Lainey Wilson, Lauren Alaina + More Pay It Forward as Tractor Supply Artist Mentors
Lainey Wilson brought her first official fan meetup to Nashville's Bell Tower during CMA Fest on Friday (June 9), in an event that featured music, themed drinks, merch and even a custom cowboy hat station.
But the party had one element not typically featured at a fan club show: Before the singer's performance, five up-and-comers performed, in a lineup curated by Wilson, as part of Tractor Supply's Emerging Artist Program. Each of the five emerging acts — Hailey Verhaalen, Drew Hale, Tae Lewis, Cosette Smith and Austin McNeil — got a chance to sing for Wilson's fans before her set.
As she took the stage to perform, Wilson explained that by putting together the showcase, she was fulfilling a promise she made to McBryde early on in her own career.
"I remember we were in Texas playing a show, and she said, 'Lainey, I wanna help ya. I love you and I believe in you. But you gotta promise me if I do that, that you're gonna help the next person, whoever that is," the singer recalled to the crowd.
"I said, 'You got a deal,'" Wilson continued. "So it feels really nice to be coming into a position that I can do that. And I will tell you, the talent that [we found], y'all better writer their names down, because you're gonna be hearing from all of them.
"Y'alls heads getting big? Am I saying too many nice things? I love y'all," she joked, turning side-stage towards the other performers.
That spirit of camaraderie and collaboration was a theme among the mentors. "Lainey and I are really good friends, so it just really came together organically...I'll do anything for Lainey, or Tractor Supply," Alaina told Taste of Country leading up to the show. "And for it to be tied to giving back to new artists and encouraging people — that's really what I want to do in general, so it was a perfect fit."
Speaking of perfect fits, Alaina has glowing things to say about her Emerging Artists Program mentee, Tae Lewis, whom she describes as "the male version of me."
"He's just precious!" she says. "We both grew up singing in church. His dad's a pastor. My dad's not a pastor, but when I was growing up, singing in church was the first stage I ever knew. We laugh, because when you grew up singing in church, you sing a little bit different. We have, I call 'em 'Jesus runs.' We have 'Jesus runs.' Everybody can hear it."
Alaina's no stranger to being on the other end of a mentor-mentee relationship. She rose to fame as a contestant on American Idol, ultimately finishing second to Scotty McCreery, and she says the experience of receiving star guidance provided a huge boost to her confidence early on.
"To have someone look you in the eyes and talk to you about your artistry, your craft — it's just so uplifting, early on," Alaina points out. "My main strategy as a mentor is just to be encouraging. I don't have to tell him how to be artist, how to be a songwriter. Funnily enough, I told him about my struggles!"
In a statement, Lewis said that learning about the tough times Alaina has faced helped him realize how much the two of them have in common. "It was so crazy to just be able to talk Lauren and see her side of what she’s doing, and the hardships that she went through," he reflects. "These are similar struggles I went through, and it also made me realize that the dream is literally not far."
"[I told him that] no matter how much success you have, or if you think you've overcome whatever you wanted to overcome, there's always gonna be more — you just have to be resilient," Alaina adds. "During my time with him, we laughed, we cried, we did all the things. It was awesome."