2023 CMT Music Awards: Jelly Roll Brings Gospel Choir For Impassioned Performace of "Need A Favor"

Jelly Roll didn't think he'd live to be 38 or sing on an awards show. He calls his success "overwhelming" and is waiting for someone to say it's over.

If someone had told 15-year-old Jelly Roll that he would put his childhood church, Whitsitt Chapel, in Antioch, Tennessee, front and center at the 2023 CMT Music Awards and that he'd be on stage making his awards show debut - he would have laughed in their face.

"I'd been like, 'You're crazy, dude,'" Jelly Roll said following rehearsing his performance. "You're not gonna live to be 38, much less be performing on national television."

The singer performed his new song "Need a Favor" on stage during the 2023 CMT Music Awards on Sunday, backed by a gospel choir that he found locally in Austin, Texas. Jelly Roll and the choir exuded pure joy on the stage. The choir members stomped their feet and lifted their arms in worship as Jelly Roll sang about leaning on his diminished relationship with God. The juxtaposition of the lyrics' pleading tone combined with Jelly Roll's righteous delivery made for one of the most moving, soulful and impactful awards show performances in memory.

The song's lyrics include: I only talk to God, when I need a favor| And I only pray, when I ain't got a prayer| So, who the hell am I?| Who the hell am I, to expect a savior?

"I'm reverting back to me being 15," he said. "I'm just trying to bring an entire audience into this little 70-person church with me. That's the goal."

At 38 years old, Jelly Roll made music for years before he felt the tide shift in his favor with his song "Save Me." He doesn't hide his checkered past, and country music fans have embraced him for his authenticity and relatability. Jelly Roll is a leading CMT Music Awards nominee with three nods. He sold out Nashville's Bridgestone Arena at the end of 2022, where he welcomed various guest artists to the stage, including Chris Young, Sam Hunt and more. However, even with a No. 1 song on his resume, he said he is still waiting for someone to tell him his luck is up. 

"It's overwhelming, almost," he said backstage, his eyes shining with emotion. "It's unreal. I've been feeling it all week, man. And, it's crazy. It's kind of like the story of an underdog, too. I'm still the kid that's waiting on this to fall apart. I'm still waiting on them to go, 'Hey, we timed it out. We gotta cut somebody. And, you're number 14.'"

Given Jelly Roll's undeniable success with fans, on country radio and streaming services, he's well situated to be an ongoing glistening thread in the fabric of country music. He said his CMT Music Awards performance was just a tiny taste of what fans can expect from him on tour.

"This is like a teaser," he said. "Of course, my show is way bigger with way more fire. But what I love about what CMT has allowed us to do with this performance is they allowed us to be ourselves. They allowed us to bring our narrative and direction, and it's going to feel different. There's a lot of special stuff happening, and we're lucky to scratch the surface of anything cool."

Jelly Roll's major label debut country album "Whitsitt Chapel" will be available June 2.

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