Maren Morris on Her Surprising CMA Awards Breakthrough

"I've never been nominated for anything at this level," says the "My Church" singer, who celebrated by filming a 'CMT Crossroads' with Alicia Keys

Maren Morris reflects on her five CMA Awards nominations. Credit: Suzi Pratt/WireImage

During last year's CMA Awards, Maren Morris was an unknown. It was still two months before the release of her breakout single "My Church" and her debut album Hero wouldn't arrive until June. Fast forward to now and Morris is tied with Chris Stapleton and Eric Church as the leading nominees at the 50th annual CMAs. It's startling to the 26-year-old Texas native, who teamed up with Alicia Keys on the evening of the nominations to film a ferocious episode of CMT Crossroads.

"I was sitting across the street from the CMAs last year at a restaurant watching the show on TV and never thinking I would be sitting there the next year," Morris tells Rolling Stone Country, backstage at the Crossroads taping.

The multiple Grammy-winning Keys, seated next to her, isn't surprised. "[Hero] is a killer record, killer songs, killer performance and a killer artist," she raves. "And to me, Song of the Year is the biggest deal, definitely Album of course too, but as a songwriter, the nomination itself is such validation."

Along with Song of the Year, for "My Church," and an Album of the Year nod for Hero, Morris competes in Single of the Year ("My Church"), Female Vocalist of the Year and New Artist. She admits she anticipated perhaps one nomination, but the strong showing was overwhelming.

"To have five and one of them be Album of the Year and another Song of the Year, it is such validation," she says, echoing the words of Keys, who offers one bit of advice from her own experience as an "it" artist (Keys won the Grammy for Best New Artist in 2002.)

"Don't forget to celebrate. When I was first coming up, everything was so serious, we were always rushing to get to the next thing, that we didn't take the time to say, 'Man, look what we did just now,'" Keys says. "Enjoy every moment because it is so good and just a testament to all the work you've put in."

Celebration should be on the mind of the CMA – the organization mark the 50th installment of its signature awards show. That milestone isn't lost on Morris.

"I've never really been nominated for anything at this level," she says. "And it is the CMAs' 50th anniversary, so they are going to go wild."

The CMAs air Wednesday, November 2nd, on ABC. Morris and Keys' CMT Crossroads premieres Friday, December 2nd on CMT.

(Reporting by Ashley Eicher)