"Now I know who I am. I can move on from that chapter of my life," Tori Kelly told PEOPLE

By Char Adams
Updated July 22, 2016 04:35 PM
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Credit: Ethan Miller/Getty

Tori Kelly may be one of the music industry’s brightest new stars, but the road to stardom was no easy task.

The 23-year-old singer opened up about her latest album Unbreakable Smile and the journey to fame that helped her pen the 16-track project.

“I knew who I was. I knew the type of artist I wanted to be, but I think I was just in more of a state of, like, ‘Oh why won’t anyone believe in me?’ I was thinking about all the times I was getting turned down. [The album] is kind of a storyline of rejection for sure,” she told PEOPLE at the Propel Co:Labs Fitness Pop-Up on Thursday in New York City.

“Just taking all of those nos and turning them into something positive rather than something negative. It was just like this empowering feeling and I was hoping the whole time that people could relate to that and it seems like people could.”

Kelly released the album last summer before embarking on a whirlwind tour and stunning at last year’s BET Awards in a highly-anticipated performance. And now, with her debut album a year old, Kelly said she is ready to embark on a new journey – her second album.

“It feels good to have said all those things because now it’s like, ‘Okay, I said it.’ Now I know who I am. I can move on from that chapter of my life and move on to other things,” she said. “That’s why I’m so excited for the whole album-two process. It’s like a whole new journey for me.”

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The rising star has come a long way from singing cover songs and playing her guitar in YouTube videos, but Kelly told PEOPLE that her family and friends help keep her grounded as she stands in the spotlight.

“My family would just slap me if I ever got big-headed, they’d be like, ‘What are you doing?’ ” she joked. “My friends are the same way. I don’t have a lot of ‘yes’ people around me. They’re just very real and they’ll tell me like it is.”