Early in the week of the Fourth of July, Gabby Barrett was enjoying a rare and much-needed break: A couple of days at home in Munhall, Pa., a southeastern suburb of Pittsburgh. At first glance, Barrett could be mistaken for a typical 19-year-old visiting home for the holiday, but there’s one key difference.
“I realized I can not go to Walmart in sweatpants and dirty hair anymore,” Barrett tells Country Now with a laugh.
Over the past year, Barrett has won a legion of fans nationwide. In 2018, Barrett placed third on the 16th season of American Idol, and has also performed as a supporting act for stars like Toby Keith, Cole Swindell and Keith Urban. Now, the singer says that she’s becoming so used to maintaining a whirlwind schedule of performances, taking even a couple of days off the road feels a little bit strange.
“It’s a good weird,” she clarifies, “but also, I’m so busy that when I get a day off, it’s like, ‘What is happening?!’ But it’s really good to regroup and take a day off, every once in a while, even though I like to stay busy for the most part.”
Though her rise to stardom on Idol may seem like an overnight success, Barrett has been steadily working to fuel her dream ever since childhood. By the time she realized that she wanted to pursue music for a living, at age 11, she had already started touring, and had been performing in front of an audience for two years. Barrett joined a gospel choir when she was 9 years old, after her father (and then-manager), Blasé Barrett, recognized her talent and passion for music, and decided to support her in whatever way he could.
As a young performer, that support meant everything to Barrett. “I mean, he’s really helped in almost every single aspect,” she says of her father’s role in her career. “When you have a dad that’s on the same page as you, and will give up everything to get you there, it’s everything.”
Barrett also found support from the pastor directing her gospel choir, who recognized her talent and pushed her to hone her craft with an increasingly difficult repertoire. “I’ve always liked to challenge myself, and I noticed growing up that that was something that I really liked to do. Even in the church, the pastor would give me really, really hard songs to sing. He would be like, ‘Do you think you can sing that?’” Barrett recalls. “I’m like, ‘Well, I’m gonna try. I’m gonna figure out a way to do it.’”
Growing up, country music was always playing in her household. As she began to hone her voice in the choir, however, Barrett began to immerse herself in the vocal powerhouses of soul and R&B. “Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin — just big songs and big voices,” the singer explains. “That kind of stuff is how I challenged my voice, and learned stuff.”
Like a lot of kids, Barrett was fearless. It didn’t occur to her to be self-conscious about her style or nervous about getting on stage. “When you get older, you have all these fears and anxieties, all these things just come up more. When I was younger, I would just sing because I loved to do it,” she relates. Her dad encouraged her to keep that fearlessness and to trust her abilities, too. In fact, Barrett credits her decision to join Idol to that youthful bravery.
“I think having that trait from so young, and learning how to deal with situations that way, has helped me with everything up to this point in time. It’s helped immensely, and I’m blessed to have that,” she reflects.
Her stint on the televised competition brought new highs for Barrett, including meeting Carrie Underwood, a musical hero of hers, whose song — “Church Bells” — she’d performed during her audition for the show. Prior to that day, Underwood hadn’t even seemed like a real person to Barrett. “She’s someone I watched videos of, someone I watched on American Idol, and listened to on the radio, and when you do that for years and years and years, you don’t even think these people are real. You don’t even think they’re human until you actually see them in person,” Barrett says. “It’s a complete, overwhelming emotion that comes over you.”
These days, Barrett can count Underwood as a friend — the country superstar gave her her number during that meeting and told her to keep in touch if there was anything she needed.
Of course, notching the No. 3 spot on the show didn’t guarantee Barrett success in the music business outside Idol. After the season finale aired, the singer says she wasn’t sure if she’d ever get signed to a label.
“I came off the show, and zero labels were trying to grab at me. At all. I mean, none,” she says flatly. Barrett already had plenty of experience touring and performing before she set foot on the Idol stage, so she knew she could roll with the punches. “I was like, ‘Okay, I’m gonna stick my nose to the ground and really focus on writing songs, and hopefully get one that’s good. And we got ‘I Hope’ out of it,” she adds.
Co-written with Nashville heavy-hitters Jon Nite and Zachary Kale, “I Hope” became Barrett’s debut single in January of 2019. “I just knew when I heard it. I was like, ‘Yeah, this is gonna be the one,’” Barrett says of the song. “Because this is just my favorite song that I’ve ever written and been a part of. So we released it, and fortunately, it started doing well, and all the labels started to come in.” After meeting with several labels, Barrett ultimately signed to Warner Music Nashville.
“I Hope” marries Barrett’s soulful vocal prowess with traditional country story song lyrics, walking the line between the two musical styles that inspired her the most growing up. The singer says she enjoys creating imaginative, outside-the-box music, and “I Hope” is just the beginning.
“I’m almost done with an album, so there’s a bunch of variety of music on there that I can’t wait for people to hear,” says Barrett, adding that her new project is fortified with some of Nashville’s most successful hit-makers. She worked with producer and songwriter Ross Copperman on the record and wrote songs with writers such as Josh Osborne, Josh Kerr, David Garcia and more.
Meanwhile, Barrett has an equally momentous personal development in the works. The singer met her now-fiancé, Cade Foehner, while competing on Idol. Foehner also finished in the season’s Top 5 contestants, and the pair announced their engagement in March of 2019. Since then, they’ve been juggling their respective careers with wedding planning.
“Pinterest is my best friend right now,” Barrett jokes. The couple isn’t in a hurry to rush to the altar, though. After all, they’re both busy touring artists at critical junctures in their careers. “It is so unbelievably helpful that he is also an artist. I’m fortunate to have his support and understanding because he knows how it goes…he’s traveling and doing the same thing,” the singer continues.
Foehner and Barrett don’t have specific plans for musical collaborations, either. They record covers on social media for their fans, but for the most part, both artists are concentrating on forging their own careers. “Maybe in the future we can be like Faith Hill and Tim McGraw,” Barrett says, but for now, they’re happy where they are.
In fact, during Barrett’s short time off in Munhall before she heads back out on the road, she’s finding time to be a typical 19-year-old in one big way — she’s bringing Foehner home with her to spend a little time in the place where she grew up.
“Actually, I’m in the car going to the airport to get Cade right now,” she adds with a laugh. “So everything’s going really, really well. We’re just enjoying the time right now, of being engaged. I’m just really excited about everything, and everything’s going great.”