Julie Roberts may be the voice behind Good Morning America‘s theme song, but she’s not exactly an early bird.
“I used to be a morning person, and I’m not anymore,” she says. “I mean, I used to be up until two weeks ago, I think. I can’t wake up anymore. I don’t know what my deal is. When I start to get on the road a lot, my routine totally changes, and I’ve been on the road quite a bit.”
Indeed, she has. Roberts spent most of the spring and early summer doing advance press for her recently-released second album, Men & Mascara, which debuted at No. 4 on Billboard‘s country albums chart. She visited Good Morning America on the album’s release date and The Tonight Show just two days later. Plus, she’s all over the magazine rack — People, Life & Style, InStyle, Glamour, Vanity Fair and so on.
She also appeared in several more high-profile publications by modeling eyewear for a LensCrafters campaign last year. And now there’s the big endorsement deal with Clinique to pitch their new Happy perfume. The latter contract includes a duet with hip-hop star Rhianna for a jingle composed by R&B singer-songwriter Ne-Yo.
Still, Julie Roberts is exactly what you’d call a country star because, so far, she hasn’t received massive radio airplay. In 2004, she released a self-titled album that eventually sold 500,000 and led to back-to-back CMA Horizon Award nominations — without a bona fide hit. This time around, the lead-off single, also titled “Men & Mascara,” crashed at country radio almost immediately, leading to a last-minute remake of “Girl Next Door,” a recent pop hit by the band Saving Jane.
Roberts, 27, chalks it up to paying dues.
“I focus on what I have,” she says. “If there was a formula for a Top 10 record, then everyone would have a Top 10 record. I think that’s just going to take patience, and I have it. I’m going to keep working at it.”
Roberts grew up in Lancaster, S.C., idolizing traditional country singers like Patsy Cline. (“She takes a lyric and you can hear that she’s lived pain, and you can hear hurt,” Roberts says.) With the help of a scholarship provided by Vince Gill, she graduated from Nashville’s Belmont University, whose alumni also include Trisha Yearwood, Brad Paisley and Josh Turner. She then landed a job as the receptionist to Luke Lewis, the top executive at Universal Music Group. Thus, she’d interact with the likes of Reba McEntire, Shania Twain and Lee Ann Womack on a regular basis.
Yet, Roberts herself was 20 pounds overweight and feared that if anybody found out she was an aspiring singer, she’d be fired for a conflict of interest. But her producer at the time, Brent Rowan, presented some of her demos to Lewis, who immediately wanted to know more about the woman behind the voice — and was stunned to find out it was his secretary. After signing to the label, she met with a personal trainer to shed the weight.
“I’ve got a picture on my refrigerator that reminds me not to go into the refrigerator!” she says with a hearty laugh.
While most of Roberts’ music showcases her expressive alto and penchant for dramatic songs, “Girl Next Door” is more of a feisty number where she is tempted to hit the small-town homecoming queen out of sheer jealousy. Although she’s actually quite pretty herself and highly unlikely to smack anyone, Roberts says she recorded the song for the young women she encountered while promoting her first album.
“I meet so many of those girls on the road that say, ‘Hey, I want to be doing what you’re doing. How can I get there?’ I know that I’ve definitely been in that situation. I’ve been the girl next door. Finally, Luke saw past the overweight receptionist and gave me a shot at my dreams, and now I get to be on the other side of that desk. I had to put it on my record because I tell them to keep following their dreams and keep working at it and it will come true. And never be discouraged. That’s the way I had to live my whole life but especially those three years [working at the record label].”
She admits to still having bad days but insists that she’s very fortunate. “When I read my message boards and when I talk to my fans out on the road, it just makes me very happy. And I’m very, very happy. I’m very optimistic, very blessed.”
Roberts co-wrote the new ballad, “Smile,” with Cline in mind. Though the lyrics and melody are very cinematic, the song itself is certainly not cheerful. The hook is, “When I see you smile, it almost makes me cry.” She says her songwriting skills are enhanced by her fondness for people-watching.
“Even though you have no idea what their story is, you just make up scenarios,” she says. “I love that. I go eat lunch by myself a lot in Nashville, and I spend a lot of time alone on the road, too. That’s just the way it goes when you ride on a bus with nine guys. I do observe a lot, and I just take it all in.”
That’s not to say she’s always so quiet — especially when it comes to her occasional Good Morning America appearances.
“I usually wake up super early because I have to get up and do my vocal warm-ups — and then I wake up everybody in the hotel!” she says with a burst of laughter. “I always feel bad about that, but I’ve got to do it. I always feel bad, so sometimes I sing into the pillows, but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”