Earlier this week, Kelsea Ballerini was in New York to perform her Top Ten single "Dibs" on Good Morning America. She extended her stay in the Big Apple with a guest shot on Wednesday's Late Night with Seth Meyers, where she offered a cool, gritty take on "XO," the opening tune on her debut disc The First Time.
Backed by her three-piece band, Ballerini played electric guitar during the number and grabbed a drumstick to punch up the instrumental break with a couple of dramatic cymbal crashes that were accompanied by some recorded vocal effects. The high-energy performance also spotlighted Ballerini's flawless delivery of the rapid-fire lyrics and her gritty, forceful vocals on the tune about a guy who can't hide the lingering interest he has in his ex.
Such in-command performances have quickened the pace of Ballerini's acceptance from the country-music community, earning her CMA nominations for Best New Artist and Female Vocalist, and her pop sensibilities have naturally invited comparisons to the early success of pop-country tightrope walker Taylor Swift. Ballerini is acutely aware of the balancing act.
Access Hollywood can exclusively report that country-pop singer Kelsea Ballerini has been added to the star-studded lineup for the 2016 CMA Music Festival in Nashville, which will run June 9-12.
The 22-year-old will take the stage on opening night. She joins previously announced acts such as Jason Aldean, Dierks Bentley, Eric Church, Sam Hunt, Miranda Lambert, Rascal Flatts, Chris Stapleton, Carrie Underwood and Hank Williams Jr., who will all perform during the festival’s first two nights.
A rising star, Kelsea was nominated for Female Vocalist of the Year at the 2015 CMA Awards, and her current single “Peter Pan,” from her 2015 debut album “The First Time,” is currently receiving airplay on country radio.
Ballerini has made it known that she wants Swift’s old spot, and Swift herself has bestowed her seal of girl-squad approval on Ballerini. At the moment, she seems to have the field all to herself. Ballerini moved to Nashville at age 15 to pursue her career, like Swift. She signed with a small indie imprint label, Black River, like Swift.
And I’m sure it didn’t hurt the game plan that Ballerini’s dad is a country music radio programmer. Blonde, tan, sweetly effusive, and Southern (though she sings with a twang that is not present in her speaking voice), she fits the prototypical crossover country star mold, as pioneered by Barbara Mandrell in the ‘70s, perfected by Faith Hill in the ‘90s, and mastered by Swift — the pretty girl who’s got talent and spunk to burn. In true Swift fashion, Ballerini has songs about being young, being a nerd, dating around, disappointing exes, and, most of all, romances that flame out in spectacular fireworks.
Ballerini claims TRL pop artists like Britney Spears and NSYNC as her first musical inspirations, calling Keith Urban her gateway into country music. She tellingly name-checks Shania Twain as another major guiding light — country’s biggest crossover in the era before Swift started breaking chart records. Ballerini’s first single, 2014’s “Love Me Like You Mean It,” is her biggest, and seemed to place Ballerini, who writes her own songs, as the natural heir to Swift (it nabbed her two CMA nominations out the gate, including Female Vocalist of the Year).
“Love Me Like You Mean It” is a big, sweeping heart-stomper about the stakes of entrusting your love to a new boy after a series of “losers, liars, and users.” Ballerini comes through with a familiar breathless romanticism — an endless optimism whose flip side is cynicism when things don’t work out. It’s not explicitly teenage, but its drama screams young love; its pace is “slow dance.”
Thursday nights this summer on ABC, country hitmaker Kelsea Ballerini transforms into TV co-host with talk show icon Arsenio Hall . The two team up to bring us Greatest Hits , a show that relives the hits of the past few decades, uniting today’s hitmakers with the artists who made the songs famous.
“Arsenio is amazing. He's such a pro. Every time we walk out into the live audience they do the 'Hoo, hoo, hoo!' thing. It's amazing," she says. "I'd never really hosted anything like that before obviously, but he's so cool because he's done it forever… And we just kind of use the prompter as a guideline and just laugh the whole time -- which I hope translates well, because we have fun!”
The “Peter Pan” songstress gives us a preview of what we can expect, and promises she’ll do some singing herself.
“We've had incredible artists on the show. I got to sing a mash-up of three of my favorite songs -- one country, two from other genres, just mashed up together. The show is so cool because it's just celebrating music and big songs that have made an impact on our life, so I'm excited for everyone to see it.”