Kelsea Ballerini: From Knoxville to The First Time

Singer-Songwriter's Debut Album Now Streaming on

Country newcomer Kelsea Ballerini is only 21. But this songwriting thing? She’s been at it for eight years.

When Ballerini was in Chicago last week for the CMT Next Women of Country tour, I had a chance to catch up with her and find out about how a teenager from Knoxville, Tennessee, ended up being Nashville’s bright new future.

Ballerini’s debut album, The First Time, will be released May 18 by Black River Entertainment, but the project is currently streaming on When you listen, you can hear the passion, youth and hopefulness in all 12 songs.

The very first country song she wrote — when she was about 13 — isn’t on this album, though. It was called “Bring on the Rain.”

“I’d had this series of terrible events in my life. My parents had split up, three of my dogs died, and my life was a mess. Before I wrote it, I was confused and broken. But after I wrote it, I knew it was a gift,” she told me.

Enough of a gift that she was able to convince her mom to take her to Nashville to “figure it out.”

“The music fell into my lap, and it became my haven,” Ballerini said. “My mom saw me being very passionate and very serious about it. It wasn’t this thing I just liked because Hannah Montana (Miley Cyrus) and Taylor Swift did it. We were both ready for a change of scenery. It was this perfect storm.”

So they packed up their things, moved to Music City and got going on the music.

The problem, Ballerini explained, was that in 2007, she wasn’t the only one trying to get going.

“A lot of female singer-songwriters were moving here,” she told me, “and a lot of people were just over it.”

But Ballerini’s commitment — and knowing that this was what she was meant to do — quickly resulted in a record deal, a Top 20 debut single with “Love Me Like You Mean It” and a brand new album with a dozen tracks that prove she’s not just another Swift or Cyrus.

To hear the entire album, part of CMT First: Kelsea Ballerini presented by Reese’s, visit her CMT Artists page.