January saw Heather Russell fielding YouTube comments on the merits of her self-penned songs. Come December, the 11-year-old’s tunes were being recorded in a Los Angeles studio and receiving input from the likes of Babyface and Simon Cowell.
The Toronto classroom where she studied alongside her friends has been replaced with the house in Los Angeles where her mother tutors her between writing and recording sessions.
It’s been a dizzying year for Russell who is now being groomed as Canada’s next pop star.
She made headlines in February when Cowell, the talent mogul of American Idol and X-Factor fame, signed her to a three-album deal on his label Syco Music.
For Russell, the deal marks the first step on what she sees as a life-long quest.
“I want to make albums until I die,” Russell said in a telephone interview.
Russell began attracting international attention long before inking her record contract.
YouTube videos featuring her blues-tinged vocal stylings, often belting out compositions co-written with her father, began earning her an Internet following and drew an admiring tweet from Ashton Kutcher.
A stripped-down guitar ballad entitled Every Step of the Way attracted the attention of Grammy-winning producer Rob Fusari, who has worked with the likes of Beyonce and Lady Gaga.
Months after Fusari began promoting her, Cowell came on board and Russell’s career took off.
Professional managers took over the tasks that were previously handled by her parents. Studio sessions and rehearsals began consuming more time than school, though Russell said she still spends about two hours a day on her studies.
Elementary school parties were replaced with charity events that let her rub shoulders with the likes of Somali-Canadian hiphop star K’Naan.
Still, the focus remains creating the sort of “soulful pop” music Russell hopes will truly launch her career.
She and her A-list collaborators have already written dozens of songs, she said, adding her first album is slated to drop some time in 2012.
The tracks will be as diverse as the artists she idolizes, which include Freddie Mercury, Justin Timberlake and Adele.
Through all the changes, Russell said she’s been anchored by her parents and younger brother who were willing to pull up roots and change their lives to help her pursue her dream.
“It’s really exciting. Who thought that an 11-year-old would be doing this,” she said. “I’m so thankful that this is happening to me right now.”