2022 has already been an incredible year for country star Lauren Alaina. After being invited to become a member of the Grand Ole Opry by Trisha Yearwood, Alaina was officially inducted on February 12 in a celebratory show that included a video message of support from Dolly Parton. “I hurt like a baby!” Alaina tells American Songwriter of that night. “That is the biggest accomplishment of my career. I don’t know how I will ever top that one. I don’t think I will. It made me feel so special.”
She followed that accomplishment up by kicking off her extensive Top of the World headlining tour. “Oh, it feels so good to be back!” she says. “I love getting to tour with other artists because I get to snag new people and take them on my journey, but when I do headline, these are my people, and to be out there spending time with my fans, it’s just the best. There’s nothing better.”
Now that she’s got top billing, she’s quick to give thanks for the she’s learned while opening for major players such as Jason Aldean, Carrie lessons Underwood, Sugarland, Alan Jackson, Luke Bryan, Cole Swindell, and Blake Shelton, among others. “I always watch the headliners and take a little bit from everyone,” she says, though she singles out Martina McBride as being especially helpful in this regard. “She gave me hope, more than anything, as a female. Watching her sell these tickets and sing these songs that literally inspired me to be an artist in the first place—it was really cool to see that live. To see a woman do it was inspiring.”
Her concerts are focused heavily on songs from Sitting Pretty on Top of the World, her third studio album (released this past September via Mercury Nashville/19 Recordings). Writing this batch of songs had to be done over Zoom video meetings because the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown made it impossible to do in-person sessions.
“What I really took away from it was the fact that [because] We were all locked in our homes, there was this sense of extreme emotion in the last two years, and I channeled that into the music—I think you can really feel that when you listen,” Alaina says. “It was a really personal album for me. I just tried to really put all of my emotions from the last two years into it.”
In particular, Alaina feels that the title track on Sitting Pretty on Top of the World reflected the way she’s felt in recent years. “Things had been exponentially going in an upward trend in my professional life—and in my personal life, they had been on a downward spiral, honestly, because I’d gone through two really crazy breakups,” she says. “It was like polar opposites, and that song, to me, really represents that, ‘I’m the life of the party, I’m up on the stage, I’m on Dancing with the StarsI’m getting number one songs on the radio—and inside, my heart was broken.”
But, Alaina adds, this isn’t some defeatist song, even if it did emerge out of breakup heartache. “I wasn’t about to let that guy steal that joy from me,” she says. “That song, to me, represents me reclaiming myself and my happiness. I felt like I got to tell my story with this album. With these songs that I wrote, I got to share my side of the story in a very poetic and polite way.”
This is, Alaina says, the heartfelt way she’s always approached her craft. “I’ve just tried to be myself—be real, be honest. I think the truth resonates with people,” she says. She’s apparently correct, judging by her track record: so far, she’s released several gold and platinum-selling singles, including “Like My Mother Does,” “Road Less Traveled,” “Doin’ Fine,” and “Getting Good.” She’s also hit the top of the charts three times as a featured artist: “What Ifs” (with Kane Brown), “One Beer” (with HARDY and Devin Dawson), and “Thinking ‘Bout You” (with Dustin Lynch).
“The first song I ever wrote, I was nine or ten,” Alaina says. “My aunt had been in a car accident, and I wrote a song for her. I remember my family really enjoying that in such a time of sadness. It really struck a chord with me. I thought, ‘Well, I’m going to have to do that for the rest of my life.’”
While still a child, Alaina began performing in talent shows (which she frequently won). When she was a teenager, she began making trips from her North Georgia home to Nashville, playing on the bar circuit. Her big break came when, in 2011, she appeared on American Idol, eventually becoming the runner-up. That led to her debut album, Wildflower, later that year. While she’s grateful for the experience, Alaina also stresses that it didn’t give her an unfair advantage as an artist.
“Those shows give you instant fame, but they do not give you instant success,” she says. “I’ve been famous since I was sixteen, but I had to work really, really hard for this success. So I’m thankful for the fame because I’ve gotten so many opportunities because of my TV background, but I think it takes a lot to make everything happen, and not just Idol. You have to take that platform and use it for the better and build on it.”
Besides releasing three albums, Alaina has also published a best-selling book, Getting Good at Being You (2021), as well as appearing on the current CBS reality series Beyond the Edge. Still, she says, “It all starts with the music for me. Every book I’ll ever write, every TV show I’ll ever be a part of, all came because of the music. The more outlets I can find, the more the music will be heard, so that’s ultimately the goal for me.”
Now, with her career on a seemingly limitless upward trajectory, Alaina is content. “The journey has been very unique and unexpected and had its twists and turns, but it’s everything I’ve ever wanted and I’m so thankful,” she says. “It’s what I was born to do. It’s my destiny.”