Now 20, Barrett may already have her very own signature hit with “I Hope,” a breakup song in which a scorned woman wishes that her ex’s new girlfriend serves him some karma. The song’s slow-burning electric guitar and swirling production highlight Barrett’s smoky tone, with its dynamic chorus showcasing her vocal power. The singer wrote the track with rising Nashville songwriter Zachary Kale (Florida Georgia Line) and country hitmaker Jon Nite (Keith Urban) on Halloween in 2018, about six months after she’d placed third on Season 16 of American Idol.
Barrett was scouted for the show via email in late 2017 (“At first I was like, ‘This has to be spam,’” she remembers with a laugh). After a successful run — during which judge Luke Bryan proclaimed she’d “take this base and grow with it far beyond this competition” — Barrett thought she’d easily land a record deal upon the show’s end, and was quickly proven wrong. She approached every label in town, but none were interested, because they didn't think she had the songwriting skills to back up her TV credentials.
Barrett released “I Hope” independently in January 2019, and the song gradually gained traction thanks in part to early placement by iTunes and SiriusXM; by April, labels were knocking on her door. She performed acoustically for a few Nashville imprints, but Warner Music Nashville stuck out after chairman/CEO John Esposito declared she had to be a Warner artist. “He said, ‘I’ve never been this adamant with anyone except one other group,’” she recalls. That other group was Grammy-winning duo Dan + Shay.
Upon signing Barrett in May last year, Warner immediately put her on a radio tour to maintain the song’s momentum, a move in line with what Barrett had emphasized in all of her meetings: “I needed a label that was invested in this like I’m invested in this.” Eleven months later, “I Hope” has reached No. 3 on the Country Airplay chart (dated April 11). Barrett and labelmate Ingrid Andress have made history as the first two women to land their solo debut hits in the tally’s top 10 simultaneously (Andress’ “More Hearts Than Mine” is No. 5 on the April 11-dated chart).
Though she’s the youngest artist in the top 10 of both Country Airplay and Hot Country Songs (she's No. 2 on the April 11-dated chart), Barrett insists that her age hasn’t impacted any of her opportunities thus far — after all, she is already nine years into her career. And with her debut set on the way later this year (which she teases will have some “cool collaborations,” genre-bending songs and country super-producer Ross Copperman at the helm), Barrett says, “I’m just glad to be making some noise.”
As for her dad, who helped start it all? “He’s just sitting back and enjoying watching everything finally take off,” Barrett adds. “I want to make him really proud — and buy him a house or something someday.”
A version of this article will appear in the April 25, 2020 issue of Billboard.