Kelsea Ballerini hoping to fill teenage country fan void

”Hey, I'm Kelsea. I sing and write songs. I love coffee, shoes, and you,” is the welcoming introduction Kelsea Ballerini writes about herself on her Facebook page. In 2009, the native of Knoxville, Tenn., moved to Nashville at age 15, chasing a dream of becoming a songwriter. Four years later, she hit pay dirt by signing a publishing deal with Black River Publishing, followed by inking a record deal with Black River Entertainment. Her self-titled debut EP features five tracks, including first single, ‘Love Me Like You Mean It,’ which is currently No. 41 on the Mediabase Country radio airplay chart.

Despite her father being a country radio programmer, Kelsea Ballerini, 21, says she was writing country songs before she started listening to country music. “I grew up on a farm in East Tennessee, so my roots are country, you know? But I didn’t know where those songs came from or where they fit,” she tells after being named one of the network’s Next Women of Country. “I heard [Keith Urban’s] ‘Stupid Boy’ one day and immediately I was like, ‘What is this? Where did this come from?’” Ballerini also studied the music of Dixie Chicks, Sugarland, and Taylor Swift, thinking to herself, “’This is country music, and this is what I’m writing.’ I feel like I fit here,” she recalls.

Ballerini was inspired to become a songwriter after her parents divorced, using it as an outlet to cope with the situation. When she first began writing songs, Ballerini claims she wrote the lyrics and sang the melody before putting it to music. She consulted with her vocal coach, Beth Smith, who composed the music on piano and recorded it. “That’s what we did at every voice lesson from then on,” explains Ballerini. “I still have those demos. I sound like a little baby,” she laughs.

Taste of Country calls ‘Love Me Like You Mean It’ a “delicious melody” and an “uptempo warning to men [that] is more sweet than sassy, but it’s not without teeth.” Ballerini co-wrote the single that features two verses breaking from an established melody to leave the listener “pleasantly surprised and infected with the song’s hook.” The young singer says the EP track, ‘The First Time,’ is the truest representation of a song that comes from being honest about how she feels.

“It talks about a girl sitting on her front porch waiting for a guy that doesn’t show up,” she tells CMT. “And that’s what was happening in real time in my life. I was sitting there and had those lines in my head: ‘I should know better/Why am I still crying?’ And I literally went upstairs and wrote the song. It’s definitely the most special song to me on the EP.”

Ballerini welcomes feedback about her music, saying she believes staying close to her fans via social media is an important part of her role as an artist. “For me, the coolest thing … is that people who have never heard of me will find my EP and listen to it and say, ‘I love this song!’ I’m able to say thank you to them or ask how it relates to them. I love having that conversation with someone I’ve never met before who’s enjoying something that I wrote and being able to connect and share that.”

Watch Kelsea Ballerini in an acoustic performance of ‘Love Me Like You Mean It,’ the Tennessee newcomer’s first single off her self-titled debut EP.

As A Matter of Fact…

* Kelsea Ballerini moved from her hometown of Knoxville, Tenn., to Nashville when she was only 15-yearsold. She loved listening to pop stars such as Britney Spears as well as classic singers including Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra.

* Ballerini sang in her church choir, leading worship and all the choirs in her school, glee club. While she loved performing and music, she initially planned on staying in Knoxville and becoming a veterinarian.

* Ballerini wrote poems and journals as a teenager, and soon became interested in songwriting. Her mom bought her time in a recording studio, never realizing that what she thought would be a few memories from her daughter’s childhood, ended up launching her career as a country singer-songwriter.

* After four years of chasing her dream to become a songwriter, Ballerini signed to Black River Publishing at the age of 19, followed by a recording deal with Black River Entertainment in December 2013.

* Ballerini’s self-titled debut EP features the Top 50 country single ‘Love Me Like You Mean It.’ While Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert, and Taylor Swift have moved on to connect with older female country fans, Ballerini hopes to be embraced by the teenage country crowd.

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