Katie Melua

Like many U.K. artists, Katie Melua lives in two worlds. In Europe, she’s one of the fastest-rising stars on the continent, moving 4,500 tickets the day she announces a show.

And, album-wise, she’s just raking it in: Her debut, Call Off The Search, has sold 1.4 million units in the U.K. alone and she has a œ2 million, five-album record deal. (Search reached No. 1 in February, knocking Dido off the top slot, and Queen Elizabeth personally told Melua she’s heard her song on the radio.)

Then, when she wants to take a break from the hubbub, she comes to the U.S. for a month to play small clubs, relax and go shopping without anyone noticing.

It’s the classic story of two markets separated by a common language where U.K. artists need to find a way to break Stateside.

“To be honest, nobody has to tell me (how hard it is). I know it’s a very hard thing to do because it’s such a huge country,” the Russian-born 20-year-old told Pollstar. “You have to spend loads of time over here touring and promoting.”

But nobody is doubting Melua will be embraced by America, not her, her manager Mike Batt, nor her William Morris agent, Barbara Skydel (who built Premier Talent with Frank Barsalona).

Skydel knows a thing or two about how to break new artists. At Premier, she saw the rise of The Who, Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, Van Halen, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Jimi Hendrix, U2, and Santana, just to name a few.

“I think she’s just a beautiful singer, a fantastic stylist and I think she’s going to be a huge star,” Skydel told Pollstar. “Part of the excitement is in building an artist, and I’ve been involved with so many, many artists since the very beginning. Obviously, the journey is very exciting and, obviously, you want to get to that big stop, but everything in its own time.”

Melua’s story is unique. She signed to a very small record label (Dramatico had a three-person staff and Melua was its only artist), and she probably would have languished in obscurity if it wasn’t for England’s last independent radio DJ.

Much like in the U.S., England disc jockeys have to follow a strict playlist handed down by their superiors, except for the BBC’s Terry Wogan. Last winter, he spun Melua’s “The Closest Thing To Crazy” and was flooded with calls.

That’s not unusual for Wogan, who introduced the U.K. to Eva Cassidy and Norah Jones under the same premise.

Dramatico, which currently has a staff of seven, had a tough time with the surge, partially because it doubles as Melua’s management company.

Batt is a recognizable presence in the U.K. He founded one of the country’s most curious rock bands, The Wombles, a group of teddy bears based on a series of children’s novels.

Katie Melua

The manager is also a well-known record producer and songwriter. Batt signed Melua after seeing her perform at the Brit School of Performing Arts in London, and composed many of the songs on her album, including the breakout single.

He told Pollstar Dramatico’s phones rang off the hook around Christmastime, with the head honchos of U.S. record labels cold calling.

“The pressure was almost impossible to take because we knew that however much we talked to all of the people who were very kindly calling us, we were going to have to disappoint nearly all of them,” Batt said. “That was very pressure-filled, but also very exciting.”

Melua said she originally tried to get signed to a U.S. label; she and Batt came to New York City and shopped demos to the various record companies. It was a great idea

give the U.S. label a chance to be the first in line to start the project.

“That all went to bollocks though, because it didn’t happen,” Melua said.

But while in New York, the two met with Skydel, who knew Batt through one of his signed artists, The Planets. Skydel got ready for Melua’s U.S. debut even before Universal Music Group signed her. Earlier this year, if you wanted to hear Melua’s CD, the only place to find it in the U.S. was at Skydel’s office.

“I have to tell you, and this is no bull, her songs go ’round in my head when I’m asleep,” Skydel said. “Everyone I’ve played her record to, it’s amazing how they run out and buy it. A friend of mine ran out and bought 10 copies for all of her friends.”

“[Barbara’s] a formidable woman,” Batt said. “I think it’s because she understands Katie so well. She has a kind of motherly relationship with Katie. When Barbara is in action with both guns blazing, you sort of have to get out of the way.”

William Morris Agency is bringing Melua to the States this month, starting at New York City’s intimate Fez Under Time club August 22nd and wrapping in Kansas City, Mo.’s Grand Emporium September 2nd. Most of the gigs are in small venues, but she gets to play to a potential 7,500 in Orlando, Fla.’s City Walk at Universal Studios. Another U.S. visit is in the works for October through November.

Meanwhile, sales of her record, after debuting high on SoundScan’s New Artist Chart, took a dip and then began to steadily climb back up again. Melua predicted as much in her interview.

“It was a very slow process in England,” she said. “I think it’s the type of record that needs to grow slowly. Really, for me, the best way is if it got big, not huge, through word of mouth because that is what happened in England.”