Country music newcomer Carly Pearce admits she feels a little bit of Alice In Wonderland lately. Her debut single, "Every Little Thing," is garnering rave reviews from critics and fans alike, and many publications have named the Kentucky native as 'one to watch' for 2017. The year could not have gotten off to a better start for the latest signee to the Big Machine Label Group.

"I really don't know if I can put it into words," she tells Billboard. "I have always dreamed of pursuing a career in country music. I've never known a day that I didn't want to do this, and I've always dreamt of having a record deal. But the older I got… I think I've been here for eight years, but I am so blessed to have gotten the right record deal, and the right team. They are so excited and passionate about who I am as an artist, and the music that I want to make. I don't feel that I could be in a better scenario than Scott and the Big Machine team.

"I'm spending a lot of my time in an airplane, which is new for me. I think my band is probably getting tired of me," she says with a laugh. "I am doing the radio tour with a couple of my musician friends that have been with me for about six years. They've been all over the country with me, so that makes it so much sweeter, fun, and authentic to who I am and the music that I make. I have these friends with me, that keeps me sane. It's all been a blast for all of us. I feel that we have talked about these moments for so long," she says with a glow about her.

Pearce penned the single with Emily Shackelton and busbee, who has gained notoriety for his recent work with Maren Morris and Keith Urban. She has known both for quite a while. "I met Emily during my first year here. I fell in love with not only her voice, but everything about her. She is so amazing. We have shared a lot of similar stories of struggling in this town, and finding our way. With busbee, it seems that everything he puts his stamp on turns into country music royalty, but a lot of people don't know that he actually signed me about two years ago, I was the first artist he signed from a development standpoint, from the ground up. So, we've been working together for about two years. Both of them are like family to me. I think that speaks to why I felt so comfortable sharing my story of this heartbreak."

Pearce hails from the tiny town of Taylor Mill, Kentucky – pop. 6,604. She says it probably wouldn't be a stretch to say most of the town's citizens knew of her career ambitions from the start. "I come from a really small town. We have one stoplight. I feel that anyone there who knew me knew that country music was what I wanted to do. If I was cheerleading, I was leaving to go to band rehearsals or skipping prom to sing at Dollywood. I was always the music girl." Though she has made the move to Music City, she says you can't take the Wildcat out of the girl. "I'm thankful to where I come from, and I have the state of Kentucky tattooed on my wrist because I will never forget where I come from. I hope that I make them proud."

Pearce got an early start on her dreams, thanks to her father. "I convinced my dad to let me audition for Dollywood at age sixteen. I asked him to let me quit high school, and he let me. He let me find a home schooling program that let me get into a university." She said that making the trek to East Tennessee was beneficial. "In the way that Nashville has a songwriter and artist community, Pigeon Forge has a performers' community of all of the theaters, That was the first time that I felt like I was surrounding myself with people who shared the same love of performing music as me. I learned a lot from that experience. Nobody thought I was completely crazy because of how much I loved performing. There were people from all over the country who shared that same love that I do."

Above, Billboard is excited to bring you this exclusive video clip of Pearce performing her new single on the hallowed stage of the Grand Ole Opry. The respect she has for the WSM Radio show's tradition is as natural to her as breathing. "I just played my 33rd show….but who's counting? If you were to ask me at five years old, what I wanted to do, the first thing out of my mouth would be to sing at the Grand Ole Opry. That was my dream since I was a little girl, to step in that circle. When you hear the record that I am making, you will hear that my identity is in country music. That's what I want to make. I don't care if it ever goes past that. That is where my heart lies. The Opry, to me, is the definition of country music. Any artist who I ever studied or wanted to pattern my career after, they all talked about stepping into that circle. I will never take that for granted, and hope to carry on the Opry the way that Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood have. They understand the importance and the sacredness of it. I am so blown away every time I get to step on the stage. I keep waiting on them to adopt me," she says.

As an artist who has played the show many times, what part gets her the most nervous? "For me, it's probably the pre-jitters," she admits freely. "If you've ever been backstage at the Opry, it's such a special place where everybody leaves their dressing rooms open, and the rooms are all themed with something to do with country music history. You walk through the halls, and every single person you have ever idolized is on that stage. I'm just standing off to the side right before you step out to the stage. You see the audience, and you see the circle. It flashes in my head just how many of my heroes have stepped onto that stage. Then, you get out there – and it's over. It happens so fast."

But somehow, we imagine, she is still savoring the moment. She will take to the show's stage the next time on April 15.

 

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