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How Carly Pearce Went from Teen Dollywood Singer to Budding Country Star

Carly Pearce is ready to burst onto the country scene in a big way. For many outside of Nashville, Carly Pearce didn’t hit their radar until her duet with Josh Abbott. But when she sang alongside Abbott on their track “Wasn’t That Drunk,” she stole the show.

The single peaked at No. 37 on the Billboard Country Airplay charts last year, a respectable showing for an independent tune. But Pearce went everywhere the song did, too. That includes late night TV performances (Jimmy Kimmel), official music videos, radio stops and other live moments.

“It put me on the map more than things I’ve done just by myself,” Pearce tells Wide Open Country. “It was great exposure, but also a great kick in the butt. Like, this is the big leagues.”

Yet every time a big moment came up, Pearce delivered.

That’s because — even though most folks were just getting hip to Carly Pearce — she’s been working to get to the big leagues her whole life.

Just Your Typical High School Dropout

A native of a small town in Kentucky, Pearce “never knew a day” when she didn’t sing. Her musical fervor placed her in several talent shows and at age 11, her guitar teacher asked her to front a local bluegrass band.

Seriously.

Those early years proved both educational and catalytic. Drawing from an obvious inspiration in legendary singer Alison Krauss, Pearce made the decision very early on to hone in on her music career.

So, with the blessings of her parents, she dropped out of high school at age 16 and moved to Pigeon Forge. There, her mom homeschooled her while she took a job performing at Dollywood. “I just always knew I wanted to get out of my town, and I thought it was a vessel for me,” Pearce says.

She performed six times a day, five times a week — and paid for their apartment with her earnings. Not the typical “fast food first job” of the American teenager, but then again, Pearce isn’t the typical singer.

Her earthy, textured voice matured and by age 19, she was ready to leave the pastel plaster palaces of Pigeon Forge and move to Nashville. She leveraged some connections from a songwriter acquaintance at the time, eventually getting her foot in the door with co-writes.

“First and foremost, I’m an artist,” Pearce says. “But I was willing to do whatever I needed to within the industry to connect the dots.”

Ten Years Later… A Development Deal

Those formative years paid off, and in 2012 Pearce snagged a development deal with Sony Records. Of course, there’s a bit of irony to the idea of an artist who has been a performing musician since age 11 and signing a development deal 10 years after she started developing.

Pearce also signed a publishing deal with Sony. Both deals were ultimately short-lived, and Sony dropped her. “I was definitely shook up,” Pearce says. She took odd jobs to make ends meet. Cleaning up Airbnb houses, nannying — whatever paid the bills and didn’t totally stop her from making music.

But the move also helped her put some things in perspective. “In hindsight, I’m really glad it didn’t work,” she says. “I wouldn’t be the songwriter, performer or business mind I am now.”

Pearce stops to offer a pragmatic view on her take of the music industry. “We are all the CEOs of our artistry,” she says. “And you have to outwork everybody on your team — and everybody in town.”

A New Creative Partnership

One of the negative sides of the music industry is when something doesn’t work out, most of the town knows about it. And Pearce felt like, in some ways, she was “damaged goods” after leaving Sony.

But her publisher at BMG Daniel Lee had been working with a producer named busbee, and the two were looking for a new artist to work with. “Me and busbee sat down to write and it just clicked,” Pearce says. They signed an agreement in 2014.

The mix between her natural Krauss-ian inclinations and busbee’s poppier sensibilities created a beautiful middle ground. “It’s a good balance of keeping things contemporary enough to be competitive on country radio,” Pearce says.

Together they began working, writing and recording more. Pearce had a trove of songs and was ready to get them out to the world. She took some songs to SiriusXM’s J.R. Schumann, who now heads the country division of the satellite radio giant in Nashville.

“Every Little Thing” is a Hit

Of the tunes Schumann heard, he immediately latched on to “Every Little Thing.” The selection surprised Pearce, to say the least. “I wrote ‘Every Little Thing’ as a form of therapy about a relationship that ended 4 years ago,'” Pearce says. “It’s a song that I’m really proud of and represents who I am as an artist and who I want to be.”

“But I was hesitant to release it first,” Pearce adds.

For starters, this was near the end of 2016, when the holidays were ramping up and tours were ramping down. Generally, December is not a great time to release new music. But Schumann really wanted to add the song. “I thought maybe I could just get it out there and then follow it up with something that’s more ‘radio,'” Pearce concedes.

As it turns out, “Every Little Thing” took off immediately. The song soon rose to No. 1 on the popular radio show “The Highway.” At its peak, that translated to roughly 4,000 sales of the song per week. “This was just different than anything I’ve ever put out,” Pearce says. “This one felt different.”

From there, the dominoes just fell. Scott Borchetta and Big Machine came calling, signing Pearce just a few weeks ago. “I mean, I would be lying if I said the success of ‘Every Little Thing’ didn’t play a big role in me getting a deal,” Pearce says.

But it’s not just about that song. “Big Machine and Scott really looked at me as an artist,” she adds. “He wasn’t trying to change me. He didn’t sign me just for ‘Every Little Thing.’ He signed me for ‘Every Little Thing’ and for Carly Pearce.”

Now Pearce is ready to finally take the steps she thought she was ready for at age 19. “I have a realistic and humble attitude going forward,” she says. And she’s especially excited to share the success with her band of the past five years, who shared hotel rooms and helped her drive the van on all those late nights.

“Every Little Thing” goes to terrestrial radio on Feb. 22. And if what happened on satellite radio is any indication, the song should rise steadily, finding all the right ears. “There’s kind of a void for what I do in country from a female perspective,” Pearce adds. “I’m excited to see what happens.”

Us too.

See Also: Watch Carly Pearce Wow the Grand Ole Opry with “Things Change”

Now Watch: Rising Artists to Watch in 2017

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How Carly Pearce Went from Teen Dollywood Singer to Budding Country Star