Why Jewel says she turned down a million-dollar signing bonus when she was homeless

The singer-songwriter spoke on "No Limits with Rebecca Jarvis"

ByABC News
April 5, 2017, 1:55 PM
Four-time Grammy nominee Jewel.
Four-time Grammy nominee Jewel.
Jeff Fasano

— -- Before she was a four-time Grammy nominee and sold 30 million albums, Jewel Kilcher, who is now known simply as Jewel, was homeless.

She left Homer, Alaska, at the age of 15 to attend a fine arts school in Michigan. From there, she went to San Diego, California where she began playing her own music in a coffee shop. It was around this time that she began living out of her car.

"I didn't share with people that I was homeless, where I slept," Jewel told Rebecca Jarvis on ABC's podcast "No Limits with Rebecca Jarvis." "I never wanted attention for negative reasons, I wanted attention for hopefully my talents."

Those talents began to garner a lot of attention and the young artist was courted by major record labels.

"Do I want to be famous and rich or do I want to be an artist?" Jewel said. "I used that as my road map to guide me on my decision-making and I turned down a million dollar signing bonus as a homeless kid."

"I wrote very vulnerable songs, you know, that were very honest and very gut-wrenching," she continued. "When record labels came to sign me I knew that fame was a path a lot of people lost their footing on and I was a real great candidate for that."

Determined not to lose her sense of self in the midst of fame, she opted to take it slow and grow her career in a more organic, way even if it meant turning down a million dollars.

"I learned that you owe that money back. If my record wasn't successful within a year I would have been dropped, I would have ended up homeless again," she said. "I would have had to make a record that was guaranteed to be a hit, which I didn't know how to do. I was a folk singer at the height of grunge."

She said she decided to turn down the up front money and build her fan base, crafting a deal that would allow her the freedom to grow a career the way she wanted -- staying true and authentic to her music and, most importantly, to herself.

"I knew I had to be most diligent about my number one job, [which] was to figure out how to be a good human and a whole human, my number two job was to build a music career."

Since those early days she has built a successful music career and much more. She is a bestselling author, a producer and an actress, who most recently starred in "Concrete Evidence: A Fixer Upper Mystery" on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. She has also built an online platform "to help people find emotional fitness" at JewelNeverBroken.com, incorporating mindfulness techniques she has used throughout her life to combat depression and anxiety.

She said her motto during her long career has always been "hardwood grows slowly" and her advice for aspiring artists stems from that mantra.

"If you can emotionally connect with a human being ... and cause them to emotionally invest with you, you have something," she said. "Then you just have to go about it the old-fashioned way and create enough of a fan base that you have enough leverage to negotiate any kind of deal for yourself."

"You know the hardwood trees live the longest, have the longest careers, did it the right way," she added. "There's steps to go through and it's earning it. Shortcuts aren't to be trusted."

You can hear Jewel's full interview on ABC Radio's top business podcast, No Limits with Rebecca Jarvis.