Paula Cole was a ninth-grader when her music career got its first big break - literally.

Back then, Cole aspired to be the cheerleader type and considered piano lessons a chore. She broke her foot, though, and spent a year recuperating."It forced my life to change," the singer said Wednesday before a concert in Interlochen, Mich. "That's when music became the thing I loved, as opposed to the thing I had to do."

Cole, who won the best new artist Grammy Award this year, did her share of wedding gigs and hotel lounge acts before she got a record contract in 1993. She said she's glad it turned out that way.

"Playing live is the best way to make a lasting career, to make a true relationship with fans," she said, adding that a live show "is where you see whether or not an artist really has talent or not."