether it be Alicia Keys or India.Arie or anyone like that, because we really think she has a distinct slot of her own. And we’re very comfortable with who she is and where she fits in the format.

“Fortunately for the industry today, as much as you look at the tightening of radio playlists and the conglomeration of radio stations, there’s still enough room for great records and great artists,” he said of the inevitable comparisons between his artist and rival J Records’ rising newcomer Keys.

He brushed off any suggestion the artists should even be compared. “From this point forward, the only one Blu has to compete with is Blu herself, because she’s gotten such a successful start, it’s really only about bettering herself on her own, where she sets the bar for herself.”

The exec has every reason to expect her to do just that. “Our research shows that we’re going to maintain this level of success for a while. We’re very comfortable with the next couple of singles from the record.”

Several of the songs on the record were produced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, but most of the lyrics were written by Cantrell.

“To me, it’s better when a song comes from you, or whatever you’re feeling. … I don’t really care for other people to write for me. I feel like if I’m going to be singing it, it has to be emotions that I feel,” she said.

And that’s just fine with Arista.

“One of the things we’re most pleased about with Blu is that in this era of music, a lot of artists are deemed to be ‘producer driven.’ Blu is a real performer. She’s one of these girls that can just get up there and, as they used to say on Broadway, ‘sing to the balcony,'” Shimmel enthused.

“For a record company, there’s nothing more exciting than breaking a new artist. To break her with this type of success out of the box has been so exciting for the whole company and, obviously, with the new administration to come in and hit the ground running has been a wonderful experience,” Shimmel said. “She’s just a terrific personality to do this with.”

Cantrell feels the same way about her label. “I can honestly say that Arista has just extraordinary people and they’re amazing. Everyone has just treated me like I was family here.”

She plans to set the bar high. “I want to be able to do a concert even if I don’t have an album out, where people will want to come. … I would hope that I would be an established artist that people would know and want to come see and listen to my music and sing along to the songs. Yeah!”