Lauren Alaina, the cheerful 16-year-old runner-up on last season's American Idol, knows she's a role model -- and she's OK with that.
"I'm in the public eye now, and I want to represent someone who is a good person to look up to," she says. "I don't want to be the young girl that people say, 'Man, that Lauren Alaina girl, she's got a lot of talent, but she's lost her mind.' I don't ever want that to be me -- ever. No matter what decision I make, I want people to know that there's a reason I made it and it's because it was something I felt like needed to happen. I don't want people to think that I've just gone crazy."
Alaina's debut album Wildflower will be released Tuesday (Oct. 11). Her first country single, "Like My Mother Does," extols the virtues of the woman who raised her. And in person, the young woman proudly credits God for keeping her going.
During a recent visit to CMT, the friendly Georgia native eagerly chatted about her musical heroes, her family's work ethic and her little house that is suddenly just the right size.
CMT: I like that growl in your voice on "Like My Mother Does." When did you discover that growl?
Alaina: People have always asked me that. I didn't really know what they were talking about until I actually recorded it and heard it back. It's just part of my personal style, I guess. I've always done that.
Are your small-town roots reflected on any songs on your new album, Wildflower?
There's a song called "Dirt Road Prayer" that is the last song on my album. It's about this girl who is going through a change in her life. And I'm going through a change in my life. You don't understand it until it gets to the chorus, but the whole song is a prayer, and basically it says that this girl is thankful that she can always go to the dirt road and pray. I guess that would reflect on a small town, knowing that no matter how far away she got from home, she could always go back there.
You've been very open about your faith. What role does that play in your day-to-day life?
The first thing I do every day when I wake up is thank God for letting me make it through the night and giving me another day of life -- just because sometimes I wake up and I cannot believe I'm doing what I'm doing. I just thank Him. I don't know how I deserve it, but it's completely because of Him. ... It plays a big role in my life.
Who are some of the artists in country music you can really identify with?
I really, really look up to Carrie Underwood a lot because she came from a small town that has the same population as mine -- 3,500 people. She was on American Idol. She is truly a good person. She's now a friend of mine. Her personality comes across when you listen to her music, and I want that when people hear me.
And, also, Miranda Lambert, who has a completely different personality. She's got more of a personality like I do. I am a spitfire! I'm a Southern girl. I was raised the way I was raised, and I can't change who I am. And I'd never want to because I became the person I am for a reason. I love that Miranda Lambert is so completely comfortable in her skin and people respect her for that. I want people to look at me like that.
Do you come from a family of hard workers?
My daddy raised me not to be a slacker! I mean, I'm not a lazy kid. My daddy calls me lazy, and compared to most teenagers, I'm really not lazy. My dad's idea of "lazy" is different than most people, and my mama's is, too. I guess that's why I have such a strong work ethic.
My daddy never had anything handed to him at all. He's worked hard his whole life, and my mama, too. My mama got married when she was 17. I'm about to be 17 ... so she was my age, pretty much, when she got married. It makes me respect her so much because my mom was starting a family. My mom was married about five months when she got pregnant with my brother. So by the time she was 18 years old, she already had a baby, and by the time she was 20, she had me, because [my brother and I] are 17 months apart.
My mom was a baby when she started having babies! ... So we grew up together, kinda, for a little bit of my life because she was still growing up when she had me. I think you're still really growing up until you're about 25, even maybe after that, depending on who you are.
I've always wanted to work hard because my mom was a mother and working, with two kids, when she was 21! She never went out and partied or got to do that kind of stuff. All she wanted was to have a family. And I really respect that in her. Most young girls wanted to go out and have fun, and my mom just wanted to have a family.
However, growing up, I always wanted a bigger house. I always complained about it. But now that I was on American Idol -- and people are giving me free shoes and stuff, it blows my mind that I get all this stuff -- I don't want any other house than the one I have because that house made me who I am, you know? It's a small, little bitty house, and I like it that way.
When I was little, I hated it. I just wanted a big house. And now I will never sell that house. I will give it to someone in my family who needs it before I sell it. That way I can go back. It's like that Miranda Lambert song, "The House That Built Me."
Looking ahead, what is your biggest dream or goal?
I'm a firm believer that God has a plan for me. I just want to fulfill that plan and share that music for the rest of my life. I can't imagine doing anything else. It's just who I am. It's in my blood, and I just want to be able to have an impact on people's lives with my music, like Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert and Lady Antebellum have on me when I hear their music.