Monday, June 7, 2010

Justin Timberlake Protege Esmee Denters Grows Up

Three years ago, an eighteen-year-old Dutch singer named Esmee Denters started a YouTube channel where she smiled warmly into the camera and sang - brilliantly - to a few hundred strangers.

"I feel really silly," Denters says in an early vlog, where she speaks into the camera for the first time.

Today, the 21-year-old Denters is an unprecented YouTube star - ranking in as the seventeenth most subscribed-to YouTube musician of all time - and earning millions of views per music video.

A cover of Denters singing Justin Timberlake's "What Goes Around Comes Around" in May 2007 earned Denters a staggering 22 million views - but arguably the most important one came from Timberlake himself,  who took note of Denters' powerful voice and charming persona - and signed her as the first artist to his Interscope imprint Tennman Records. Denters called Poison Ivy during a media trip to New York last week to tell us the story. 

You went from singing covers of Justin Timberlake on YouTube to opening for him on his international tour. What's that transformation like?
When I was eighteen, I uploaded some videos to YouTube. All I wanted to really know what was people thought of my voice. I never thought [millions of] people would actually be watching me. I was very very nervous when I [auditioned for Timberlake] because I think he's an amazing artist... I showed up to one of his concerts and auditioned for him in his dressing room. He had a piano in there, and I decided to go for it. I performed Prince's "How Come U Don't Call Me Anymore?" I just thought: Justin Timberlake is standing in front of me right now. This is my one shot. A month later, I was signed as the first artist on Tennman Records.

In one of your first YouTube videos, you say you feel silly talking into a camera and feel uncomfortable. Do you still feel awkward on camera? 
I've grown up a lot. I'm 21 now... So I feel a lot more confident than I used to be. People liking my music gives me a lot of confidence. And I feel like I have a different personality onstage. You turn into another person a little bit... I come out of my shell.

Who did you grow up listening to? 
I listened to a lot of soul records: Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Jackson 5. Then there were The Beatles, Nirvana - a little bit of everything. (Laughs) Spice Girls, Destiny's Child, Janet Jackson. A lot of powerful women that inspired me.

Talk about your new song with Justin Timberlake, "Love Dealer." How did the idea for the song come up?

Justin and I wrote the song together with Stargate. We wanted to make a Prince-y kind of song but a lot more pop of course. It ended up being a funky, sexy song that showed a different side to me. Everyone on YouTube knows me as being a shy girl. But I've grown up in the last three years.

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