A virtual unknown in her British homeland, classical crossover singer Mary-Jess Leaverland found fame thousands of miles away after winning China's biggest TV talent show. Born in Gloucestershire in 1990, Mary-Jess was encouraged to pursue her passion for music by her grandmother, who arranged for her to audition with the Gloucester Cathedral Youth Choir, and after developing a fascination with the Chinese language at high school, she went onto combine the two interests at university in a four-year Music & Chinese Studies course. Whilst in Nanjing for her second-year overseas placement in 2009, she decided to enter the televised talent contest, Min Xing Chang Fan Tan, where performances of Sarah Brightman's "Time to Say Goodbye" and Mariah Carey & Whitney Houston's "When You Believe" helped her to win the final in front of 70 million viewers. Deciding to put her education on hold, she returned to the U.K. where she signed a deal with Decca Records, releasing her largely self-penned debut album, Shine, in 2011. In the same year, she also appeared as a soloist on the BBC's Songs of Praise and contributed a track ("Did I Make the Most of Loving You?") to the official Downton Abbey soundtrack.