Lucy Hale's career path has taken her on many twists and turns in the last decade. And the beauty loves every minute of it.
"I'd be lying if I said it wasn't hard sometimes," she tells CMT.com. "I knew I was going to be busy juggling two careers at the same time, but I just love it. I love what I do."
The Memphis native got her start on the singing competition American Juniors in 2003. Multiple acting roles followed, and in 2010 she nabbed her breakout role as Aria Montgomery on ABC Family's Pretty Little Liars. She began working on her debut country album in 2012, and the final product -- Road Between -- was released in June.
"It's pretty crazy at times, but that makes my life exciting," says Hale, who will be featured on CMT's Hot 20 Countdown on Saturday (Aug. 30) at 11 a.m. ET/PT.
While she humbly describes herself as an "underdog" in country music, Hale's musical venture garnered positive reviews from critics before her album was even released. She found herself on the 2014 Artists to Watch lists for Rolling Stone, Billboard and Country Weekly. The album debuted at No. 4 on Billboard's top country albums chart.
Hale remains unpretentious about the attention though. "I was a little surprised that people were that receptive of it," she says. "I knew that I liked the songs and that people around me did. But to read the reviews and see all these people buying it and people supporting it and really relating to the songs, it's exceeded my expectations.
"I already accomplished what I wanted to. Regardless of whatever else happens, it's something I'm really proud of. I read some of the reviews and I was like, 'Are you sure they're talking about me? Wow! This is very nice!' It's nice that hard work pays off."
Hale's music career continues to reap the benefits of her diligence. Earlier in the year, she was named one of CMT's Next Women of Country. The initiative highlights rising female country artists, and she finds herself in good company among the ranks of Kacey Musgraves, Cassadee Pope and Ashley Monroe, to name a few.
Hale says being named to the list is the "ultimate form of flattery."
While the singer is enthusiastic about the campaign, she's also excited about what it means for the future of the genre. "I think that even having Next Women of Country is so important in country music right now because it's driven by a lot of males," Hale says. "But there's so many great women and there's a new crop of women, and I feel like things are about to change a little bit because you can't deny what these females and I have to say."
There's no denying Hale's ability to be heard as she's been able to retain a devoted fan base as far back as 2003.
"It's been pretty cool," she says, "because there's been at least a big group of them that were there from the very beginning -- from right when I got my record deal or even back in like American Juniors days, before I even acted."
Hale witnessed the support of her fan base in person as a group of ladies flew from all over the U.S. to see her perform at the Grand Ole Opry for the first time in June.
"That's amazing," Hale says. "I wouldn't be sitting here talking about this if it weren't for people like that. They watched a television show and they've supported me in all areas of my career, and they're buying the album and they're requesting the songs and they're flying to see me at the Opry. The album was really for them. I mean, I did it because I love it, but I think those songs were kind of like little gifts for them in a way."
The first release from the album was the lighthearted "You Sound Good to Me," and its accompanying video found Hale on a fun road trip with friends. For her second release, Hale decided to go in a different direction.
"We wanted to take a whole different approach on the next single which is 'Lie a Little Better,'" she explains. Filmed at the Grand Ole Opry House, Hale says, "It's very performance driven, so it's kind of a behind-the-scenes, inside look at rehearsal, soundcheck with my band, hanging out with my band and in my dressing room. It's just very real."
Hale worked with numerous high-profile songwriters on Road Between, including Hillary Lindsey, Luke Laird, Chris DeStefano, Catt Gravitt, Melissa Peirce, Tom Douglas, James Slater, Ashley Gorley and Musgraves.
"I just literally could sit and watch them do their thing all day," Hale says. "I tried to absorb as much as I could."
She co-wrote the final track on the album, "Just Another Song." Since recording the album, however, Hale's been honing her skills and will no doubt have more to say on future projects.
"After we wrapped up the album, I learned guitar, so I've been writing like 10 times more now," she reveals. "There's a lot of material floating around in my head."