The next Adele. It’s a title that’s been tossed around during the three years since 21 debuted and with reason, is often met with skepticism. So when the endorsement comes from the iconic “Someone Like You” singer-songwriter herself? We’re all ears.
Enter Ella Henderson. In October 2012 the 16 year-old took the stage on The X Factor U.K. to sing “Rule the World” (by English band Take That) and unbeknownst to her, Adele was watching and tweeting. Says the teen: “Having Adele tweet that she loves your voice and supports you—it was the biggest compliment I could have ever received. I mean, it was also just crazy to me to think of her sitting on a sofa watching the show!”
Although Henderson placed sixth in the competition, nearly half a dozen record deals followed and she’s spent the last two years working alongside legendary producers like Salaam Remi and Babyface on her first full-length album, Chapter One, which is slated to drop via Columbia this fall.
“I’ve been taking my time and there hasn’t been pressure to rush anything,” she says. “The most important thing has been finding my sound and keeping things honest.” And the patience is clearly paying off: Henderson’s lead single “Ghost,” hit no. 1 on the U.K. charts in June.
After checking out the soulful singer’s first-ever American performance at New York’s The Box, we caught up at the InStyle offices. Here’s an excerpt of our chat:
Why did you decide to audition for X Factor?
When you audition for a talent show, people tend to assume that that’s how your love of music began, but it started a lot earlier than that. I began playing when I was three and then I started writing poetry at school; eventually I put two and two together. And then there comes a time when you want people to hear your music … but breaking into the music industry is a hard thing to do—there’s no blueprint. I was always the type of person who would have crossed the X Factor route off of my list, but the year that I auditioned there was a new rule where you could perform an original song. So I thought, “If I can go and play the piano and sing one of my own songs to a producer and get my foot in the door, why not?”
“Ghost” already has 11 million views on YouTube. Have things changed for you back home?
People want pictures and stuff, but Grimsby [in England] is so small and so out of the way that most people don’t even have a clue what’s going on. Before “Ghost” came out, I was writing and it had been nearly two years, and someone came up to me in a store and was like, “So are you going to go for it again, give it another try?” But I love that, it means that you don’t have to explain your whole life—they’re not that interested.
What kind of music did you listen to growing up? Who inspires you?
My grandpa played a lot of jazz music on vinyls—Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, the Rat Pack. My mom always had Motown playing and then my dad was the complete opposite—f I was heading to school with him, it was like Duran Duran, ’80s music. [laughs] So I was always surrounded by different styles and that’s allowed me to feed off of so many different sounds when it came to making this album.
When you’re touring, what’s the first thing you pack?
My monkey bag. It’s this brown backpack filled with all of the things that help me warm up my voice. It’s got my steamer, my oils—it’s my voice in a bag. So whenever I used to go to the studio last year, my dad would say, “See you later monkey,” because I looked like a little monkey going off to school. So yeah, the monkey bag is always the first thing on my checklist.
You were so poised and composed at The Box, do you get nervous before you sing? Do you have any pre-performance rituals?
It’s always a mixture of nerves and excitement. And yes, I make really weird noises—I have to let all of it out, like I make dolphin and siren noises. [laughs]
If you could share the stage with anyone, who would it be?
A power duet with Adele. That’d be insane!
Listen to “Ghost” below, plus discover more bands that are currently on our radar now!