Lauren Alaina has been riding the wave just inches away from A-list status ever since her run on “American Idol” in early 2011 and the release of her Wildflower debut album later that year. The pop-country collection was anchored by her sassy lead single “Georgia Peaches” and featured the Carrie Underwood-penned “Eighteen Inches” and an inspiring “The Locket” story. The 12-track LP demonstrated her stellar, acrobatic vocal talents in a way the Fox singing show never did; tracks like “Tupelo” and “The Middle” allowed her to showcase her interpretative skills, too, while remaining youthful and exuberant. Of course, as we all are very much aware these days, country radio (especially) has not quite demonstrated a desire to develop and nurture a new class of female talent outside of Underwood, Miranda Lambert and Kacey Musgraves. Despite solid reviews, Wildflower did not elicit even one bonafide radio hit, and so, Alaina and her team headed back to the drawing board to reassess their game plan.
Taking nearly 3 years to write, in Nashville, she reemerged in late 2013 at CMT’s inaugural Next Women of Country showcase with one of the finest narratives in modern country, the autobiographical “Same Day Different Bottle” (co-written with Caitlyn Smith and Dan Couch). The song takes on her father’s former alcohol abuse and subsequent rehab and witnessed a visible, powerful transformation for the singer. “I went through a weird gray area where I was just kind of singing songs to sing them,” she aptly told Entertainment Weekly‘s former reporter and music critic Grady Smith the next day. “Now I sing songs because I’m passionate about them, and they mean something to me.” And she was most certainly spot on in her own assessment. While Wildflower (listen below) is clearly a cool, solid collection of pop-country tracks adorned with polished flourishes and high-flying vocals, a puzzle piece was missing: her conviction.
The following spring, during a concert in Missouri, Alaina took to the stage to perform the song again. Before her performance, though, she commented, saying “It’s my job to paint this pretty picture. I do a pretty good job at it, but I’m actually letting you into the not-so-pretty part of my picture.” Backed by a full band, she ripped into the lyrics with as much passion and grit she could muster, and it became her turning point. As a celebrity, she’s often tasked with exuding an upbeat, happy-go-lucky image 24/7, but she’s a person and has gone through tremendous pain. “Same Day,” which she has confirmed to be on her next full-length album, might never light a fire under radio, but there is an audience craving for this kind of story (example: Cam’s new single “Burning House” is one of the best-selling downloads in all of country).
Alaina’s new project is full of light and confidence, too, but with marked maturity. During “Idol,” she was only 16-years-old and hadn’t quite lived life yet. She has gained a world’s worth of understanding regarding the often-brutal music industry and what it means to be a woman in today’s complicated world. The EP is supported by her soaring, clever new single “Next Boyfriend” (which notched 44 first-week adds at radio), in which she calls dibs on a prospective new man from across the room (much like Kelsea Ballerini does on her “Dibs” release). Alaina co-wrote all five tracks, which also includes the ESPN track “History” and the gentle, ebbing “Painting Pillows” ballad (another fine moment, signaling greatness is just over the horizon). It’s her vocal growth, too, that is notable, especially on “Road Less Traveled,” a hard-hitting anthem about picking up the pieces and digging into a new path no one else has ever attempted. The title harkens to the Robert Frost poem about not being a follower but a leader.
Alaina, who has a refreshing new well of emotion from which to draw, is a leader. What’s particularly remarkable in her story, as well, is her commitment to country music’s rich tapestry and the Grand Ole Opry, the show that made country music famous. She’s performed countless times in the past few years. One specific concert stands out from early 2013. Taking the stage in a plum-colored dress, she performed another new song, a co-write called “Breakdown,” which she confirms to be on her full-length album, as well. Simply put, the stars are aligning, and country is in for a force of nature.
Take a listen to Alaina’s debut Wildflower below:
And her new EP:
Image Source: UMG