These days, you can’t talk country music without mentioning Lainey Wilson, the 31-year-old Louisiana native who has taken Nashville by storm with her signature twang, vibrato and lyrical prowess. But the down-south songstress didn’t hit it big right away — in fact, Lainey Wilson moved onto the radar of many for her recent stint on season 5 of the worldwide phenomenon, Yellowstone. Regardlless, her gradual climb to the top has paid off when she recently swept at the 2023 Country Music Awards On November 8, taking home five CMA Awards: Entertainer of the Year, Female Vocalist of the Year, Album of the Year, Musical Event of the Year and Music Video of the Year.
“This is all I’ve ever wanted to do, it’s the only thing I know how to do,” Wilson began in her acceptance speech. “I think at the end of the year we’ll have played about 186 shows this year and we‘ve worked our butts off this year and so many years in between. I’ve been in this town for 12-and-a-half years and it finally feels like country music is starting to love me back.”
And we sure love her back, too! Here, get to know Lainey Wilson, and the wild ride that’s led her to where she is today!
Lainey Wilson’s life before Nashville
Raised in Baskin, Louisiana by a farmer father and school teacher mother, Wilson got bit by the country music bug when she attended a performance at the Grand Ole Opry, feeling called to one day be up on stage, performing music like the country songs she was raised on.
Taking charge of her destiny, she released an EP on MySpace. Later, throughout high school, she took on a job as a Hannah Montana impersonator, where she’d attend birthday parties, fairs and even visit hospitals.
Making a name for herself in Nashville
Wilson’s early days in Nashville didn’t come without hardship. Making the big move after she finished high school, she often struggled to make ends meet, living in a camper trailer outside of a Nashville recording studio, where the owner would help her with water and electricity.
“I would walk up and down Music Row in Nashville and pass out my demos and my CDs,” she told PEOPLE. “I had a lot of folks slam the door in my face. There were some hard times, there were some rough days, times when I should have probably packed it up and went home, hooked the trailer to the back of the truck and said, ‘I can’t do this.’ But I’ve always had a really weird sense of peace knowing that this is the only thing I know how to do.”
In 2018, Wilson moved on from the smaller labels to a contract with BBR Music Group, where she would release the hits she’s come to be known for: “Dirty Looks” in 2019, “Things a Man Oughta Know” in 2020 and “Heart Like a Truck” in 2022, to name a few.
As she gained recognition on the scene, she began working more collaboratively with other big name country artists. In 2021, she joined Jason Aldean on his “Back in the Saddle Tour,” and collaborated with Cole Swindell on his song, “Never Say Never.”
Other recent collaborations include duets like “Thicc as Thieves” with Lauren Alaina, “Save Me” with Jelly Roll and “Wait In the Truck” with Hardy. In 2022, she expanded her horizons — from music, to the small screen.
Lainey Wilson on Yellowstone
Lainey took on the role of Abby in the Paramount hit series, Yellowstone, and her introduction to the show was a unique one. Show creator Taylor Sheridan became familiar with Wilson when one of her songs was used in the series.
“He said, ‘I want to create a character specifically for you,’” she told PEOPLE. “He said, ‘I want you to wear what you wear, sing what you’re singing and pretty much just be yourself. You’re gonna go by Abby. She’s a musician.’ And without even thinking, I just said, ‘Yes, count me in. Let’s do it.'”
Her character of Abby eventually falls for one of the bunkhouse boys, Ryan, played by Ian Bohen (See him in this list of ‘Yellowstone’ Hunks: Our 9 Favorite Cowboys, Ranked).
“I didn’t really know what I was doing, but you go in there head-first. I was going to give people their money’s worth,” she told USA Today.
Lainey Wilson almost passed up on Yellowstone
As if the anxiety and stress of her acting debut on one of the most popular television shows in the world wasn’t weighing on her heavily enough, Lainey Wilson was also dealing with some personal matters during the days of her Yellowstone takeoff.
Her father, Brian Wilson, was hospitalized following a near-fatal infection and stroke. “All the doctors had told us, ‘This is not looking good.’ I remember they had hired a few hundred extras to be on-set, and I was supposed to be there the next day, and I was in Houston with my daddy, and I just didn’t wanna go,” she told PEOPLE of the internal battle she was fighting, torn between being there for her family and taking advantage of the opportunity she was given.
However, her dad wasn’t having it. “‘Did I hear that you’re not going out to film Yellowstone?’ I said, ‘Daddy, I can’t leave you.’ He said, ‘You better go, and you better not come back until the job is done,’” she recalled. “That is the girl that he raised. So I headed that way and did it. It’s that mentality right there that I feel has gotten me to this place.”
Wilson’s career continues to thrive
Today, Lainey Wilson’s years of hard work and struggle in her early days in Nashville have finally paid off. She is currently in the midst of her “Country’s Cool Again Tour,” which began in May and will conclude through November of 2024.
“Nothing gets me buzzin’ like putting on a show and singing along with the crowd,” she said in a statement. “I want to give a big thank you to all of the fans who have continuously showed up and showed out this year. We can’t wait to see you nationwide on the Country’s Cool Again Tour!”
After her incredible wins at the CMA Award this year, Wilson shared a grateful post to her Instagram, captioned “The ride just keeps getting wilder. Country music has wrapped its arms around me in ways I could’ve never imagined. This is the dream y’all. It all feels so divinely lead. From the bottom of my heart, thank you, thank you, thank you 🙏🏻 🙌🏻❤️😭 #CMAawards“
We can’t wait to see where this wild ride takes her next!
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