Kelsea Ballerini is in the running for the Favorite Female Artist — Country award at this weekend’s American Music Awards. Ahead of the awards ceremony on Sunday, here’s everything you need to know about the new country music star.
1. She grew up on a farm
Ballerini grew up near Knoxville, Tennessee, on a small farm with three cows and a goat — none of which she is fond of now. “I always thought it was a goat that kicked me over the fence,” she told USA Today. “My mama told me the other day it was a cow. Now I’m sort of scared of both.”
2. She’s been performing since she was a kid
Ballerini grew up singing in church and at school. “I grew up performing in glee club at my school; I was the ostrich in Peter Pan, and then I was super involved in church choir and worship leading at my church,” she told J-14. “So I always loved music and was involved with it, but never really thought it was what I wanted to do until I started writing.”
3. Her family is in country music too
Ballerini’s father is actually a country radio programmer, although she says she didn’t realize her own songs fit into the genre until she heard Keith Urban’s “Stupid Boy” on the radio one day.
4. She wrote her first song at age 12
Ballerini wrote her first song for her mother as a last-minute Mother’s Day present. “I called it Oh Mama, and she loved it — she cried,” Ballerini told USA Today. “For a while, I would write her another verse every Mother’s Day.”
5. She started her career when she was only 15
Ballerini started seriously thinking about music as a profession at 13 and moved to Nashville at 15. At 14, she had one of her first meetings with a record label exec, who said she sounded too much like Taylor Swift. “It broke my heart,” she said of the experience. “But it ended up being a fire for me and a lesson I was glad I learned early on. You really do have to be different. You really do have to set yourself apart.”
6. She’s already matched a Carrie Underwood record
With “Love Me Like You Mean It,” Ballerini became the first female to have her debut single reach No. 1 on the Billboard Country Airplay Chart in nine years, and only the 11th female to ever accomplish that feat. Underwood was the last to do so in 2006 with “Jesus, Take the Wheel.”
7. Her songs are based on personal experience
Ballerini is the writer or co-writer of every song on her debut album, The First Time, and many of her songs were inspired by real-life relationships, romantic or otherwise. Her most personal song is “Secondhand Smoke,” which was inspired by her parents’ divorce. “It’s so many people’s story, and a story that needs to be told because I know when I was 12 and 13 when [the divorce] was happening, I felt super alone,” she told Rolling Stone of the song. “I want to be a voice of comfort for people going through that.”
8. She’s friends with Taylor Swift
In March, Swift tweeted some love for Ballerini’s self-titled EP and the two later become friends. Swift later invited her to a party at her NYC apartment, which they captured in a series of Instagram photos. Ballerini has also jammed with Swift backstage, as seen above.
10. Her biggest starstruck experience was over Kelly Clarkson
Ballerini is a huge fan of Clarkson’s and she couldn’t help but get a little too excited at the thought of meeting her. “Kelly Clarkson is my favorite artist of all time,” Ballerini told People. “I actually stalked her after a show and knocked on the door of her tour bus. She came out and was very kind. In hindsight, I should not have done that. Hopefully, I get to meet her again tonight and make a better second impression.”
11. She has the support of many big country music names
— Carrie Underwood (@carrieunderwood) June 21, 2015
congrats to @KelseaBallerini on 1st number one! your next song dibs is money too. don't know you but happy for ya!
— Dierks Bentley (@DierksBentley) June 22, 2015
And congrats to fellow tomato @KelseaBallerini on her #1 hit! Way to go girl!
— Martina McBride (@martinamcbride) June 22, 2015
When Ballerini’s debut single hit No. 1, tons of major country artists from Underwood to Lady Antebellum to Dierks Bentley took to social media to congratulate her. Clearly, she has no trouble making friends.