In early April, Lauren Alaina started a Facebook Live session from her hotel room to deliver an earnest, tear-filled message to her fans. The occasion? Her song “Road Less Traveled” reached Number One on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart – the first of her career and the only solo female in country music to do so by this point in 2017. It was an overwhelming moment for the 22-year-old performer.
“I had five singles that did not work on country radio and I still had fans that showed up to the shows,” says Alaina, who entered the public consciousness as the runner-up on American Idol in 2011. “I’ve been really fortunate with touring and sales and all those things because I have such a loyal fan base. I just wanted to share that moment with them because it was just as much their moment as it was mine.”
It’s such unguarded displays of humanity and gratitude that have endeared the Rossville, Georgia, native to long-time fans, who stuck with her after her 2011 debut Wildflower and the long gap that followed. Singles like “Georgia Peaches” and “Barefoot and Buckwild” showed promise, but radio granted them only moderate play.
With Alaina’s second album, Road Less Traveled – driven by the danceable title track’s body-positive, trust-your-instincts message – the industry suddenly began dropping the whole “American Idol runner-up” prefix that had prefaced her for six years. This time, Alaina successfully reintroduced herself as a thoughtful, mature singer-songwriter – one who just happened to have a spectacular voice.
“I have things to say and I get to say them now,” she says. “I don’t mind if people say I was on American Idol, because I was and that is a part of my past and I’m super proud of it, but I don’t want that to be all there is to me.”
Instead, Road Less Traveled explores some of the darker, more heartbroken corners of Alaina’s life. Album opener (and current single) “Doin’ Fine” chronicles a fight for stability in the middle of family chaos, and “Same Day, Different Bottle” takes an unflinching look at her father’s alcoholism, while “Three” details the sacrifices young artists have to make for a tiny block of time on the radio – missed birthdays, long-distance relationships and more. “I wanted to shed some light on the things that aren’t so glamorous about this life,” she says, “and the whole point of the song is, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
Including the 12 songs on Road Less Traveled, Alaina wrote upwards of 200 new songs in the process of preparing to record. A handful of those have a shot at making the next full-length, provided she doesn’t create another batch of 200 that she likes better. “I haven’t really been writing a ton right now because I don’t know when the heck I would do that,” she says. “I do good just to get my fingernails painted. But I have some songs that feel like the direction we’ll go.”
Alaina, who’s been opening several shows on Luke Bryan’s Huntin’, Fishin’ and Lovin’ Every Day Tour this year, is focused on the right now, letting the disappointments and traumas of the past fuel her songwriting and forging ahead. Still, that doesn’t mean she won’t post the occasional emotional video on Facebook – that’s just who she is.
“I want to be happy. We all want to be happy,” she says. “I want to be treated like a normal human being, but I also want to be on stage in a fancy dress, so I’m trying to find a happy medium.”