Welsh soul singer Duffy has come second on the BBC's Sound of 2008 list.
The list was compiled by asking music critics and broadcasters for their favourite new artists, with the winner and full top 10 to be revealed on Friday.
Once in a while, a startling new voice seemingly comes out of nowhere.
Duffy's home town of Nefyn, north-west Wales, is not known as a hotbed of timeless, rousing soul, and her parents did not buy many records.
"I started singing blues and soul songs when I was really young," the 23-year-old explains. "And I didn't really have a record collection that would explain that."
Nor did she grow up in a musical family. "My mum does a terrible version of Patsy Cline's Crazy," she says. "My nan played the accordion in the war."
She was even kicked out of the school choir for being too "rough round the edges".
Duffy says she did not fully discover how to use her voice until she was spotted by Jeanette Lee, a former member of Public Image Limited and now Duffy's manager and mentor.
Only when Lee put Duffy into the studio to start recording her debut album several years ago did the singer begin to harness the full force of her vocal chords.
Duffy has been described as the new Dusty Springfield
"I'd never had the opportunity until I was in a studio and somebody pushed me up to those notes," Duffy says.
"I remember the day and I found something new. So I'm just learning about my voice at the moment as well."
She has learnt enough to draw comparisons with Dusty Springfield, combining the poise of the late legend with the power of Lulu and the pitch of Dolly Parton.
'Exciting and fierce'
Duffy insists she is still learning about the classic artists to whom she is compared.
"I didn't really know who Dusty was and what she stood for," she says.
"And now I understand her search for quality and her determination as an artist, and everything she achieved in this great collection of songs.
"Literally in the last month, I have only really started to understand."
Now she understands, she says she has a "long way to go" before she deserves those comparisons.
Her debut album Rockferry, released in the UK in March, may be a start.
Some songs were written and recorded with former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler, some with Jimmy Hogarth - who has worked with James Blunt, James Morrison and KT Tunstall - and the rest with Steve Booker.
"With Bernard it was exciting and fierce and you never knew what the day was going to bring," Duffy says. "He's a real artist and it's really a great experience.
"With Jimmy Hogarth I'd go in nine times out of 10 with an idea up my sleeve, and we'd have six hours and go for it and write a song.
"And I met Steve Booker by compete coincidence. I was looking for somewhere to live about a year ago, knocked on a door, met a songwriter, went to a studio and had an amazing two weeks writing the two last songs on the record."
The end result, she says is "a real mix, which brings out different qualities in me".
"Which I like, because I think there's different shades to everyone, and that's what I was trying to get."
The styles on the album reflect Duffy's own four-year journey from small town to big city, singing waitress to star-in-waiting.
"I started writing a record and reflecting what is, I think, southern soul, which is a slower paced soul," she says. "A little bit more from the country. There's no rush in the country.
"And then you get to the city and you face this northern soul - very upbeat, danceability, because the pace of life's a little quicker.
"So I faced that in making the record. I started in a place that was really laid back, came to the city and had the shock of my life and have had the most exciting times."
Almost 150 UK-based music writers, editors and broadcasters took part in the Sound of 2008 poll. They named their three favourite new acts and their responses were used to compile a top 10.