TAMPA, Fla. -- I believed in Rachel Platten long before most people knew who she was. The singer, whose rise to fame was driven by her hit "Fight Song," performed a concert in my living room in January 2015, in front of a crowd of about 30 people. Less than four months later, she was center stage in Times Square on "Good Morning America," and "Fight Song" began its meteoric rise up the Billboard charts. Two years later, Platten is an international sensation, with a pair of platinum singles (one of which went triple-platinum) under her belt and a headlining tour in her rearview mirror.
This past Saturday, she performed at the AT&T Playoff Playlist concert series as part of the College Football Playoff. We reconnected after the show to discuss her journey into the spotlight and not giving up when things were at their lowest.
espnW: Two years ago, before your big breakthrough, where did you think you'd be now?
Rachel Platten: "Fight Song" just came out and I was playing house concerts. I thought I was going to go on another house concert run. I had house concerts scheduled -- which, by the way, is a show in a living room for like 30 people, that someone has with their friends. I had like 10 of those planned, and I was ready to go on the road. No way [was I thinking of this]. I thought maybe I had a chance -- because I had a wonderful person that was willing to invest in me -- and I was like, "I might have a chance to make a record properly," and then get to play for 100 people a night, which was my goal at the time.
espnW: When you were writing "Fight Song," where did you find the strength to keep going when things were down for you?
RP: I've read a lot of my old journals to try and find that out. What I read in them is a lot of turning myself around when things were hurting. I'd find the light in the dark. I'd let myself feel rejected and understand that was true, and it actually happened. But I really believed in meditation, setting intentions and visualizing what I wanted. I also worked my butt off. I just refused to stop working hard. I also had a lot of unbelievable supporters around me who believed in me: my manager, my husband, people like you who had house concerts for me and believed in me. I had a lot of good friends and strong will.
espnW: So there was never a point where you were ready to give up on your dream?
RP: No, there was definitely a point where I did that. It was right after "Fight Song" aired on "Pretty Little Liars," which was in 2014. In my head, I had been hoping that would be the light that it needed to get out to everybody. I thought, "OK, we're going to hear it on this show and it's going to explode." It definitely moved the needle; I think I sold a couple thousand copies. But it didn't have this massive social media reaction that I was praying for. So when it didn't, I fell to the floor, like on my knees, and I sobbed. It was a really hard moment. I remember asking God, "What else do YOU need? What else am I supposed to do? I've been giving everything. I know this song can change lives. How do I get it out to people to help people?"
espnW: Once "Fight Song" did have its breakthrough in 2015, it shot up the charts so quickly that some people labeled you an overnight success. But your first independent album came out in 2003 and your next one came out in 2011, so obviously you put in years of work. How did that shape the artist you are now?
RP: I think they had a really big impact on how I'm able to connect with a crowd now. I just played to about 10,000 people and treat every crowd like it's an intimate living room. I believe that on stage, my job is to bring everyone together and help them forget for a minute whatever stress is going on in their head. I just want them to have an unbelievable time. I want to give them a giant dose of Prozac. So I think the experience I have playing in small bars when no one was listening made me understand how to work a crowd and understand what people need to come together as an audience.
espnW: In the past year alone, you've played the Pro Bowl, the MLB All-Star Game, the World Series and now the College Football Playoff. Which one has been the standout experience for you?
RP: I'm going to go with [the College Football Playoff]. This was amazing; I had the most fun time. I have a new band right now that I'm playing with, and I just love their energy. It's like I've been playing with them for years. It's just an incredible vibe and connection that we all have. So playing a full band show with people that I truly love playing with, it was pretty special tonight. The audience was really down to party with me. They were dancing and jumping and doing backflips.
espnW: Speaking of the audience, this was a crowd made up largely of college football fans, and they were singing along with every word of "Fight Song." What do you think it is about that song that resonates with sports fans?
RP: I think it resonates with everybody. I think it's a universal call to action, that no matter what is going on in your life that makes you think that you're not good enough, this is a 3-minute, 20-second chance to declare that that's not the truth. Actually, what's true is you can do anything.
espnW: When can we expect new music from Rachel Platten?
RP: Soooooooooooooon. With lots of O's. So soon. I really can't wait to show people. I'm so proud of these songs that I've been creating, and I can't wait to play them live.
espnW: Lastly, we're here at the College Football Playoff National Championship Game, I've gotta ask: Alabama or Clemson?
RP: I've gotta not answer [laughs]. Although, I'm a really big fan of the underdog, so maybe Clemson. I don't know. I just want everyone to feel happy at the end of the day.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.