Lainey Wilson and her family drove from Louisiana to Nashville almost every year since she was 14 years old to attend the CMT Music Awards.
This year, she'll be there as a featured performer and two-time nominee.
"Oh my gosh, this is a big moment," Wilson said. Wearing a silver, shimmering jacket and her signature bellbottoms, Wilson lounges in a backstage dressing room at the Grand Ole Opry House, awaiting her turn to practice with the Opry band. "I've always just dreamed about having a big performance and being a part of the show. And, here we are."
Wilson and her duo partner Cole Swindell are nominated for the night's top honor, Video of the Year, as well as Collaborative Video of the Year, for their Top 5 (and climbing) duet "Never Say Never." The passionate, call-and-answer power ballad is from Swindell's new album "Stereotype," which is out now.
"Never Say Never" is an answered prayer for Wilson. Her breakthrough hit "Things a Man Oughta Know" was a couple of months away from becoming her first No. 1 song, and she was concerned about her next career move. She started praying for guidance on what music to release next, and Swindell texted "Never Say Never" to her soon after. He told her he wrote it with Chase McGill and Jessi Alexander years before and was just waiting for the right person to sing it with.
"I listened to the first verse and chorus, and it stopped me in my tracks," Wilson said. "It made me feel something to my core. I want to be a part of things like that. I said, 'Man, sign me up.'"
She marvels at the speed the song continues to succeed – and the universal adoration "Never Say Never" enjoys. It took "Things a Man Oughta Know" 40 weeks to get to No. 1, but "Never Say Never" reached the Top 5 in just 20 weeks.
"I'm used to like climbing the walls trying to get some momentum," she said. "And this thing has just grown a set of wings. People are loving it across the board. There has not been one negative comment about the song, which is rare. I don't know how I'll ever be able to thank (Cole) because this has been a blessing to my journey."
If Wilson's trend holds, she and Swindell will add a couple of trophies from the 2022 CMT Music Awards to their shelves on Monday night. She typically doesn't leave awards shows empty-handed. Wilson recently won Song of the Year and New Female Artist of the Year at the Academy of Country Music Awards and Best New Country Artist at the IHEARTRADIO Music Awards.
"To be recognized, that's all I wanted," Wilson said. "I wanted to be recognized and to actually start winning some stuff in the world. It has been a dream come true."
Wilson has been chasing that dream in Nashville for the last 11 years, but she's been dreaming it since childhood. She wrote her first song when she was nine years old, and she's been playing in bars since she was 17. Her job in high school was impersonating Hannah Montana. She remembers her mama spending countless hours sitting in the bathroom where the acoustics were the best, listening to her sing.
"I have such a supportive family," she said. "They helped me buy my camper trailer when I moved to Nashville. They have just gone above and beyond. It's really been this thing that we've been able to celebrate together."
Hosted by Kelsea Ballerini and Anthony Mackie, the 2022 CMT Music Awards will air live from Nashville 8 p.m. (ET) Monday on CBS.