By Shannon Carlin
Ella Henderson would personally like to thank Drake for helping her earn her first chart-topping single in the UK this past June with her song, “Ghost.” It was, after all, her piano cover of his song “Hold On, We’re Going Home” that got the attention of the track’s co-writer Ryan Tedder.
“[Tedder] was sending my label emails of excitement and swear words,” she told Radio.com over the phone while in New York City gearing up for her American television debut on Good Morning America. Henderson still thinks it’s funny that he was so taken aback by her cover, which had her mashing Drizzy up with John Newman’s song “Love Me Again.”
“I just thought, ‘Why don’t I try to put them together?’ They’re both the same chords,” she said rather nonchalantly. “I will sometimes record something and someone will hear it somehow and all of a sudden it ends up online. Sometimes, it’s the things I do just messing around that end up being the things people love.”
Her song “Five Tattoos” falls into this category. The stripped-down track was just something she was playing around with until her A&R guy heard it and told her to record it. That demo of Henderson and her piano will be on her upcoming debut, Chapter One, out later this year.
Henderson eventually met up with Tedder in a studio in Denver, CO on her birthday where they spent the day figuring out if they were musically compatible. Though, in Henderson’s retelling of the meeting, it was really to see if the OneRepublic frontman wanted to make the time to work with her. “He gets to pick and choose who he works with,” Henderson said of the in-demand songwriter. “Like, he’s written for Beyoncé and Adele. He only writes hits.”
But the two immediately got along and ended up writing “Ghost” on the piano that very same day in just twenty minutes. It ended up being the track the British singer was waiting for. Henderson had actually finished her debut last year, but felt like she didn’t have that first song that she wanted the world to hear. That is until she finished “Ghost,” which in her words is a “soulful song with a twist.”
“It’s about this someone or something that just has a hold over you, tormenting you, you’re trying to run away from it, but you just can’t,” she said. “And I think a lot of people can relate in so many different ways.”
Henderson is a rather relatable character herself. In 2012, a 16-year-old Henderson was the contestant Cher, Adele, Leona Lewis and actress Chloe Grace Moretz were rooting for to win UK’s The X Factor. Though Henderson was an early favorite to win, she ended up coming in sixth. But for the shy musician who grew up listening to jazz records on Saturday mornings with her grandfather — “Ella Fitzgerald’s ‘God Bless The Child’ was such a big part of my childhood, always takes me back to a nice place,” she said — the show brought her out of her shell. Performing for an average of 8.9 million viewers a night certainly has that effect.
“Everyone has to find their own way to get where they want to be, especially since there’s no blueprint for it, and everyone has a different story to how they got there,” Henderson explained. “My experience was incredible and amazing. I went through every range of emotion there is at the time, but now coming away from it, it’s probably the best thing that ever happened to me.”
That is no understatement since the experience introduced her to X Factor judge Simon Cowell, who has no qualms telling people they sound like bad karaoke singers on a cruise ship, but has only given Henderson words of encouragement and a record deal — signing her to his label Syco Records last year.
“So many young people who come into this industry, they forget to enjoy it,” the 18-year-old singer explained. “[Cowell] was just like, ‘You have to enjoy this, every second of it’ and ‘whether it takes three months or three years to finish your record, I want you to feel ready.'”
Henderson is currently enjoying her first trip to the States, but even though she’s been described as a “slightly happier Adele” she’s not ready to officially proclaim herself America’s new favorite Brit.
“Coming out to America, you see how big this place is and it just, it kind of puts you back to how small you are in this world,” she said. “You can almost see things a lot clearer in a way.”