OFFSTAGE: Kristen Kelly on Life After “Ex-Old Man”

(CMT Offstage keeps a 24/7 watch on everything that’s happening with country music artists behind the scenes and out of the spotlight.)

There’s a real good reason for the drink in Kristen Kelly’s hand. Actually, there are two. Her ex-boyfriend and her ex-best friend. They are together in real life like they are in Kelly’s hit debut single “Ex-Old Man,” and they’re happily married as far as she knows. “I do not speak to them,” Kelly told me when she was in Chicago on Tuesday (Jan. 15) . “That’s a chapter of my life that’s over and done with.”

So now that that’s over and done with, she has a new single (“He Loves to Make Me Cry”) and is on the road with Rascal Flatts . She said she’s bonded with the guys and even spent a day watching football with Jay DeMarcus, Joe Don Rooney and Rooney’s dad. “I played the Texas scene — the dives and honky-tonks and festivals — for six years. But nothing to the extent of these 20,000-plus arenas. It’s nerve-wracking, but I kind of feed off that energy. And the band’s been so gracious,” she said. But as much as she loves that kind of show, she really loves the stripped-down shows that feel like you’re playing around a campfire in somebody’s backyard.

Kelly’s list of influences is as big as her home state of Texas. From Fleetwood Mac and Jason Mraz to Merle Haggard and Gretchen Wilson to Bob Seger and Will Hoge . Of course, Kelly’s tastes lean close to home, and she’s a fan of fellow Texans Miranda Lambert , Cory Morrow , Roger Creager and the Eli Young Band . But her own musical style isn’t an exact replica of any of those sounds. “I have respect for what all those artists do,” Kelly said, “and I pull from those influences, but I still do my own thing.”

Alison makes her living loving country music. She's based in Chicago, but she's always leaving her heart in Nashville.