She said she battled "editors of magazines and art directors and stylists" over the years. The singer said the photos she shopped to record labels were taken in a mall photo booth - all because she wanted to control her look.
In her "I'm Like a Bird" music video, Furtado said she fought to wear sneakers, baggy jeans and hoop earrings.
Ten years later, Furtado is celebrating a successful career with the greatest hits compilation, "The Best of Nelly Furtado," released November.
"Nowadays everybody feels like they can become a star just because they're on YouTube, but that's not the only part of the equation," the 32-year-old said.
While Furtado is known for collaborating with dozens of artists from Timbaland to Michael Buble, she said she's hoping to work with her fellow Canadian, rapper-singer Drake.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.