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Ella Henderson on her platinum debut and leaping to America

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Larry Marano/Getty Images

You might not have discovered Ella Henderson’s slam-dunk pop song “Ghost” yet, but everyone in the United Kingdom most certainly has—and it’s only a matter of time before Henderson makes an equal splash in the States.

She’s on track to, now that her debut album, Chapter One, has dropped and she’s popping up all over America with her platinum single. The 19-year-old British singer—who first broke out as the favorite to win the ninth season of The X Factor (she placed sixth)—most recently took her turn on the NBA All-Star Game, with appearances on Tuesday’s The View and Wednesday’s Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon also on the docket.

It’s no small feat for the young singer, who chatted with EW shortly after the album’s release (which, coincidentally, fell right near her 19th birthday).

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You wrote on almost every song on Chapter One. Have some of those songs been kicking around in your head since you were younger?

ELLA HENDERSON: The only song that was actually written beforehand was the song called “Missed,” which is the last song on the album, and that’s because I auditioned with it on The X Factor. I thought it was nice to leave the album ending on a full circle where everything began for me. But everything else began from the moment I signed my record deal—writing in the UK, writing out in America, and just being surrounded by people who really are at the top of their game. That was the best part of it all, actually writing it.

How does Ella the writer differ from Ella the performer?

When you’re onstage, you’re a strong character and everything’s just about giving an amazing performance that makes people smile, but when it comes to writing I can say that I’m more vulnerable in a studio because I’m very much opening up on things that I don’t want to go beyond those four walls…and yet you have to [eventually let them out of the studio]. When I do a live set, when it comes to those more stripped down songs, I tend to go back into that frame of mind of when I wrote them. But I don’t differentiate those selves too far apart.

Is there a narrative to Chapter One?

I think in the last two years, my life has been such a life of surprises. It’s not been a normal one for a sixteen year old girl, anyway. So much has happened. Some great things have happened…some things have happened when I was a bit down. So it’s got a mixture of highs and lows, dynamically, and I was very careful the way I tracklisted it. One song talks about a certain situation, and the next song gets you through it. If I could take one person off the street at random and make them listen to Chapter One, I would love to think that they could relate to at least one track. I think that’s my purpose in this record, to make people feel like they can accept that everyone feels a certain emotion and not be afraid of that.

Tell me about the first time you heard the finished record of “Ghost.”

It actually fell on my 18th birthday, when I finished recording it with Ryan [Tedder] out in his home in Denver. I literally did three vocal takes and that whole “Give up the ghost” bridge was ad libbed when I was there. He pieced it together and produced it up more and it was very quick, to be honest. When I actually laid the vocal down and we laid the choir down and all the drums and all the production in the studio, we sat back at the end of the day and Ryan had a beer in his hands and I had a Diet Coke in mine because I couldn’t drink in America because I was only 18. But we sat back on the sofa and listened to this record and we just looked at each other. I was so excited about it. And that’s when you know… you don’t expect anything, you can’t tempt fate, but you just feel good and you feel proud of the work. It doesn’t matter the success of the outcome—it’s kind of the cherry on the cake, if anything happens that can make you feel like that.

Was there a moment where you realized how big the song had become?

I took two years to write and did a lot of traveling after X Factor, so people hadn’t heard from me for a while. It was definitely reintroducing myself. And I can remember that night, I was about to go on stage to do a gig and I had all my family and my friends with me, and “Ghost” went live onto iTunes and I just remember everyone running into the room and shoving their phones into my face because it had gone straight to number one. I was just shell-shocked. I didn’t understand or realize how people could have reacted that way and responded to music in that sense as well. It was just so exciting. I just remember a big fat grin across my face and I went out and gave a performance that night which was so great because I could announce it and we could all celebrate.

What’s next after this album?

If last year was crazy, this year’s even crazier. I’ve launched the album here in the states and I’ll be here for a while. When I get back home, I’m actually going to be writing again, because that’s what keeps me happy and keeps me positive. But I’ll be doing a tour back in the UK, supporting the Take That guys.

That’s got to be a childhood dream for you, right?

Oh yeah, it’s crazy. Especially back in the UK, those guys have been in the industry for years and they constantly reinvent themselves, so to be part of such a huge arena tour with such a strong and motivating fan base that they have, the experience from it that I’m going to get is just priceless.

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