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Carly Hennessy: One of The Costliest Mistakes In Pop Music History

Pop rock singer/songwriter Carly Hennessy was born September 12, 1983 in Dublin, Ireland. Growing up, like a lot of young girls, she dreamed of becoming a famous pop star. When Carly turned 15, her father decided to help her pursue her dream of pop stardom, so the two moved to the United States. Her demo found its way to the president of MCA Records, Jay Boberg, who was immediately impressed by the young singer’s voice. After a meeting with executives, Carly was signed on the spot to a six album deal and immediately began work on her debut album. MCA gave Carly an apartment in Marina Del Rey, California, a car, a $100,000 advance and $5,000 a month in living expenses.

With hopes to replicate the success that Britney Spears was achieving at the time, Carly spent three months locked in the recording studio with music producer Steve Dorff, who was well-known for his work with Celine Dion, Cher, and Dusty Springfield, working on her debut. By the time everyone was paid for their part in making her debut album, MCA had spent around $350,000 on making the LP.  When the album was finally complete, no one was happy with the end result, so MCA decided to scrape the entire LP and start over from scratch. This decision would prove to be one of many that would ultimately pave the road to financial disaster.

In 2000, MCA employed Gregg Alexander (former New Radicals front man) and Danielle Brisebois to produce the album; but by April of 2001, the album was still unfinished. MCA wanted to spark early interest in the up-and-coming pop singer, so they decided to go ahead and release her debut single, “I’m Gonna Blow Your Mind.” The song was a risky choice because of its subject matter (oral sex), but MCA felt it was their best choice for a single. They spent $250,000 on a music video, $200,000 to hire independent promoters, $100,000 to update Carly’s image and $150,000 for a four-week promotional tour.

“I’m Gonna Blow Your Mind” and its polished music video were sent out to major media outlets. Despite the well-produced music video, the clip failed to garner much play on any of the major music channels. Vice president of pop promotion at MCA, Greg Marella, claimed the song failed to connect with listeners because it was too mature for Top 40 and too pop for Adult Top 40. With no album and an underperforming lead single, MCA decided they needed to bring in someone with more experience to try to save the rapidly sinking ship. Miles Copeland, Sting’s former manager, was hired as co-manager. He insisted the album was taking too long to complete and began pressuring everyone involved to speed up the process.

When the album was finally complete, MCA had spent around one million dollars on the Irish singer and her record, but everyone involved felt they had a sure-fire hit album on their hands. The LP, titled Ultimate High, was set for release on November 13, 2001. To help with promotion, MCA got Carly a modeling contract and sent her on a press tour of Canada. While Carly was touring Canada, the label decided it was time to release a second single from the album. They decided on the upbeat pop tune “Beautiful You,” and spent an additional $500,000 on promotion for the song.

Billboard Magazine reviewed the single in October of 2001, saying: “Carly Hennessy got off to a promising start with her launch single “I’m Gonna Blow Your Mind”. Unfortunately, she got lost in radio’s marked turn away from youthful pop, and the song went largely unnoticed…. this equally compelling follow-up … ‘Beautiful You’ is a buoyant outing, spirited and optimistic with an adhesive chorus fully capable of locking itself tightly in the memory.” Despite positive reviews, “Beautiful You” was a bigger chart disappointment than its predecessor.

When Carly’s debut album, Ultimate High, finally hit store shelves, it was a mammoth commercial disappointment. Actually, to simply call it a disappointment would be an understatement. After three months in stores, the record had only sold 378 copies. As a last-ditch effort to recoup some of the money spent on Carly, the single “I’m Gonna Blow Your Mind” was released in Europe in early 2002, but it failed to make any impact. MCA dropped Carly from their label in 2002, and after all was said and done, the record label had spent over two million dollars on the project. Carly’s solo career is now largely considered one of the biggest mistakes in music history.

Following the release of Ultimate High, which is now available on iTunes, Carly decided to take a break. During her break from music, she met her husband Todd Smithson, a tattoo artist, in Los Angeles. Wanting to get back into music, Carly auditioned for Season 5 of American Idol in 2006 using her married name (Carly Smithson), but was disqualified because the paperwork for her work visa was delayed. She returned for season 7 and made it to the top 12, but was eliminated on April 23, 2008.

Carly currently fronts the rock band We Are the Fallen, which is made up of Carly, Marty O’Brien and former Evanescence members Ben Moody, John LeCompt, and Rocky Gray. The band released their debut album, Tear the World Down, in 2010. The record debuted on the Billboard 200 at number thirty-three.

Only time will tell if she ever decides to pursue a solo career again, but you can bet that many in the music business will never forget the name Carly Hennessy.


  1. “Pop Singer Fails to Strike a Chord Despite the Millions Spent by MCA.” Wall Street Journal, February 26, 2002.
  2. “We Are the Fallen Album & Song Chart History”. Billboard.com, May 21, 2010
  3. “Review”. Billboard, October 29, 2001
Carly Hennessy flashback

About Jared Braden

I'm Jared Braden, the man behind this website. I can usually be found hanging out on Twitter tweeting random thoughts and ideas. If you're on Facebook, you can find me there, too! I love to hear from my readers, so if have any ideas, suggestions, requests or just want to talk music, please feel free to send me an email at jaredbraden(at)outlook.com.
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