Madeline Edwards finished her song "Wolves" at the Grand Ole Opry Saturday night, and the audience leaped to its feet. Edwards thought she had cried all of her tears before making her debut on the famous stage, but when she saw the crowd's enthusiastic response to her heartfelt song about never giving up, she bowed her head and soaked up the emotional moment.
"It felt really good," Edwards said backstage after her performance. "It felt affirming. I hope they really did like it."
Her mother, Bonnie Edwards, flew in from California to be there for her daughter's Opry debut.
"I wouldn't miss this for anything in the world," the proud mom said. "I know she's a great talent, but to think that she has the opportunity to play in a venue like this with so much history, it's just surreal. If I lived in Australia, I'd be here tonight."
Edwards' husband was there, as were his parents and one surviving grandparent, whom they affectionately refer to as Poppa. Edwards said some of her favorite memories are sitting in Poppa's Mississippi living room listening to classic country music.
"I'm really glad he's here," the singer said. "Every time we go back to Hattiesburg, all we do is sit in his little den, and we listen to classic country music, and he'll tell us why the Opry is important. He'll tell us all the artists that have come through, and it's kind of sweet that he gets to be here for this."
Edwards' path to the Opry circle has been a lifetime in the making. But from the outside, it looks like a quick jaunt other than a journey.
Within the last 18 months, she married, moved to Music City, and met Mickey Guyton at a dinner party shortly after arriving in town. Edwards joined The Highwomen for a 10th-anniversary tribute to Lady Gaga's "Born This Way," sang on the CMA Awards with Mickey Guyton and Brittney Spencer, was elected one of CMT's Next Women of Country, is part of CMT's Equal Access program, was lauded by Spotify, Apple and Billboard is concluding a tour with Chris Stapleton soon, and will release her debut album in November.
"I know people say this is a 10-year town," Edwards said, perched on the edge of a black, low-backed couch in a plush dressing room backstage before she played. "I haven't been here that long, but I've been working toward this a long time."
Edwards, a Houston, Texas, native, grew up listening to an array of genres and has been passionate about jazz since Ella Fitzgerald for the first time when she was 4 years old.
"I remember hearing her voice and thinking, 'I don't know what that is, but that's what I want to do forever,'" she said.
Then she heard Amy Winehouse, and her creative axis shifted again. A piano player for more than two decades, Edwards started taking steps towards a country project about three years ago. She did a deep dive back into the earliest days of bluegrass and listened forward. And when she first visited Nashville, The Grand Ole Opry was on her list of must-see places. She didn't go inside.
"This is a very important place to know if you're going to be going into country music," she said. "I always knew what it was, and I always knew it was a big deal and everything like that, but it didn't take as much importance until I started really diving into country music."
That dive led her to Chris Stapleton and Maren Morris, both of whom she's been able to work with. She said her upcoming music isn't far from the sound of which Stapleton and Morris built their careers.
"This music is a perfect cross of pop, soul and country," she said. "It really leans pretty heavily on the countryside with the storytelling and the instrumentation, which I think is very important because the country music space has been very gracious to me over this past year-and-a-half. I want people to see that I really do respect country music as a genre."