How the duo went from dorm-room obscurity to topping the charts with Christina Aguilera

By Jodi Walker
January 10, 2014 at 05:00 AM EST

A Glee-ful noise
Ian Axel and Chad Vaccarino, both 28, met as NYU undergrads in 2005, but it wasn’t until “This Is the New Year,” a song they’d written back in 2008, began to go viral on YouTube that the Fox series asked to showcase it in a February 2013 episode. “It just kind of fell into our laps,” Vaccarino admits. “We got a website up the day that Glee aired.”

Xtina says: I Want You
Their plaintive ballad “Say Something” appeared on So You Think You Can Dance in September, and caught the attention of a certain platinum-haired superstar. “We got an email from [Aguilera] saying that she didn’t want to take over the song, she wanted to let it be,” says Axel. “A week later, we were recording.” The trio performed the song on The Voice Nov. 6; the next day, it was No. 1 on iTunes. As for that legendary diva attitude? “She invited us over to her house after the AMAs, and we played paintball,” Axel marvels. “We had a couple glasses of wine. It was awesome.” Up next for the pair in 2014: working on songs for a Broadway show and releasing their full-length debut, Is There Anybody Out There? (out Jan. 21). Sounds big — and pretty great.