Gabby Barrett Talks About Her #1 Country Hit “I Hope,” Her Success On American Idol, And Writing Her Songs

Gabby Barrett
Gabby Barrett
(Photo credit: Taylor Kelly)

Note: Here’s the interview we did with Gabby Barrett last November. Since then, she’s become one of country music’s new stars and her song “I Hope” reached #1 on the Billboard Country chart and #10 on the Hot 100 pop chart. Also, her debut album, Goldmine, has just been released.

In just the past two years, singer/songwriter Gabby Barrett, who is 19 years old, has emerged as a talented new artist in the country field. Last year (2018), she became nationally known for being a finalist on the hit TV show, American Idol. And this year, she has signed a label deal with Warner Music Nashville, and her debut single “I Hope” has become a hit.

Originally from Pittsburgh, PA, Barrett is becoming known for her soulful, powerful vocals and strong live performances. Even before her success on American Idol, Barrett built a solid following as a teenager with her steady touring and live shows.

In addition, Barrett is now developing her skills as a songwriter. She co-wrote her single “I Hope” (with Jon Nite & Zachary Kale), and she also co-wrote her recent song, “The Good Ones” (with Zachary Kale, Jim McCormick & Emily Landis). Barrett has also been writing new songs, and she’s been collaborating in the studio with top writer & producer Ross Copperman (who has worked with Luke Bryan, Keith Urban and Kenny Chesney).

Here’s an excerpt of our interview with Gabby Barrett, who tells how she co-wrote her hit song, “I Hope.”


Interestingly, Barrett was not offered a label deal immediately following her appearances on American Idol. Labels passed on her, and then she decided to co-write and record “I Hope” as an independent artist. Notably, it was the song’s successful indie release that led to interest from record companies. She subsequently decided to sign with Warner Music Nashville.

Currently, Barrett is continuing to promote her hit “I Hope,” and she’s on tour as the opening act for Chris Lane. In January, she will be opening for Kane Brown at the Staples Center arena in Los Angeles, and she’ll be performing at Stagecoach and other festivals.

We are pleased to do this new Q&A interview with Gabby Barrett. She tells how she got started with music, and she recalls her experience of being on American Idol. She also tells how she co-wrote her songs, “I Hope” and “The Good Ones.”

DK: I read that you’re from Pennsylvania. How did you get started with singing and performimg?

Gabby Barrett: Yes, I’m from Pittsburgh. I started singing when I was 9 years old, and I sang in a gospel choir at a church, which was 15 minutes from my house. And I stayed there (at the church) for about two years, and a group of women there would really work with me, every day of the week, and showed me what I was capable of doing with my voice. I would sing gospel, but at the same time I loved country music. So I combined country and R&B after those two years of staying at the church.

Here’s the video of Gabby Barrett’s hit, “I Hope.”

I did my first show when I was 11, and I started touring. Then for the next six years until I was 17, we just grinded it out. Me and my dad and my sister did shows anywhere that we possibly could. And when I was 17, I got scouted by a producer to do American Idol. They asked if I wanted to come down and audition for the judges in Nashville. So I did, and I ended up in third place on American Idol in 2018. And it’s been amazing ever since.

DK: Was your father a musician, who wanted to help promote your singing career when you were 11 years old?

Barrett: My dad wasn’t a musician, but I believe I got my singing ability from his side of the family. My great grandmother was a really good singer and had a great ear for music. And my family members on my dad’s side have [written songs] for Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and some really cool people. So I would get music from his side of the family, and I was very fortunate to have a dad who believed in the same dream as me, and pushed for it too.

DK: You got a big break by performing on American Idol. Can you talk about your experience of being on the show?

Barrett: American Idol was like [being on a] roller coaster—it’s the best way to explain it. You know, growing up and watching it on TV, when you watched American Idol, it was like the golden show. All the other shows were great, but Idol was the one that you wanted to be on. And after performing live for so many years, I remember thinking…Oh, [being on Idol], that’s just people performing on TV…that’s easy, I can do that. And then I got on the show, and it was way more than that. I realized that no matter how prepared you are for something, you’re going to be faced with challenges. So it was a real roller coaster of emotions—I was always nervous, happy, sad or excited. It was an amazing journey…something that I’ll always take with me for the rest of my career.

DK: After you finished on American Idol, I read that you were an independent artist for awhile, and you put out your song “I Hope” before you signed a label deal. Is that true?

Here’s the video of Gabby Barrett’s song, “The Good Ones.”

Barrett: Yes that’s correct. I came off of American Idol, and I did the whole [label shopping] thing, and I sent stuff out to labels and visited them. But everybody passed. So I was like…Okay, I’ll just stick my nose to the ground running, and hopefully we could get a good song, because I had just started to get into Nashville and develop relationships with wonderful people, especially songwriters. So we wrote “I Hope” on Halloween of last year (2018), and we released it independently, and that song just kind of stuck out. And fortunately labels started to come in, and I naturally gravitated towards Warner, and it’s been great ever since.

DK: “I Hope” has helped launched your career as a recording artist. Can you talk about what inspired you to write this song (with Jon Nite & Zachary Kale)?

Barrett: Sure. When you go to writing sessions, sometimes things just come  spontaneously, and that’s how it came for me. When we went into the writing session (for “I Hope”), I remember that [Jon & Zachary] had an idea. They said, “Let’s write a breakup song where the guy does the girl bad, but the girl still wishes the guy well in the end. Like it ended bad, but she’s still being nice to him.” And I remember saying, “That’s not gonna work” (laughs). Women really aren’t like that 99% of the time…nobody likes to be hurt. I’m one of eight kids, so unfortunately, I’ve been involved in seeing a lot of relationships go bad, and how women and people feel when things are done wrong to them. So we just turned [“I Hope”] into a song that reflected a person’s point of view, what they would want to say to somebody when things end in a bad relationship.

DK: You also have a new song called “The Good Ones.” Was that song inspired by being with your new husband, Cade Foehner?

Barrett: Absolutely. With “I Hope,” that was kind of about past relationships. So with the second song we rolled out, I wanted it to be my present and future. And “The Good Ones” was definitely inspired by him. For our writing session, I talked with [co-writer Emily Landis] about how we each had a “good one.” And when I was on American Idol, people would ask me, “How’s your boyfriend doing?” And I’d go, “Oh he’s good. He’s a good one…he’s a keeper.” So in the writing session, I said, “I want to write a song for the good ones out there.” Because there are good ones out there, and I found mine.

Here’s a video of Gabby Barrett performing her hit, “I Hope”
(Downtown Sessions).

DK: Currently, are you working on an EP or album?

Barrett: Right now, we’re just continuing to write songs. We are working towards an album; we’re about two or three songs short from an album. So hopefully, we’re going to keep that in the works.

DK: I read that you’ve been working in the studio with hit writer/producer, Ross Copperman. Is that right?

Barrett: Yes, Ross has been amazing. I met Ross when I was starting to build my team down in Nashville, not long after American Idol. He’s been wonderful from the jump. He produced ‘I Hope” and “The Good Ones,” and he’ll be producing my album once we get ready to do it.

DK: I read that you’re on the road, on tour with Chris Lane. Is that right?

Barrett: Yes I am. It’s funny…I’m actually in the parking lot right now, talking to you.  I’m getting ready to do a sound check for a show in New Jersey, opening for Chris.

DK: How’s the tour going?

Barrett: It’s going good. It’s been great to see everyone singing the words to some of the songs, especially “I Hope” and “The Good Ones.” It’s really enjoyable, and Chris had been great, too. He’s a fun person to be around.

DK: Are there any other things that you’re working on now?

Barrett: We’re doing a radio tour [to promote] “I Hope.” And we’re focusing on this tour with Chris, which goes through December. Then next year, we have some exciting stuff happening. I will be at Staples Center (in Los Angeles) opening for Kane Brown on January 9, and I’ll be performing at Stagecoach Festival next year and other cool stuff. So I’m just excited for the future.

Dale Kawashima is the Head of SongwriterUniverse and a music journalist. He’s also a music publishing exec who has represented the song catalogs of Michael Jackson, Prince, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Motown Records.
Dale Kawashima