Lauren Alaina uses ‘American Idol’ stardom to launch a country music career
By Steve Wildsmith | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
When she was a little girl, country singer and “American Idol” runner-up Lauren Alaina used to lie in bed at night, listening to her mother pace the hall outside of her bedroom.
“She would pace up and down the halls, praying for us when we went to sleep,” Alaina told The Daily Times during a recent phone interview. “I used to think, ‘Oh my gosh, when is she gonna stop praying?’ Now, I really appreciate that she did that, because it helped me become who I am. I have an amazing family, and my mommy and daddy did a good job raising my brother and I. We both turned out to be pretty good kids.”
And pretty talented, too. Alaina, who lost only to Scotty McCreery on the 10th season of “American Idol,” performs Saturday at the 2012 Foothills Fall Festival. The Rossville, Ga., native, who grew up outside of Chattanooga, is no stranger to East Tennessee.
The 17-year-old, who turns 18 next month, was a cheerleader in high school and an aspiring singer who won the WinniSTAR youth talent contest at Lake Winnepesaukah amusement park in 2009. Before auditioning for “American Idol,” she worked at a local pizza place. In the competition, however, she quickly rose to the top.
“Steven Tyler (singer for Aerosmith and one of the show’s judges) told me from the beginning that I was his favorite,” she said. “I love Aerosmith! My family raised me on Aerosmith. That was the coolest thing ever to have Steven Tyler believe in me. I would say, in a way, he made me want to do my best, and it was very helpful to have someone as cool as him have my back.”
With an ear for songs by strong female country artists past and present — from The Band Perry to Pam Tillis — Alaina sang her way through the competition to the finals, and while she may have lost to McCreery, she wasted no time in capitalizing on her success. She signed to Interscope/Mercury Nashville, released her first single (“Like My Mother Does”) shortly after the season finale and five months after the show ended, her debut record, “Wildflower,” was available for fans. It rose to No. 2 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart (and No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 200), spawned three Top 40 singles and lined her up for tours with country heavyweights such as Jason Aldean and Sugarland.
“Everything happened so fast,” she said of her success. “I enjoy it — it’s what I’ve wanted since I was a little girl — but it’s happened so fast that I miss a lot of things back home. The people I work with are very good about letting me have some time back home with my family every few weeks so I can keep my feet on the ground.
“It’s definitely a sacrifice being away from family and friends. I don’t get to go to high school anymore, but I get to live my dreams. Before ‘Idol,’ I had never really left my hometown, except for vacations. Now, I’m very rarely home.”
Her Foothills Fall Festival stop is part of an ongoing “Eighteen Inches” tour — inspired by her most recent single, it consists of 18 dates leading up to her 18th birthday, and the proceeds from special T-shirt sales at those concerts will be donated to local charities in the area in which she performs. (The Maryville tour stop will benefit the Special Olympics, she said, a cause with which she’s intimately familiar: She’s been a volunteer since the sixth grade because of a cousin who grew up with disabilities, and she’s the ambassador for the Special Olympics for North America.)
“‘Eighteen Inches’ is a song about a young couple and how they make the dumbest choices because they’re young and in love,” she said. “It’s the distance from your head to your heart. I can relate to that, being 17; I know all about that, and for someone who’s an adult who has been through that, it’s a really cool song.
“I’ve been really fortunate. Overnight, I became a role model for little girls, and I was trying to find songs that I could play the best and be a role model with. I picked songs I felt were appropriate for young girls to listen to but also hit home with adults. And doing that, I can show the person I am through my music.”