Lizzo dropped out of college and lived in her car before making it big

Dave Simpson

At the 62nd Grammy Awards on Sunday, Lizzo is nominated for eight awards across five categories including Best New Artist and Album of the Year. The 31-year-old classically-trained flutist, singer and rapper received more nominations than any other artist this year.

But in a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Lizzo, who's given name is Melissa Jefferson, talked about her days before commercial success: Lizzo said she dropped out of college before her junior year, and had to live in her car, which almost made her give up music entirely.

Growing up in Houston, Texas, Lizzo learned how to play the flute in fifth grade band class and developed a love for classical music. In eighth grade, she joined the marching band, and by high school she was training one-on-one with the principal flutist for the Houston Ballet.

"I was just so good at flute," Lizzo told Rolling Stone on Tuesday. "[I thought], 'This is it for me. I'm going to college for this s---.' I knew back then." Indeed, she majored in music at the University of Houston on scholarship and played piccolo for the Cougar Marching Band.

The goal was to join a symphony ensemble after graduation, but Lizzo dropped out of college before her junior year. Her father, who was always very supportive of Lizzo's flute playing, became sick, and money was tight.

"I didn't have a purpose, like I didn't feel like I had a purpose for being a musician or anything," she told "CBS This Morning" on Monday.

Lizzo is not alone: Only 41% of first-time full-time college students will earn a bachelor's degree in four years, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Experts say that financial barriers and unexpected personal challenges are two common issues that get in the way of students completing degrees on time.

"I was sad and disappointed in myself, because I'd always been so advanced in school, the golden child," Lizzo told Texas Music Magazine in October. "So when I wasn't successful, I was like, 'Who am I?' I thought my life was going to be something else, and it wasn't happening."

After leaving college, "when I gave up on flute and when I stopped talking to my friends, I feel like, that life just vanished," Lizzo told "CBS Sunday Morning" in October. Lizzo slept on friends' couches and floors around Houston, because her parents had moved to Denver. Eventually, she lived out of her car, a 1999 Subaru, for six months.

"That was my home for a little," Lizzo told "CBS This Morning" on Monday. "I spent Thanksgiving in that car, and I remember I cried myself to sleep."

It wasn't until Lizzo answered a random Craigslist post soliciting a lead vocalist for a band in 2008 that she even considered singing. On a whim, she tried out to be the front woman, and she got the job. "That was fun. I got confidence to be a front woman. I had confidence to express myself," she told "CBS Sunday Morning."

When the band broke up in 2011, Lizzo moved to Minneapolis where she received her big break from Prince, who "co-signed" her music. In fact, she performed on his 2014 song "Boy Trouble."

"Prince was the first person to really make me feel validated as an artist when I heard that track," Lizzo told NPR in June. "And I got paid! My first big check ever." She put the paycheck toward three months of her rent, and splurged on a laptop, she told Texas Music Magazine. "I don't really live too crazy," she said. "I'm proud of my good business sense."

In 2017, Lizzo released "Truth Hurts," the first single from her 2019 album, "Cuz I Love You," but was so discouraged by the lack of response that she contemplated quitting music again. A month after releasing the album in May, it peaked the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Chart.

"Now the song that made me want to quit is the song that everyone's falling in love with me for," Lizzo told People in July, "which is such a testament to journeys: Your darkest day turns into your brightest triumph."

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