The biggest breakouts of the Grammy Awards came courtesy of two Atlantic acts, country wunderkind Hunter Hayes and folk-pop singer Ed Sheeran. Each up for one of the top categories (best new artist and song of the year, respectively), Hayes and Sheeran also scored coveted performance slots that shone a light on their hits "Wanted" and "The A Team," both peaking at No. 16 on the Billboard Hot 100. With Hayes inking a new deal with Pepsi and already on the road with Carrie Underwood, and Sheeran about to start a year-long tour with Taylor Swift, expect even bigger things from these artists in 2013.
How did it feel to attend and perform on the Grammys for the first time, all at once?
Hayes: It was huge, man. Life-changing. I always watched the Grammys--I always looked forward to the epic performances. So this year getting a performance on the show was a little nerve-racking. I was totally excited about it going in with three nominations and getting to do my music in the show. The whole experience was epic.
Sheeran: It's the biggest musical awards in the world. For musicians, we've kind of seen it as the pinnacle of success.
When did you find out you were performing?
Hayes: I knew about four days before the show. They said, "Here's the time we have. What can we do with it?" I literally timed myself out singing the chorus of "Wanted" and said, "Guys, I can do it!"
Sheeran: Elton John gave me a call and asked if I wanted to sing for the Grammys and I said, "Yes."
Where was your seat?
Hayes: I was right in front, stage right, where [Justin] Timberlake performed. I was right across the aisle from Ellen DeGeneres, right across the aisle from Kelly Clarkson as well. Then right behind me was Jack White, which was cool--he's a super guitar hero for me. However, I did not have the guts to turn around and say, "Dude, you're awesome!" I totally wish I would have now. I was in the midst of all the excitement.
Sheeran: I sat behind Adele and next to Chris Brown and Rihanna, which was surreal in itself.
Which were you more nervous about--performing or winning?
Hayes: I was more nervous if the remote chance would happen that I would have to get up and give a speech, that I would be accepting something so big, how would I put it into words. There was some serious competition and I'm really happy for those who did win those awards. Some day I do hope I get the chance to get up and accept one or two or however many I can get. But this year I was stoked to be sitting among these superstars and named next to my heroes in these nominations, and just to be there.
Sheeran: I was most nervous about the awards I was up for. The performing side of things is quite exhilarating, knowing I was performing in front of the whole world, the whole industry. I know it sounds silly but I didn't really have one of those star-struck moments that night--it was all a bit kind of full-on with the whole thing.
Did you have any famous fans approach you on Grammy night?
Hayes: I got to go to a party right before the show where I knew one of my guitar heroes, John Mayer, would be, and Sting would be there as well. I introduced myself to Sting and he was really cool and supportive. He knew who I was, which freaked me out. Then I met John and he was really complimenting me on playing a Strat and incorporating the blues-type stuff into my music, which blew me away that he even knew who I was and what I sounded like.
Then, right before the Grammy show, I was in the dressing room basically letting the nerves get to me and somebody said something in the hall. It was John Mayer, who was there by himself, making a beeline for my dressing room. He was like, "Dude, you got nothing to worry about. Do your thing, play your music, and that's what people are going to remember." That felt like a "Welcome to the club" kind of thing for me. It was pretty awesome.
Sheeran: Pharrell and Timbaland, which was quite nice. I'm a big fan of both of them. That was just as I was walking out.
You're both fairly well-known already, but are you aware of how much the Grammys can take you to the next level?
Hayes: Absolutely. I can't believe I got to introduce my music to that many people at one time. I got to do my thing, and that's huge.
Sheeran: Despite touring in America for the last year, this was really my first introduction to the mainstream audience in America.