The winners were Claire Ernst, a fresh-faced singer-songwriter from Nashville; Andrew Music Williams, a singer, songwriter, producer, and former NFL hopeful from Long Beach, CA., and Jake Chapman, an L.A.-based multi-instrumentalist who’s written musical theater and performed at venues like Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall. Each contestant brought a singular approach to the writing prompt, but all three shared an understanding of what the song should communicate to listeners.
Ernst started out by asking her dad to help her figure out H.E.R.’s chords—then she made a beat and started singing over the top. “The first thing that came out of my mouth was ‘living with the door wide open,’ so I ran with it,” she says. “Then I threw a bunch of harmonies on it and finished it up just in time for my 20th birthday, so it just felt right.”
Williams similarly wrote of overcoming obstacles in his lyrics and tried to keep that vibe going with the track he produced. “Musically, as I was producing the record, I wanted the listeners to experience motivation and elevation,” he said.
For Chapman, the song was an opportunity to highlight some instrumental chops. He grabbed his mallets and added vibraphone, marimba, and glockenspiel. “I think my arrangement was successful at supporting H.E.R. with a unique, gentle, and playful vibe,” he says. “I’m so glad she liked what I did with her song!”
With the three winners selected, it was time to move forward with the arranging and recording of the track. The three musicians hopped on a video call with H.E.R., who provided guidance and coaching.
“In a year of many Zoom calls, the ones with H.E.R. would be my highlight,” says Chapman. “I’m glad she gave us praise on our individual entries and feedback when we were making the final song. It was fun to work with Claire and Andrew. We figured out a way to combine their respective verses and H.E.R.’s chorus into one song.”
H.E.R. liked the production and structure proposed by Williams, so that became the basis for the song. “I recreated the music and chord progressions to sit well with me and Claire’s vocal arrangements, and Jake played the vibes over the top to add a unique element to the song,” says Williams.
The finished song represents a true collaboration between the three winners. The bright melody, bubbly production, and sunny vibraphone accents work like aural mood-enhancers, while the lyrics encourage listeners to celebrate the positive aspects of life—something that’s not always easy amid the COVID-19 pandemic.