updated 03/04/2009 AT 5:00 PM ET
•originally published 03/05/2009 AT 6:30 AM ET
British soul singer Adele had so much on her mind during last month’s Grammys – such as, celebrating her best new artist victory – that she botched a meeting with one of her all-time favorites: Justin Timberlake.
“Justin, I love you and I’m really sorry … for making it seem like I didn’t want to meet you,” Adele Adkins, 20, tells PEOPLE. “I really did – and I don’t think we can ever be friends because you’re just too much. You’re too good!”
As Adkins tells it, she was overcome with nerves when she came face to face with Timberlake at the ceremony in Los Angeles.
“In the hallway after I’d won two Grammys, he grabbed me and he’s like, ‘Congratulations,’” she says of the ill-fated encounter. “I was so totally overwhelmed about the Grammys that I didn’t even realize it was Justin. Then, 10 yards down the huge hallway in the Staples Center, I just heard this huge scream and realized I was screaming my head off.”
Loves and Fears Etta
No stranger to celebrities now that her debut album 19 is a hit, the singer says she was also surprised when she got close to another hero: Etta James.
“She’s tiny,” says Adkins, who sat behind James at September’s Fashion Rocks concert at New York’s Radio City Music Hall. “I love her. She’s so glamorous. She looked amazing.”
“[But] I couldn’t say hello,” says Adkins. Why? “In case she said, ‘Get out of my face!’ I’ve heard she’s a bit of a madam. But she can be, because she’s the best singer alive.”
Soon, though, the singer may have a chance to meet her idol once again.
“I’ll give you an exclusive,” Adkins says with a laugh. “I’m [playing] the Hollywood Bowl – I was doing it on my own – but now we’re co-headlining together. She’s my favorite singer. It’s amazing. I’m so excited.”
Differs from Winehouse
As for her musical peers – specifically fellow Grammy winners (and Brits) Duffy and Amy Winehouse – Adkins thinks there is plenty to distinguish their soulful styles.
“Amy is a true phenomenon,” says Adkins. “When Amy was big in America, me and Duffy were blowing up in England, and I think it made the journey over a bit smoother [for us].”
“I think Amy is hardcore,” she says. “I think Duffy is really soft – she’s got the pin-up look going on. She’s a proper lady. I think I’m really contemporary. And I’m just really mouthy!”