First Published March 2021
You only need to hear CHANTELLE PADDEN sing once to know that she has the voice of a superstar. And truth be told, Chantelle has a voice miles better than many artists who have forged hugely successful careers and have had bestowed upon them that title of ‘superstar.’ More than even just that, though, you only need to see or hear Chantelle interviewed once to know the lady from Belmullet has the personality and charisma to match her vocal talent. And in the same way her voice is both authentic and unique, so too is Chantelle herself.
So, given that shows like The Voice are based upon the whole premise of finding the world’s next vocal superstar, you’d imagine that once Chantelle had made it through to the ‘live’ shows, it would be impossible for a panel of four of music’s biggest names to leave her behind. Chantelle, after all, is EXACTLY what they were looking for. The voice, but also the looks, and then the personality as well, not to mention the work-ethic…everything was there. Everything was ready. Chantelle was ready. Her time, surely, had come…
Ah…but the problem, of course, with TV shows like The Voice, is that they are – and always will be – TV shows first. And that, by definition, means that the performers must come second. The idea that the judges must first choose their teams based only on hearing performers sing is great. What happens next, pitting performers against each other in ‘battles’ where one must be told they’re not good enough – for whatever reason – is actually disgraceful. That is not the way to showcase, encourage or support talent. It might make for good television from time to time, but those kinds of moments – certainly in my opinion anyway – are not worth treating people that way. Simple.
Anyway, if you tuned into the latest series of the show to watch Chantelle’s ‘battle’ a few weeks back, you were probably as flabbergasted as I was that Olly Murs decided her time on the show was going to end that night. A choice as bizarre as it was ridiculous. Well, as the saying goes, and it surely suits such a moment…their loss! Olly’s and the show’s. Chantelle’s talent, and indeed, Chantelle herself, are bigger than The Voice. And time, I’m sure, will prove it. Chantelle, to be fair, would never even think that way, let alone say something like that. But she doesn’t have to, because I will. And I’m not alone in thinking that way, either.
Chantelle Padden is a born dreamchaser. And souls like that have an inner-fight that drives them on and on, and on again, until their dreams are in their hands.
We’d been planning on chatting to Chantelle for OTRT for quite a while, before it was even announced that she was going to be performing on The Voice this year. And thankfully, that news gave us the perfect opportunity to finally put a date in the diary to do just that.
So with Chantelle’s battle only days away when we sat down to talk the other week, I began our chat by asking her how she was feeling about it, what the past week had been like for her, and…what did she think the Saturday night ahead of her would be like?
“I’m really excited! It’s another chance to showcase a little bit more about myself, and what I’d like to bring to the show, I guess. It’s the battle stages, and unfortunately only one can go through as there’s no ‘steals’ left. So the pressure is on to hopefully try and win Olly over. Hopefully he’ll see that the industry needs more female country artists in the UK and Ireland. At the end of the day, the prize is a record deal with Universal Records, so I’m hoping that I’m showing that I can be commercial and would be worth putting in a position to potentially grab that prize! We all go into this competition with that dream, everyone wants to do well. But I’m the only country artist on the show this year, I’m the only one flying the flag for country music. And of course I’m the only Irish contestant as well, so the pressure is on, I’m not gonna lie! [laughs]. It’s nerve-wracking, but at the same time, do you know, it’s exposure and experience that money can’t buy. So I’ll just be trying to do the song justice and get across the story of it. It’s a song that really resonates with me, being from such a small town, always longing for more, always wishing to grab a hold of that dream. I’ll do my best, and hopefully come out the champion of the battle. All I can do is hope. There’s millions of people watching this show, so it’s going to be of benefit regardless, so I’m definitely excited!”
Chantelle’s breath-taking blind audition really threw her into the limelight on a massive scale, something she seems to have been handling brilliantly. Having worked so hard – and in some ways, waited so long – to get a break like this, I asked her to describe how it now feels to be at the centre of so much attention?
“Well, for a very, very long time, I felt like I was slipping through the net. I wasn’t getting any opportunities when I was at home because I was just so far away from everything. The kind of country artist I am, I don’t exactly fit into the kind of country that we all love here in the west coast of Ireland. That’s a quite bluegrassy sound, with a jiving and waltzing feel to it. So I felt if I was to have any chance of getting signed to a label, that’s not the country they go for. So I felt like I had to try and break out from that, break the mold a bit, and bring something new to the Irish country scene, to try and make a name for myself in both the UK and Ireland. Everyone thinks that if you’re into country, it’s just ‘Ah sure go to Nashville, you’ll be grand there’, but I don’t think that should be the way. I think we should be able to make a stand at home, in our own country, on our own soil, and of course, in the UK too, where I have an amazing and a growing fanbase. And they’re all loving the fact that there’s something different on the show this year. And no matter what part of Ireland someone comes from, if you get on a show like this we’ve very proud of them and we always get behind them. But you never, ever see anyone on shows like this from where I come from. I come from ‘the sticks’, as they call it, literally! [Laughs]. I live on a peninsula, we’re only connected to Belmullet by a bridge! I had The Voice team Googling where I’m from! And after my blind audition, I had Mayo County Council reach out to me to tell me that Belmullet was trending on Google, but for good reasons! [Laughs]. People were actually looking it up to see where it is. And they [The Voice team] were gobsmacked to see that I come from a place that doesn’t even have traffic-lights, we’ve only one roundabout, and it’s the only roundabout in Europe that you can park on! [Laughs].“
“So it’s a very different angle”, continued Chantelle, “the fact that I’ve made it onto the show this year. You often hear about someone who comes from the middle of nowhere and they have a dream to be a superstar, but yeah, I kinda moved to the UK to start recording in the style I’m doing. It’s kind of the only avenue I could have gone down for 2020. I was very hesitant in the beginning to even go for the show, because, you know yourself, we don’t see a lot of country on these shows. So I thought maybe they wouldn’t get who I would like to be as an artist. Looking back on it now, I’m delighted I did obviously, because I made the televised shows. And to be fair, the feedback has been amazing so far, and hopefully it will continue…fingers crossed! [Laughs]. People know my name now, whereas for years, I just wasn’t getting any opportunities. I felt like I wasn’t able to just get up and go see a band in Ireland, regardless of what genre, because we’re so far away from everyone. There’s an awful lot of hidden talent around here, where I’m from, but we just don’t get the opportunity. I have an awful lot of younger followers who look up to me, and they message me on a daily basis for advice, and to just ask, well how did you do it, that kind of thing! And I tell them to just go for it. I love the fact that people around here aspire to be musicians. If you come from a small town, or if you’re stuck in a city even, where you’re kind of outnumbered by people taking the limelight, just try your best and get out there. Scream so loud that they can’t ignore ya! [Laughs].”
Chantelle’s talent – and indeed, the lady herself – will transcend genres anyway, but her heart is undoubtedly in country music. And her latest single, a version of Carrie Underwood’s Church Bells from her Storyteller album, follows on from her recordings of songs by artists like Maren Morris, Lady A, Dolly, Cam, and Little Big Town.
“Well! Do ya know what! It was actually just meant to be a little cover to upload on social media! And as soon as I announced that I had a new cover coming, I had loads of radio stations messaging me wanting a version of it to play. So that’s how it came about. I’m hoping to start releasing my own originals now soon, which is the same vibe as the covers that I’m doing my versions of. So yeah, people were requesting it, and I didn’t want to say no! [Laughs]. Even though it’s a cover. So I said there would be no harm in sending them on my little version. But there’s only one Carrie Underwood! Hers would be tough shoes to fill! But I’m glad that people are appreciating that I’m trying to bring that kind of vibe over here and make it a bit more current, and get it out there a bit more. I believe that that more commercial country – Maren Morris, Carrie Underwood, Lauren Alaina – I wish that was more popular over here. To a lot of country fans, it sounds quite pop, and that’s what I used to get on the show. They kept saying to me, ‘Are you sure you’re country?!’ [Laughs]. They all thought country was banjos, fiddles, diddly-aye, and I was like, no! Country is progressing so much. It can sound really rocky, or it can sound really poppy. I just have the benefit of dibbling and dabbling in the more rockier or more poppier sounds. But I’ll always pay respect to what I grew up on, which was actually Irish country. There’s always going to be that little bit of a mixture going through me. You’ll always hear little sean-nós vibes when I do a ballad. I’ve been told loads of times that I have what’s called a sean-nós curl. It’s hard to explain, but it’s a type of technique that sean-nós singers in Ireland use. I’ve just picked up so many different traits from listening to so many artists over the years. I’ve listened to anyone from Nan Tom Taimín, who is a phenomenal Irish folk singer, right up to Dolly Parton, Celine Dion, Whitney! Bon Jovi! Guns ‘n’ Roses! [Laughs]. I listen to such a mixture. That’s why I’ve always been a bit muddled up! [Laughs].”
Chantelle had mentioned that Mayo County Council reached out to her recently, but – and no offence to Mayo County Council – someone else a little more glamorous did just that, too! None other than American country giants Dan + Shay, after Chantelle posted a cover of their huge hit, Tequila…
“Well, like the ‘Church Bells’ scenario, I just popped ‘Tequila’ up as a cover on my socials and I just tagged them in it. Because if I’m doing a cover of someone’s song I’ll always credit them and mention who it’s originally by. So that’s what I did. And the next thing, they liked it! And they commented on it, and they sent me a lovely message! And I was like, is this really happening?! Because this was before The Voice was even aired. So yeah, that was just really exciting. Because the likes of those people, who are just so busy – even during these crazy times, because I’m sure they’re flat-out recording or writing – the fact that they took the time to sit and watch some randomer’s cover of their song, and then felt the need to message and reach-out, I thought that was so…I don’t know, just very genuine of them. They really appreciate their fans. And that’s what I am, I’m a massive Dan + Shay fan. Maybe they appreciated the fact that I’m a country singer, from rural Ireland, over and back to the UK a lot, because you can see by looking at my page that I’ve been trying to build my name and get out there, and trying to popularise the same style of country that they sing. Yeah, that was definitely a, ‘WHAT is goin’ on?!, moment! [Laughs].”
As a country fan, and as someone who is involved in the country music business, it actually breaks my heart to think that someone with Chantelle’s talent, her work-ethic, and her personality as well, felt like she had to leave Ireland to pursue a career in country music. But, at the same time, I unfortunately understand it too. Chantelle has spoken about being told that she didn’t “fit in” on the Irish country scene, and how she felt like she had no “pull” on that scene. I asked Chantelle to tell me more about that, and I wondered if there was ever a certain moment when she knew it wasn’t going to happen for her in Ireland?
“When I began releasing little self-released albums which were done in local studios, nothing big-budget, it was my parents who funded them, and they happened to have got played on the local radio like Midwest and stuff, I was ten years old. So my name has been floating about for a while as a child singer. I was only young. Then, as I went through my teens, I focused on school, ya know, as much as I could, my heart belonged in music! [Laughs]. But I had to make it work and juggle the two of them! I always carried on gigging at the weekend, and we got the chance to perform over in the UK in the Irish centres, there were lots of gigs, nothing too crazy. But I was always hoping that an opportunity would come along if someone heard me. You’re classed as a brand in the music industry, so someone is not going to buy into you unless you can make them money. As I grew up, I became more serious about music. I knew it was the only career I wanted to do. And to be quite honest with ya, it’s the only real job I’ve ever had! I don’t think it would have been in me to walk away from it. But I did go through spells where I actually did hang up the microphone, and that was out of sheer disappointment. I remember going for different kinds of competitions over the years and no-one got why I did country. And I didn’t really know anyone on the Irish country scene to reach out to, to bring me up singing with them, or to get my name out there in that way. Then in 2018, going into the third year after I’d left secondary school, I was still gigging with one of my best friends, Sean Fahy. He carried on gigging with me after my grandad retired when I was sixteen. He was a major help to keep me going. Obviously as a friend, but he was a fan as well, and he loved supporting me as well, and to this day he does. And he was the main reason I kept gigging when grandad retired. I genuinely didn’t think I’d have the courage to do it on my own. I was a very self-conscious teenager, so I definitely needed grandad as that safety behind me to give me that pep-talk if I ever got nervous.”
“So having Sean there to fill that place when grandad retired”, explained Chantelle, “that was amazing for me. We were gigging near my hometown, at an annual festival called the Inver Festival, where Johnny Brady and his band were down headlining. Me and my friend Sean were the warm-up act, so we were doing a little slot beforehand, just using backing-tracks and a guitar and a drum-machine and that was it. Johnny heard me singing for the first time and he was like, “What?! Where?!”, he was very taken aback that he’d never heard of me at all! And I was just like, well, I don’t really play much outside of Belmullet, I wouldn’t really be known. That’s when he asked me onto a country music show on TG4, called Glór Tíre. That’s actually about three years ago now since I was on it. We clicked, he was right up my street, his was really the kinda vibe that I’d love to see in country. And to this day, he’s one of my best friends in the music industry. So Glór Tíre was kind of the moment where I realised, oh…do I fit into the Irish country scene? Now, I got amazing comments from Caitriona, Jo, and John, the three judges on the show, it was always amazing feedback. But it was always, well, you’re more so r ‘n’b, or maybe rock? That, to me, was like, ok, I obviously don’t fit in on the Irish scene. But to this day, I’d still be good friends with the judges. Caitriona and Jo, we’ve always stayed in contact after the show. I’ve done interviews with Jo and everything, and she’s always saying to me, “But sure we were right, you’re very American country.” [Laughs]. See, they were afraid that I’d try to fit into the Irish country scene, and neglect the kind of passion I have for the American scene.
And as it turned out, Chantelle’s time on Glór Tíre left her well prepared for her time on The Voice when it arrived…
I learned so much from the show. Sure I had never been on TV, with cameras and everything. As an adult singer, I had lacked all that experience, because I’d never had a chance to do it until Glór Tíre came about. So I got used to cameras, and interviews, and to how everything ran, I guess. And without that, I would have struggled with The Voice. I think I needed that bit of experience. I think I came fourth on Glór Tíre [laughs]. But do you know what, it was an amazing experience. And it’s a voting show, and to be fair, sure no-one knew me [laughs]. So I wasn’t expecting to get far on the show. In order to win by votes, you need to be popular and well-known! But I knew that going into it. So I said, do you know what, it’s exposure, and nothing but good can come from it! After that, it wasn’t how Glór Tíre panned out, it was more so the fact of what do I do now? If I don’t fit into the Irish country scene, what am I going to do? Because that was the only country that would get you gigs over here. I was so kind of over-thinking the whole situation, and I was so disheartened about what opportunities I might get at all, so I left Ireland to go to the UK. I moved over to Cambridge, and yeah, I gave up music. I stopped gigging, cancelled any gigs I had in the diary for Ireland. It was a crazy time!”
~ CHURCH BELLS, the brand NEW single from CHANTELLE PADDEN, is OUT NOW, available on all platforms and to request from radio. Stay tuned for PART 2 of our chat with Chantelle coming your way very, very soon!