What song still moves you when you sing it? Courtney Jones, Houston
I'd probably say "Fallin'." Obviously I've sung it a lot, but there's a magic about that song that is unbelievable. The way it signifies the beginning of my career it gives me chills every time.
Who or what inspired you to start playing the piano? Bianca Puopolo, San Diego, Calif.
I don't know who inspired me to start. I really don't. All I know is I had this incredible fascination with pianos, and when I would pass one, I would want to learn how to play it. It was just this feeling. Thank God I had a mother who was O.K. with that. She could have probably said, "Please, go to school. Leave me alone." But she said, "O.K., if that does it for you, then let's see what we can figure out."
Who's your favorite pianist? Alicia Tan, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Nina Simone. She's a strong, extremely creative, powerful, doesn't-hold-her-tone-back-for-anyone woman. She'd sit at the piano and play you underneath the table. I love her very, very much.
So many of your songs are about female empowerment. Do you consider yourself a role model for young women? Ahmo Mehmedovic, Everett, Mass.
I do. We all have the ability to affect someone in a positive way. And one thing I've found from the very beginning is that thoughts are real. What you think is what is. So I really want to give people something empowering to think about and live for. We see all the other stuff way too often.
Do you have any regrets about leaving school to pursue your songwriting career? Ari del Rosario, Manila
I don't. I'm a highly intelligent individual, and I hold education in very high regard. I find that I've been able to learn continuously through my travels and just growing and living. But a part of me does want to continue with school. I think I would want to go to business school. I think I should.
I hear some Prince influences in your new work. Is that the case? Mark Fos, New Orleans
I've always been very inspired by Prince. I'm sure people told him, "You're a black musician. You can't play that." It's unbelievable the boxes we are placed in. His music is beautiful, it's lyrical, it's poetic, it's very complex yet simple. Capturing all those things is not as easy as he makes it look.
Do you think it's important for inner-city kids to be exposed to classical music? Tyleah Jenkins, Brooklyn, N.Y.
I think it's important no matter where you're from. But especially in those neighborhoods, you tend to become boxed in to only what's around you. It's crucial to be exposed to as much as possible. Then you can see there's a diverse world out there and that you don't have to just be one way because of where you're from.
Will acting be a major part of your future? Calandra Peyton, Atlanta
I want to do what's right for me. So I don't feel the need to rush. At one point, my dream project was to play Angela Davis. At another point, my dream project was to play Lena Horne. It constantly evolves.
How important to you is your work with the Keep a Child Alive foundation? Deborah Honegan, Farmington, Conn.
There was an empty nightclub in Durban, South Africa, that I hoped to buy. We had this vision to make it this incredible clinic. We set out to raise the money. Now it's flourishing, and I'll be able to go there in June and see it with my own two eyes. I may very well break down and cry.
How does it feel to be mentioned in a Bob Dylan song? Dede Rusli, Jakarta, Indonesia
Everybody asks me that. He's a legendary songwriter, and to be part of someone's song is a big deal. I never knew where it came from. I don't think anyone does. I don't think he'll ever tell.