Portraying Alex Dupre on the hit TV series, One Tree Hill, Jana Kramer introduced herself to America as a beautiful model with a questionable moral compass. But she aims to put the drama behind her with the release of “Why Ya Wanna,” her debut country single.
“It was literally about everything I was going through and more,” she says. And that’s unfortunate because the song’s storyline involves running into an ex she’s not over yet.
Leading up to Monday’s (Feb. 6) video world premiere on CMT, the Michigan native stopped by the office to talk about bringing her music to country fans. She also admitted that acting is easier than singing and that she’s still not used to being around the country stars she grew up idolizing.
CMT: Most fans probably know you as Alex Dupre on One Tree Hill. What would she think about you pursuing your country music dreams?
Kramer: Well, the fact that she was an actress at first and then turned into a singer, we’re pretty similar that way. I came onto the show not being a singer, and then I gave my songs to the creator, and he ended up changing Alex into a singer. So I think she would be very happy because I’m following my dream, and that’s what she did.
So that character was actually modeled after your real life?
Yeah. I came on the show as pretty much a train wreck, and then I spent three years on the show and was writing a lot. So I gave some songs to the creator and said, “I just bought a house in Nashville, and music is what I really like to do. I’d really love your opinion on some songs.” He was like, “I had no idea you sang.” And I was like, “Well, there’s about five people that do!”
Were you exposed to a lot of country music as a kid growing up in Michigan?
I was. Everyone’s like “There’s no country people up there.” And I’m like, “Are you kidding me? There are more rednecks up there than there are in the South!” My mom wanted to be a country singer, too, so country was always being played. And my girlfriends and I used to go to concerts, like Brad Paisley, in middle school and high school.
We’ve seen a lot of actors and actresses throw their hat into country lately. What do you hope to bring to country that’s all your own?
It’s definitely been a challenge because everyone’s like, “Oh, gosh, another actress coming in, and she’s probably gonna leave.” But I’m already making my path, and I’m sticking around. I’m authentic, and I’m not gonna go off and do another TV show. I know that I have to prove that, but when people get to know me and then listen to the music, they’ll become believers.
Do you feel like you have to work even harder because of your background?
Yes, especially because I’m a female. It’s really hard for females in this format, and on top of that, I’m an actress. So it’s like I’ve already got two strikes against me. When I first came to town, hardly anyone would even take a meeting with me. They think I’m going to try it and then realize that it’s actually a lot harder than acting and then take off to go back to Hollywood.
Why is acting easier than being a musician?
I feel like they can be a little more forgiving in the acting world. It’s easier to hide behind something than to be your true self. But I’m ready to not hide behind anything anymore and [ready to] just be me.
What makes you want to sing your songs?
I’ve always had a niche for entertaining since I was a little girl. I was 5 years old, onstage singing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” — a rock version — and I was always wanting to entertain. But I think the biggest thing for me is just country music has helped me get through the worst times of my life and the best times of my life. And I just want to give that back to people.
After growing up around it, what do you think of the country concert atmosphere now that you’re one of the artists?
Oh, it’s fun! I love it. It still feels kind of crazy to me because I’m meeting all these people and it’s like, “Oh, God, I listened to you on the radio!”
What’s it like meeting with the fans?
They’re awesome. One Tree Hill has the best fans ever, and they’ve totally supported my songs. But the greatest compliment so far is when someone comes up to me and says, “I didn’t know you were an actress, but I love your songs.” That means the most.
The first time I listened to “Why Ya Wanna,” it reminded of Dolly Parton’s “Why You’d Come in Here Lookin’ Like That.” What do you think about it?
I didn’t write it, but when I was singing it, there are parts in the middle where it’s sad, and it’s like, “Why do you have to show up here?” And then it gets a little more angry and it’s like, “WHY!?” There’s a little bitterness in there. It’s frustration.
Why did that stick out to you when you first heard it?
I was going through that scenario. I was sitting there with the girl who wrote the song, and I told her I had been seeing this guy who I fell madly in love with, but then he totally bailed. And every time I see him, he wants to come and give me a hug! It’s like, “I am not over you! Stop giving me a hug. This is killing me!” But he can so easily be like “Hey, what’s up?” So she’s like, “I wrote this song, you should hear it.” She played it for me and I was like “Oh, my God!” I lost my mind.