I'm sure when Sarah Darling took the stage to sing on the debut episode of Rising Star, she was thrilled to have all the judges listening to her sing. But Brad Paisley? He's the one that stands out for Darling, who was trying to get that wall to go up for country.
"He makes me proud to be country. Brad is seriously one of the nicest guys in country music," Darling told me when we caught up about the season so far. "He has such a good heart. He's so genuine and so funny. It's a really beautiful thing."
Even for the contestants who don't raise the wall -- the sign of approval from viewers -- Paisley makes sure he has kind words for them.
"Brad comes and talks to us after the show," Darling said. "He's such an encourager. I know that even with other contestants who aren't moving on to the next round, he gives them advice. He's such a good egg."
Darling has had a little bit of success in the genre since heading to Nashville in 2003. But just not enough. Even after record label deals and songs on the radio, her 2012 "Home to Me" was her only single that charted. She says Rising Star could be her chance to break out -- even if she doesn't win.
"I don't think people realize that your dreams never die," she said. "And this show was a chance to sing for millions of people, and in all these years, I've never had that chance before."
And just like in any other reality TV show, Darling's song choice was critical to her success. She performed Kacey Musgraves' "Merry Go 'Round" because she's a big fan of Musgraves and loves songs that tell stories.
"I'm a storyteller, and that song shows off the beauty of my voice," she said. "And I'd just decided to just go out there and be me. Getting Brad's support was amazing for me. And then I was really blown away that all the judges were standing up when the wall went up. When you put yourself out there like that, it's truly intense."