British teen Courtney Hadwin is definitely on her way to becoming a star. To call it a rags-to-riches tale would be both an insult to her upbringing and a tad premature, but the young singer certainly shot to prominence after a jaw-dropping audition on Season 13 of America's Got Talent, wowing the judges with an enthusiastic rendition of an Otis Redding classic. She received a standing ovation and was put straight through to the live shows by judge Howie Mandel, who was all too happy to use his Golden Buzzer. At the time of this writing, Hadwin's version of "Hard to Handle" has been watched more than 50 million times on YouTube.
Part of the attraction with Hadwin is that she seems to transform from an awkward teenager into a seasoned singer oozing with self-confidence as soon as the music kicks in. But is she really that shy off the stage? And where has she been hiding all this time? Why did she need to cross the Atlantic to get noticed? Let's take a look at the singer's surprising rise to fame.
Hadwin is a resident of Hesleden, a village nestled in northeast England. According to Hadwin's mother, Ann-Marie, there isn't much at home for her daughter. "Hesleden is small with a school, a shop, a pub, a park and a working men's club," she told The Sun. "It used to be a real mining community. But there isn't really much in the village. You have to travel out to do things." For Hadwin's dad, Paul, watching his daughter outgrow her hometown has been painful. "We're just a normal family and, to be honest, I'd prefer her to stay in the village with us," he admitted. "But I just want her to be happy."
If everything goes according to plan, Hadwin's parents might be packing their bags, too. "I'd love to live in America," the singer said. "I'd miss home but if I went to the U.S. I'd bring my family with me anyway. I couldn't survive without them." Hadwin also revealed that one of the first things she'd do with the America's Got Talent prize money is find her family a place with a swimming pool. "There's not enough room for one in our back yard," she said.
Before she jetted off to the States for AGT auditions, Hadwin told local station Hexham TV that she's wanted to be a singer ever since she saw a performance by the adorable Connie Talbot, a finalist on the first season of Britain's Got Talent. Like Talbot, Hadwin was naturally gifted, but she wanted to fine-tune her vocals and she knew that singing lessons didn't come cheap. According to her grandfather, Tom Storey, the resourceful teen started busking and pay for a vocal coach. Hadwin has apparently been performing on the streets of England since 2016, often traveling across the country to find prime locations.
"The busking has been paying for her music lessons and for petrol money," Storey told the Daily Mail, and it's apparently drawn a bit of ire from other street performers. "The shopkeepers and the punters love Courtney but the other buskers don't," Hadwin's granddad said. "They keep asking her to move away because she is always the big attraction and attracts the crowd."
Hadwin made a name for herself on the local level in June 2016, when a video of the then-11-year-old was uploaded to her school's Facebook page. Because she'd only been attending The Academy at Shotton Hall for a few weeks, nobody knew there was a powerful voice hiding inside Hadwin's tiny frame, so when the newbie attended an open mic session and delivered a powerful rendition of Great Big World and Christina Aguilera's "Say Something," it caused quite the stir. "I haven't been able to walk down the corridor at school without someone stopping me and saying 'well done,'" she told Chronicle Live at the time. "It's been weird but good at the same time."
The Brit made the rounds on the local talent show circuit. She performed David Guetta's "Titanium" at TeenStar UK 2015, and the following year, she was a finalist in the Open Mic UK contest, performing her own version of Sinéad O'Connor's "Nothing Compares 2 U." Speaking to the Hartlepool Mail in 2016, Hadwin's mother praised her daughter for going after her dream hard: "She comes in from school, does her homework and then she practices singing every night."
Can she really be that shy?
Courtney Hadwin has a track record of reaching competition finals only to fall at the last hurdle, but, when she was 11 years old, she managed to keep her nerve and win a contest called the Red Dreams 1Voice, competing against kids as old as 15. Red Dreams is a musical charity that Hadwin worked with prior to her time on TV, and a former helper confirmed that the girl is just as shy in person as she appears to be on America's Got Talent. "When she was on the show she was really meek and mild and she is really like that, she is very shy and finds it hard being in crowds," Dawn McManus told the Hartlepool Mail.
According to her granddad, Tom Storey, Hadwin is "shy and retiring" by nature but "becomes another person" as soon as she gets a mic in her hand (via the Daily Mail).
"I feel more confident singing than talking," Hadwin told Heavy. "I express myself when I sing more than talking..."
The U.K. just 'doesn't get her'
You might be wondering why Hadwin didn't go straight from The Voice Kids UK to Britain's Got Talent, the sister show of AGT. According to the singer, she chose to audition for the American version because all of her musical heroes hail from the States.
"We wanted to do America's Got Talent because it's the biggest show in the world and it's where all my idols are from," she said (via the Express). When the audience reacted the way they did during her audition, Hadwin knew she'd made the right choice. "I remember singing and then getting to a certain point in the song and seeing people enjoy it, which made me really happy," she said. "I must've been doing something right."
While the audience may have been utterly shocked by her sound, Hadwin's grandpa wasn't surprised by the warm reception. "We always believed she would do well in the USA, we knew they would get it in a way that the U.K. didn't," Tom Storey told the Daily Mail. "We believed in her and knew that she would go down a storm over there."
Some AGT fans didn't like her
Some America's Got Talent viewers weren't happy when they discovered that Hadwin had been a finalist on The Voice Kids UK in 2017. After she advanced to the semi-finals of AGT (her take on James Brown's "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag" won her a new celebrity admirer in Sharon Stone,) a number of followers took to Twitter to voice their complaints about Hadwin's previous experience.
"Courtney Hadwin said she'd never performed B4 an audience that big and she and her dad acted like they didn't know if she could perform cuz she's so shy," one irate user tweeted. "But she was a finalist in The Voice UK! So act is fake! U shudnt B allowed 2 compete if Uve been on other shows!" Hadwin also performed in a stage production of Les Misérables, playing young Cosette. "Stop with the shy kid act," another angry Twitter user said. "It's just that... an act." Some were upset with the show more than the contestant, calling out Simon Cowell and his fellow judges for allegedly pretending they were surprised by Hadwin's abilities.
Her big name caused bullying
Appearing on The Voice Kids UK in 2017 should have been a positive experience for Hadwin, but she was bullied instead. "Online, people were quite cruel, saying she was not a singer but a shouter," her grandpa told the Daily Mail. More trolling has ensued during her stint on America's Got Talent, but at least all of that was confined to the internet, unlike the shade that took place at her school.
According to The Sun, Hadwin was targeted by "envious school bullies" who couldn't stand the fact that she was on her way to becoming a star. "At school, people laugh at you," she said. "They're not used to people singing like me. I get called names. They say I sing like a boy." She admitted that dealing with the taunting can be challenging. "I try not to let it get to me and I just hope they're watching me now."
All that hate worries her parents. "It made me scared of the spotlight, but it's not my life, it's hers," said her mom. "If she's brave enough to ignore it, how can I not?" Her father added, "All big singers get haters. Look at Ed Sheeran. He had to delete his Twitter account because he couldn't cope with it."
Looking to the future
Music mogul Simon Cowell compared Courtney Hadwin to a lion after her big audition, but Howie Mandel went one step further, putting her on par with one of the most famous and influential acts in history. "She's far beyond anything I have seen in a decade, anywhere," Mandel told Access Hollywood. "It harkens back to [when] I was a little boy and I was sitting at home on Sunday night watching The Ed Sullivan Show, and I saw the Beatles. And I said, 'Oh my gosh, this is different, what is this?' And I feel it's the same thing with this little girl." Mandel also called her "Janis Joplin reincarnated," telling the teen she was "the biggest talent" of the season.
According to Hadwin's vocal coach, the bashful Brit has a bright future ahead of her. "She's already just won the hearts of so many people, worldwide," Julie Miles told Hexham TV. "She's very, very special. She's something very different." In fact, Hadwin already has a few superfans, as the various pieces of fan art she's shared on Instagram prove.
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