When Ellen DeGeneres left “American Idol” after just one year as a judge on the show, she said in a statement she wanted to keep “discovering, supporting and nurturing young talent” rather than judge and “potentially hurt their feelings.” But a young singer she took under her wing at the time now claims in a scathing interview that he experienced just the opposite with DeGeneres, calling her “insanely manipulative.”
Greyson Chance Says DeGeneres ‘Abandoned’ Him
In correlation with the release of his new album, “Palladium,” singer Greyson Chance sat down for a stunning interview with Rolling Stone, published on September 22, 2022. In it, Chance said DeGeneres promised she’d be the guardian and mentor he needed in the entertainment business. But instead, he now says working with her was traumatizing.
In early 2010, a video went viral of 12-year-old Chance, performing Lady Gaga’s hit song “Paparazzi” in a talent show. Producers of “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” whisked the sixth grader and his mom from Oklahoma to Los Angeles to appear on the show. DeGeneres surprised him with $10,000 and a new piano, but behind the scenes she promised him even more.
In between hosting her talk show and appearing on “American Idol” that year, DeGeneres launched her own record label — called eleveneleven — with Interscope Geffen A&M Records, signing Chance as her first artist. He told Rolling Stone that she said, “I’m going to protect you. I’m going to be here for you. We’re going to do this together.”
At first, DeGeneres was highly engaged and supportive, he said, hiring high-profile managers who’d worked with Lady Gaga and Madonna. She got him a big-time booking agent, a publicist, and a brand agent, too. In October 2010, just five months after signing with her new label, the tween released a mini EP of songs and hit the road, touring across the U.S. and Canada as well as in London and Paris.
Chance told Rolling Stone that DeGeneres was “really invested” but also became “domineering and way too controlling.”
So much so, in fact, that Chance told Rolling Stone, “I’ve never met someone more manipulative, more self-centered, and more blatantly opportunistic than her.”
Chance Says DeGeneres Often Berated People, Including His Mom
In the Rolling Stone interview, Chance gave examples of when he thought DeGeneres was too controlling, such as when she saw a preview video of an upcoming network performance. She didn’t like it, he said, so he and the team had to completely redo it.
“If she had an opinion of any sort, the whole thing changed,” he said, adding that one text from her could change his plans for a day or a month, depending on the demand. “It was horrible,” he said.
Chance’s mom Lisa recalled times when DeGeneres “would go through his clothes” and be “a little controlling” about what the tween was wearing. One rule was that he could never wear leather, given DeGeneres’ commitment to veganism at the time.
“She would come in and look at a rack, yell at stylists, berate people in front of me and say, ‘This is what you’re wearing on the show,’” Chance remembered. “She was just degrading to people.”
While opening for Miranda Cosgrove’s tour, Chance received an advance copy of the “Never Say Never” documentary on Justin Bieber, who was a friend of the comedian. DeGeneres wanted Chance to watch it and model his career after Bieber’s, but the tween said he was too exhausted from touring to watch right away.
“I’ll never forget this,” Chance told Rolling Stone of the moment DeGeneres called his mom about the Justin Bieber video. “I just remember hearing on the other side of the phone, just yelling (and) beratement: ‘What type of mother are you? Do you realize that I went out of my way to get this for you, and he can’t sit down and watch it?’”
Lisa recalls that day, too. She told Rolling Stone, “I don’t remember exactly what she said, but she was berating.”
Chance Claims DeGeneres’ On-Air Concern For Him Was ‘Fake’
By 2012, Chance’s music and concert tickets started to wane. That November, he released his second album on the eleveneleven record label, “Truth Be Told, Part 1,” but when it didn’t take off, he said DeGeneres “completely abandoned” him.
The record label dropped him. And the team she had originally hired — his agent, publicist and management team — all disappeared. Chance told Rolling Stone he tried to reach DeGeneres, but she never called back. He eventually decided to quit the music business for a while and focus on school.
However, DeGeneres did invite him — via producers — to appear on her show several more times, pretending on-air they still had a great relationship.
“Whenever I would come on the show, it was such a fake smile,” he said. “She wouldn’t even ask, ‘How are you doing? How are you holding up?’ It was just like, ‘Here’s what we’re going to talk about. We’ll see you on there.’”
In 2019, Chance appeared on the show, which he called “a place of active trauma for me,” knowing it would be good exposure for his first album in years, called “Portraits.” He played along with her happy banter but deep down, it felt awful and inauthentic.
“When I look at the interviews and I look at my eyes, I can see so much anxiety. I can just see so much PTSD because I’m there holding on for dear life going, ‘I need this TV gig,’“ Chance said. “I was 100 percent faking it, and (I felt like) she’s 100 percent faking it with me, too.”
He also resented DeGeneres sharing how proud she was of him for coming out as gay two years prior.
“She had nothing to do with that,” he said. “I hadn’t spoken to her in years… That’s so messed up, that you’re now showing the world as if we’re so tight. We’re so good. And behind the scenes, you are this insanely manipulative person.”
Chance, now 25, was clearly hurt by the entire experience, enough so that he refused to appear one last time during the final two weeks of her show in May 2022. His mom, meanwhile, said she’s come to realize it was all business for DeGeneres.
“I think that Ellen is a businesswoman. And if something isn’t trending the way she wants it to, she’s going to put an end to it because it’s business for her,” she told Rolling Stone. “It’s not warm and fuzzy. I don’t think she invited people to be a part of her life or take someone under their wing like she did if she didn’t want to see something come of it. If it wasn’t moving fast enough for her, that’s when she started to shut down or shut us out.”
Rolling Stone also spoke with Emily Luther, whom DeGeneres also signed to her record label, alongside Luther’s friend — and now music superstar — Charlie Puth. Luther said her experience with DeGeneres was similar to Chance’s, saying the star let her and her family down.
“She is someone that wants to control things and doesn’t want to take advice from people who might know a little bit more about how to do things,” Luther said of DeGeneres. “She wants to be the one who gets the glory.”
Puth, who left DeGeneres’ record label within a year of signing with her, did not participate in the Rolling Stone story, but he appeared on one of her final shows, during which she took credit for discovering him.
“I say it all the time, I discovered you,” she told him on the show. “I take credit for your entire career.”
“You did,” Puth said unenthusiastically, as he looked at the audience. “Handclap for her. She did it.”
DeGeneres ended her show after 19 years in May 2022, two years after allegations of harassment and misconduct on her set were exposed by BuzzFeed and her ratings suffered. She has not publicly responded to Chance’s claims.