Cork teenager Allie Sherlock is about to the take the next step in her already-storied singing career, writes Ellie O’Byrne
You probably already know who Allie Sherlock is. You may be amongst the 2.5 million Irish viewers that made her appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show the third most watched YouTube video of 2018. Or maybe you’re one of the 1.1 million global subscribers to her channel, or have seen the videos of her busking that have generated over 98 million views.
They’re big numbers for a singing sensation who’s still just three years into double digits, but Allie, from Douglas on the outskirts of Cork city, is taking it all in her stride.
Tall for her age, calm and self- assured, she walks into a city hotel lobby for her interview alongside her father and manager, Mark Sherlock. It’s been a phenomenal year for the teen: as well as her continued YouTube success, there’ve been recording sessions in LA with producer and songwriter Ryan Tedder, and support slots in Cork for Picture This, which saw her playing to her largest audiences to date.
Walking out onto a stage with just her guitar for company in front of 5,000 Picture This fans seems to have phased her as little as any of the other milestones she’s reached.
“That was amazing,” she says. “It was just me and my guitar, but it was fine and I wasn’t that nervous. By the end of the gig I was looking over at my dad and saying, ‘can I just do one more song?’”
Of course, Allie is used to gathering quite the crowd when she busks. She took up the guitar at eight when she took guitar lessons with her dad, and quickly decided she wanted to sing too; her remarkable voice, husky and soulful, stopped passers-by in their tracks when she started busking pop covers from stars like Adele and Ed Sheeran at 11 years of age.
Allie chooses her own songs to cover and runs polls on her YouTube account where international fans up-vote songs for her to learn and perform, which she does at an astonishing rate: there are almost 300 videos of her busking to date.
“I’m very picky with my songs: they have to be a certain genre and style,” she says. “Upbeat, faster stuff doesn’t really suit me so I go for ballads from people like Adele, or Ed Sheeran’s slower songs.”
Recently, the teen has started playing her own compositions, but says she’s not really comfortable performing them yet; her forthcoming album, recorded in LA with Ryan Tedder, the former OneRepublic star who has written and produced for many of Allie’s musical idols, will include one track she co-wrote with Tedder.
While YouTube fans are appreciating her song-writing, she feels she’s got a way to go with crafting melodies. Writing lyrics, she says, comes more naturally to her.
Nevertheless, there’s a remarkable maturity to her emerging writing talent that may have its roots in the adversity Allie has encountered in her life. Her mother passed away when she was just nine; one of her self-penned songs, ‘The Night Before’, is about her mother’s death.
A year later, she left primary school in sixth class due to bullying, and has been home-schooled ever since. “I think they were just jealous, and I’m ok with it now,” she says.
Now in second year, she has one-on-one tuition in her junior cert subjects, as well as guitar, piano and vocal coaching.
On weekends, she goes to Grafton Street in Dublin with her ever-present father-protector at her side; Mark Sherlock stays put while Allie performs, and he films and uploads the DIY-style videos to YouTube.
The internet is a strange and, at times, sinister place. Allie is banned from her own YouTube channel, which her dad manages and monitors on her behalf.
“I think it’s because people can hide behind a picture on YouTube. It bothers me more than it would bother her.
I press ‘hide user’ if it’s negative or weird, so they can’t comment again.”
All Allie’s earnings from her busking, her YouTube channel and CD sales are all put into a bank account for her and she gets an allowance.
Mitch Winehouse, Joe Jackson —father-managers in the music business don’t have the best reputation. Is Mark aware that people may think he’s cut from the same cloth?
He says the question has reared its head, but that unlike other showbiz parents, his focus is not on making her work, but on safeguarding what remains of Allie’s childhood. “Everything is to benefit her,” he says. “There’s not going to be any of this constant touring stuff.”
“We’ve had all the music labels come knocking, America’s got Talent, everything. But we don’t do anything unless it’s something that’s fun and fits in with her life. She has a 50-50 production deal with Ryan Tedder: I just think if she went to a label now, they’d work her to death. We have control over things like how much she wants to tour when the album comes out.”
Keeping his superstar-in-the-making grounded is also important. “We had some trouble when she first started getting noticed, didn’t we?” he says, smiling at Allie, who shrugs sheepishly.
More grounding may yet be needed in 2019, which promises to be another big year for the singer. Although she’s recorded before, the album she recorded as part of her five-year, three-album deal with Tedder, due out in February, will be Allie’s first professional release and it’s set for UK release, with some associated gigging to do.
It’s the path she’s chosen, and she’s full of ambition. Where would she like to be in 10 years’ time?
“Hopefully be in a big arena somewhere. I want to move to the States,” she says, looking to her father: “Well in a way I do, and in another way I don’t; all my family are here.”
“That’s ok, you can have one home in Frankfield and one in LA,” Mark says reassuringly.
It seems that Allie’s adventure is just beginning.
- Allie Sherlock Live is at Cyprus Avenue, Cork on Thursday, December 27: a matinee show at 3pm and an evening show at 7.30pm