Twenty-two-year-old Dutch singer Esmee Denters first gained popularity after posting her singing videos on YouTube. Esmee’s videos got millions of hits. Soon Justin Timberlake handpicked Esmee and signed her to his Tennman Records label. Since then Esmee has not only performed and recorded with Justin Timberlake, but also went on to tour with Ne-Yo, Honor Society and Enrique Iglesias. Esmee’s first album, “Outta Here”, was released in the U.S. in 2009.
What does your name actually mean?
I can ask my mom because she’s sitting right next to me. My name doesn’t really mean anything, right? I think she saw a girl on a TV show who had a brother with Down Syndrome. She really liked the sister and the story, and that’s why she called me Esmee. It doesn’t really have a meaning, you know.
Where did you get the idea to post your singing on YouTube?
I discovered YouTube by accident because it wasn’t that big in Holland. Not a lot of people knew about the site and I was just really excited for a site for people to upload their own videos, and the whole world could pretty much watch those videos. I saw a couple of comedians doing some different stuff and I thought, why are there no singers on there? So, I just came up with the idea, and I had this old grainy webcam, and before I knew it, it was up there and people were watching.
Did you ever think your YouTube videos would get so many viewers and that someone like Justin Timberlake would notice you?
I mean, no not at all. I’ve always loved singing and I knew I could sing but I never thought so many thought I was so interesting. I never expected it, but of course, it’s what you wish.
Tell me about the collaboration with Justin?
Yeah, I’ve always been a fan of his work and he’s always been someone I’ve looked up to, so when he saw my YouTube videos and wanted to meet me, it was very surreal. At first, I was like, really? Are you kidding me? I didn’t really believe it until I was right in front of him and we met. There was a piano in the room and I was like ‘okay, this is my one shot. I’m going to show him what I’m about,’ and that’s what I did.
How do you respond to negative comments on your YouTube videos?
I think in the beginning you’re shocked because some people say some weird things or mean things that you’re not used to like, “I hate you,” or “I don’t like you,” or “You’re ugly!” You’re anonymous on the internet and they can pretty much say anything they want.
As a young girl, I wanted everybody to like me, but I think over time I’ve learned that I’d really rather have people not like me than not have an opinion about me. I think all successful artists have people who love them or hate them.
Tell me about the first time you performed with Justin Timberlake.
It was actually my first performance ever. The first show was actually at the MCM Arena, the biggest venue in Holland. I did sing a couple of songs in front of a massive audience, and I’ve never been so nervous in my life. I thought I was going to die, but once I was on stage and finished my two songs, I was like “Man I don’t want to get off, this is incredible.” I learned a lot from Justin. He was giving me advice and watching the show every night. After that, I actually got to work with him. There’s one song that Justin and I wrote together, which is Casanova, and there’s another song, Gravity.
Tell me about yourself as a kid?
I grew up in a typical family. My dad is a music freak and we had all kinds of records around the house. My sister and I always loved going to dance classes and always wanted to be famous. We used to do plays for our parents when we were younger. I remember being infatuated with the Spice Girls. So, yes, I’ve always wanted to sing.
Who are your favorite artists (musically)?
I love all kinds of music. I grew up with a lot of pop music like the Spice Girls and Janet Jackson, and after that came Destiny’s Child. I’ve always been infatuated with female pop artists, and I wanted to be one. I’ve always loved Beyoncé and Alicia Keys. Growing up listening to Stevie Wonder, there was definitely a lot of R&B and pop influence, and now I’m starting to listen to a lot more rock ‘n’ roll.
Once you got kind of big, you appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show, how was that?
Yeah well, that was definitely another moment where I could pinch myself. It’s ridiculous. Ever since I was young, I was infatuated with the Oprah Winfrey show… (because my favorite artists used to come on that show), and all of a sudden when I was signed to Justin’s label, I got a call, and they were like, “We want to have you on the Oprah Winfrey show.” At first I was like, “Hey, this is very funny, you’re joking, it’s not funny because it’s actually one of my biggest dreams to do that.” They picked us up in a huge limo, we went to the show and it was just crazy. It’s one of the moments I’ll never forget.
What’s your impression of the entertainment/music industry so far?
I think one of the things that people don’t know is that sometimes when you go to a show, you don’t have time to dress and you’re pushed on the stage. Things can go so fast. That’s part of it, but you don’t get to see it if you’re not in the business yourself. You think everything is glamorous, but trust me, I’ve changed in dirty bathrooms and different things. But the thing is, what happens is that you go on stage, and once you have your clothes on and your make up on, it just makes you feel like a different person. You feel such power, being able to sing and having people sing along with you. That feeling is just the best feeling in the world.
Let’s talk about your 2009 album, “Outta Here”, which was just recently released in the US. The songs are very hip-hop/soul-like. Is that your genre or style?
Definitely, I’ve always loved pop and R&B, so it was sort of natural for this album to have that kind of sound, and I think especially in “Outta Here” and a couple of other songs, there is more of a rock influence to it. I love playing around with different kinds of sounds, so the next album might be a lot different, I don’t know, I think that’s the great thing about music.
Are any of the songs inspired by a personal story?
Actually, I have a song on the record called “Memories Turn to Dust”. I travel a lot in what I do, and I don’t get to see my friends as much. Sometimes you go through periods when they don’t really understand what it is that you’re doing, and sometimes you see each other again, and all these things have happened, people changed and it seems like they forgot about you, about what you had. So that’s “Memories Turn to Dust”.
What made the biggest impression on you in America?
I have a funny one. I think the food is very incredible. I’m big on food and when I was in the US, at first, I would go into the supermarket and go like, “I want to try that, I want to try that and that…” You guys have so many different things that we don’t have. I’ve got a sweet-tooth.
You’re 22 years old; tell me about your life besides singing?
I still travel back and forth between Holland and wherever I need to be. I’m pretty much on the road most of the time. When I get back home, I just love to be with my family, my friends, and I just do normal things like go to the movies, go shopping, so I’m pretty much normal, besides what I do.
Here in the US we can’t drink alcohol until we turn 21, and we can’t do a lot of other things that people can do in the Netherlands, if you understand what I mean. How do you feel about that?
To me it’s never really been a big issue because I’ve always lived here. It’s kind of like when you’re 18 here you can drive, and in America it’s when you are16. So that’s strange to me, actually, because that’s how I grew up with the rules that are here. But in Holland the fact that you get to do it takes sort of the fun out of it. That’s why a lot of people don’t smoke weed, because it’s not a forbidden thing, so they don’t think that it’s cool. That’s one of the things that always worked here.
What inspires your fashion sense?
When I travel a lot, I like to go to different cities and pick out different things, and then put them together. Then I know that it’s unique because I travel all over the world and pick my clothes from everywhere. I maybe buy leggings in New York and maybe buy shoes in England. I like to go to places that you normally wouldn’t go to, and pick out different things that would look good together, and just have fun with it.
What are your favorite things?
I love food; I like sushi, clothes of course. Being a girl, I love dressing up girly, make up. I love going to the movies. I love music. I love many things that have to do with entertainment, and that’s what I do as well.
What are your pet peeves? Things that annoy you?
I really can’t stand people who chew gum and then open their mouth. I really can’t stand that, it’s really annoying, and then they talk when they chew.
What advice would you give to other young aspiring singers?
Put yourself out there and don’t be shy or afraid. There are always people who are not going to like you so you’re just going to have to get through that, and have fun with what you love to do, because that’s what’s most important.