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Former Idol contestant Latia Lee bounces back from tragedy

She releases a new EP next week, two years after her brother's murder

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In 2012, Latia Lee saw her dreams of being a well-known singer seemingly right at her fingertips: The Pittsburgher had wowed judges in the initial round of American Idol and had gotten the golden ticket to Hollywood and a spot in the top 25.

Then the unforeseen death of her grandfather put a damper on the up-and-coming artist. "He passed away the day I was supposed to perform and I was a wreck," she explains; her overall demeanor, which reflected in the audition, led to her being eliminated. "When I came home, I was depressed," she says, "because I knew I was there and I knew I had messed up."

In 2013, Lee began to stage a comeback of sorts, releasing her first official mixtape, Dear Diary, in March. It also featured her sister, Latasha Marie Lee. Just as that release started to get attention online, though, tragedy struck: Lee's younger brother, Steven "Brub" Lee Jr., whom she called her "No. 1 fan," was gunned down in what became known in the local news as the "party bus shooting." There were several arrests made in relation to the murder; one suspect's trial ended in a hung jury just last week.

Singer Latia Lee
  • Photo courtesy of Jordan Beckham
  • Latia Lee

Latia took refuge and clung closely to her family after the tragedy, continuing what her brother wanted her to do: sing. "He told us that he needed us to do that," she says. "It's odd, but he said if he would ever go away, he wanted us to sing." Using social media to keep her brother's name alive, the singer came up with the phrase "Everything For Brub," and the hashtag #EFB was released across Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. "I just said it one day, and now we plan on expanding it to a victims-of-violence organization," Lee says.

With a new album, The Perfect Imperfection, set for release Feb. 2, Lee has gathered all the emotion she's felt in the past year and funneled it into a strong 7-track EP. This album, unlike the first, hip-hop-centered mixtape, is more of a traditional R&B collection. "Since I did American Idol, I wanted people to see I can write and sing."

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