When Madeline Merlo was just ten years old, she got up onstage at the Port Moody Idol competition and proceeded to belt out a thunderous version of Martina McBride’s blockbuster hit “Broken Wing.” As the Vancouver native tore through the biting opening lyric, there was no doubt it was a big song for a little girl.
But that wasn’t going to stop her from telling its story.
“I had no idea what she was going through in that moment or where that song came from, but it felt important,” the 27-year-old declares to American Songwriter. “I think I have just always loved music like that.”
Indeed, the pop-country singer/songwriter has long made a career by telling big emotional stories in the span of 3 minute or so songs. And while this strategy has worked wonders in Canada, with Merlo being given CCMA’s Rising Star Award in 2015 and her debut album spawning three top ten singles after its release in 2016.
But now, Merlo finds herself preparing to stake her claim on Music Row.
“It’s a really weird thing when you dream about something and it happens,” gushes Merlo, who signed a deal with BBR Music Group in January 2021. “I remember coming to Nashville for the first time with my mom and driving down Music Row and seeing all of those songwriter banners and saying out loud, ‘someday, I’m going to have me one of those.’”
Ultimately, that day came just last year, as Merlo snagged big-time props as the writer of the Lady A blockbuster “Champagne Night,” which not only helped her end up as the winner of season 2 of the NBC songwriter series Songland, but also gave the talented songwriter a song that reigned at the number one spot on the country charts for three weeks.
“To hear ‘Champagne Night’ on the radio is crazy,” says Merlo, who has long looked up to artists such as Etta James, The Chicks and Fleetwood Mac. “I mean, I have worked so hard, writing 5 days a week as a songwriter. I just want to create incredible music that people will love.”
A love of words has long been a constant in the life of Merlo. In fact, as a little girl, she would fill her diaries with songs and stories about her mom and her friends and, even, her hamster. “Very emotional stuff…but also very hilarious,” she says with a laugh.
In 2010, Merlo began working with her first producer, who coincidentally also became her first co-writer. Just a year later, she made her first trip to Nashville with her mom by her side. And in 2017, she made the move to Nashville for good.
“Definitely the best decision I ever made, hands down,” Merlo gushes. “I’m proud of myself. It was scary leaving family and friends and the life I knew, but I just always felt called to do it.”
And through it all, her quest for the spotlight never wavered.
“I love to sing, I love to perform, I love to write, and I love that each of those things come from a completely different headspace,” she remarks. “It’s a beautiful thing to stand on stage to sing a song I wrote and watch it resonate with people. To me, it’s the perfect combo to do both.”
Since moving to Nashville fulltime, Merlo says that she is learning more and more about combining her talents along with a good dose of business sense and industry knowhow.
“I definitely feel like I’m pushing myself, but I know that’s only going to make me better,” she explains. “I’m getting in rooms with people that I could only once dream of being in a room with.”
And most of what she is creating in those rooms is coming out downright magical.
“I am constantly tapping into all of these feelings that I feel,” concludes Merlo, who plans to have new music out this fall. “I feel like, as a person, I experience joy in a bigger way and sadness in a bigger way. I guess that just comes from being so emotional. It can be hard to constantly be like that, but I think it makes me a better writer.”