The whirlwind success story began for a then-16 year old Ella Henderson when she first opened her mouth for her ‘X Factor UK’ audition a couple of years back.
Performing a self-penned track titled ‘Missed’, she left the judges gobsmacked and quickly firmed as favourite to win the entire competition. Then it all went pear-shaped. Suffering from what we Aussies know as “Ricki-Lee Syndrome”, where audience complacency results in very little voting action, she was booted off the show in sixth place. It caused a national outrage.
But it seems Ms Ella’s having the last laugh. Her debut single ‘Ghost’ premiered at No.1 on the UK singles chart, stayed in the top spot for a second week and, after five weeks, has refused to budge from the UK top three.
Now Australia is getting in on the action too, with the single sailing into the top 20 on Saturday night’s ARIA charts and into the top five on iTunes.
We were lucky enough to get some phone time with Ella, who reveals to us that things seem to be heating up for her in a big way.
“People from different places that I’ve never been to before know who I am. It’s a strange feeling, but it’s an amazing one,” Ella tells us, confirming that an Australian promotional visit is on the cards.
“My diary has gone completely mental. I think I’ll be spending at least six or seven weeks away from home in the coming months. And I will be visiting Australia, which is very exciting, because it’s the very first time I’ll have been. I’ve heard so many amazing things about Australia and I want to see it with my own eyes.”
As mentioned in the opener, the real “journey” for Ella began on the British version of ‘The X Factor’. She reveals to us the reasons behind her choosing to audition in that year in particular.
“I’d turned 16 and the main thing that drew me to it was that in 2012, you were allowed to audition with your original material and play an instrument,” she explains. “I’d got to the stage in my life where I’d been doing exams at school and I was singing to my family and I just really wanted someone else to hear what I did.
“Even if there was somebody in the music industry or behind the scenes who could hear me play a song on the piano… All I wanted was some advice and feedback and for someone to perhaps open a door for me somewhere.
“I never thought I‘d ever audition for a show like that, simply because I was so shy and I just wasn’t confident enough to do something that big and ballsy. You get subjected to so many opinions. You’re literally showing yourself to the whole world and you never know what’s going to happen.
“I told myself that I was going to play my song, get a bit of feedback, then I could carry on with my exams and keep writing. But then it kind of went the way it did. It got a huge reaction and that’s pretty much where my journey began.”
Ella made a shock early exit from the ‘X Factor’ competition after audience complacency resulted in low voting numbers… a phenomenon we know here in Australia as ‘Ricki-Lee Syndrome’. She ultimately finished in sixth place after a deadlock decision went in favour of eventual winner James Arthur. But even after her unexpected departure, Ella remained philosophical.
“You know what? You have to remember that shows like ‘The X Factor’ and ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ are entertainment. So you never know what’s going to happen and I’ve always treated it as if anything comes of it, then that’s incredible, but I’d never say to myself that it is going to happen, because I never want to jinx anything.
“So many people ask how it felt not to get through to the end, but I think if you find out the reason that I went to do the show in the first place, to even get to the live shows felt like I’d won it anyway.”
It turns out that, even though she didn’t win, her experiences on ‘The X Factor’ were really just the beginning.
“Then, of course, you have no idea what’s going to happen next,” Ella continues. “You don’t know whether that’s it and you’re heading back to school and back to how life was before. But for me, literally within 24 hours, I got invited into the Sony building and I was pitched by four major record labels, so I was in such an amazing position. I couldn’t believe it.
“I always thought that by the time I was in my 20s, I would have had all my songs together, I’d head to a record label, sit down with someone, play them my list of songs and hope that I’d get signed as a writer. Or maybe write for other artists and eventually become my own artist. But to think that it’s happened for me at such a young age and in such a different direction, it just goes to show that you’ve got to expect the unexpected, I guess.”
The luxury of time is something that winners of these reality TV juggernauts rarely enjoy. But Ella’s been humbled by the support and patience shown to her by her label and by her boss, Simon Cowell.
“It’s been truly amazing,” she reveals. “In March last year, I sat down with Simon and he said to me, ‘you know what? So many people come into this industry and they forget to enjoy it’. He understood where I wanted to go with the project and that I didn’t want to do anything too fast.
“He told me that I’m not a pop artist and he wanted to give me creative freedom with this project, and that whether it took three months or three years, it had to be the best that I could do. Those are the best words to ever hear, especially from someone like him. He instilled a confidence in me to know that this is what I’d always dreamed of doing and that he believed in me enough to know that to wait was the right decision.
“Being given no timeframe to do it in and being placed under no pressure has been amazing, because it’s just allowed me to grow up within the music industry and learn everything that I’d wanted to before I set foot into it. The industry can be such a daunting place at such a young age, so for me, it was really important to learn more about the craft and to really understand it before I was forced straight into it.”
And from the cavalcade of big name writers associated with her upcoming debut album project, it would seem that ‘Chapter One’, to be released in September, will have most definitely been worth the wait.
“Since March last year I’ve been writing in the UK and in America. At the beginning of the project, I wrote down a list of names that I’d absolutely love to work with. People who are behind the scenes that probably don’t get enough credit… names like Salaam Remi. To actually head over to America and meet these people and not only meet them but to be sat in a studio with them writing for my record was incredible.
“I wrote with Al Shuckburgh, who wrote ‘Empire State Of Mind’, Babyface, who’s written for Whitney and Mariah, I went to meet Diane Warren… I can remember when I was first playing the piano to my gran, I’d play pieces of music and I used to see these names underneath the title. But to think that one day I’d be sat with them and we’d both be writing together and I could say that they became my songs during the process is completely surreal.”
Until the album drops in September, however, we’re all bound to become more than a little bit obsessed by Ella’s breakout single ‘Ghost’. Already a No.1 smash in her native UK, it was co-penned by another addition to the list of big names collaborators, OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder.
“I’d written Ryan Tedder’s name down as an artist to meet during the writing process,” Ella reveals. “We never got the chance to get together during my US trip, but towards the end of the year when I was finishing the album, he was going back and forth with my label because he’d heard a Drake cover I’d uploaded of ‘Hold On We’re Going Home’ and he sent me an email with swear words of excitement saying that he wanted to meet me and that he was excited by my voice.
“He came over to the UK and we got the chance to get into a studio literally just for a few hours to fit in with our respective schedules and we just really hit it off straight away. We’re very similar in a way that whenever we go into the studio, we have this energy where we just bounce off one another.
“Within the first hour of working with each other, we ended up sat around the piano and we wrote the chorus for ‘Ghost’ It happened so fast and so instantly that I immediately knew that it was going to be my first single… I think maybe because it was the last song that I wrote for the record and I guess it summed up my whole album.
“He just really got me as well. He understood the kind of music that I listened to growing up as a young girl. He kept this soulful side of me, but at the same time I always want to make sure that my songs sound very big and anthemic. Songs that people can instantly relate to and feel this huge rush of emotion. Together, I think we really found it.”
And if the chart success of ‘Ghost’ thus far is anything to go by, they most certainly did.
But let’s not discount the extraordinary talent of our leading lady. More than 24 million people have viewed her utterly spectacular audition piece (HERE) and with the combination of that voice, that songwriting skill and that extraordinarily humble attitude, we have the sneaking suspicion that ‘Ghost’ is only the first in a long line of Ella Henderson songs that we’ll see haunting our charts in the years ahead.
Ella Henderson’s debut single ‘Ghost’ is available now.
Her debut album ‘Chapter One’, in both standard and deluxe versions, is scheduled for release in Australia on Friday September 19.