With her infectious smile, vivacious laugh and buoyant personality, people usually see Lauren Alaina as the life of the party, but the 26-year-old American Idol alum admits that’s not always the case.
She addresses her struggles in Sitting Pretty on Top of the World, a 15-song collection out today (Sept. 3) via Mercury Records Nashville that showcases the young singer/songwriter’s road to maturity.
Alaina co-wrote 14 of the songs with the pandemic providing ample time for introspection. “I was able to connect with myself in a way that I hadn’t been able to ever in my life,” says Alaina. She also plays an Army lieutenant in the Hallmark movie, Roadhouse Romance, on Sept. 11, and has a new book, Getting Good at Being You, coming from Harper Collins on Nov. 23. “You can really feel [the connection] in the music and the book and maybe even in the movie,” she says.
Sitting Pretty on Top of the World chronicles her journey over the last few years. The title track, penned with Sasha Sloan and Jordan Reynolds, is particularly telling. “I wrote that song about my struggles with depression,” she tells Billboard. “People are often surprised because I’m almost always the happiest person in the room, but I also really struggle with depression.”
The song idea came while she was taking a walk. “The weight of the pandemic really hit me. I was really sad and then I got kind of upset with myself that I was sad because I am one of the lucky ones. My dreams have come true, and I’ve been super blessed,” she says. “I wrote down ‘hitting rock bottom sitting on top of the world.’ When we wrote it on Zoom, we made it about a breakup, but for me that really represents my emotional state because I always try to be the life of the party despite what’s happening. That song was just recognition that you never know what somebody is going through. We’re all putting on a brave face. That’s why I ended up naming the album after it.”
Alaina says she’s feeling better these days. “My heart is still aching for the world — there is so much sadness,” she says. “But in my personal life, my heart has healed to a place where I can love myself and love others more fully. I’m just praying and believing for us to get through the other side of this time. This project really represents healing and that’s what we all need right now.”
She felt like the song was an appropriate title for her new collection. “It’s a double meaning for me because that song represents a sad part, like my depression,” she says, “but it’s also such a happy title that it felt really representative of the whole album because there are sad elements and there are hopeful and happy elements.”
Alaina first gained national acclaim competing on the tenth season of American Idol, finishing first runner up to Scotty McCreery. She released her debut album, Wildflower, in 2011 and followed with Road Less Traveled in 2017, with the title track hitting No. 1 on the Country Airplay chart. She also topped the Hot Country Songs chart with “What Ifs,” a duet with childhood friend Kane Brown, which became the first No. 1 on that chart for both artists.
In 2019, the Rossville, Ga. native competed on Dancing with the Stars and took fourth place. In 2020, she hit No. 1 again collaborating with Hardy and Devin Dawson on “One Beer.” In 2020, she also released two EPs, Getting Good and Getting Over Him. The latter included duets “What Do You Think Of?” featuring Lukas Graham and current single “Getting Over Him” with Jon Pardi. Both are included on the new album.
“I’d been hanging out with a guy and it wasn’t going to work out,” she says of the spark that led her to write “Getting Over Him” with her producer Paul DiGiovanni and Emily Weisband. “I just didn’t see him as ‘my person,’ but he’s a great guy. My girlfriend said, ‘Well, if the only thing he did in your life was help you get over that last guy, he served his purpose’’… so I wrote down ‘my get over him guy,’ and then when I wrote it with Emily and Paul.”
When they decided to make it a duet, Alaina recruited Pardi. “We wanted to put the male perspective in there as well to show that it was a casual flirtation relationship that wasn’t going to end up in marriage,” she says. “I said, ‘Dang, we need to call Jon Pardi because it sounds like we described Jon Pardi in this song!’ So I texted him the demo and he said yes.”
Alaina is particularly proud of the album’s opening track, “It Wasn’t Me,” a confessional ballad about a failed relationship. “It was the most vulnerable and honest and raw and truthful song I’ve ever written, and I think it is the best song I’ve ever written,” she says of her co-write with Hillary Lindsey. “The last three or four years have been about self-reflection, really getting to know myself, being honest when I’m wrong and not allowing other people to wrong me, and standing up for myself. ‘It Was Me’ is about complete ownership of walking away from a situation.
“I was engaged, and I was young,” she continues. “He was a wonderful person, but I wasn’t emotionally mature enough to handle that kind of relationship yet and so I walked away and everything that followed that experience made me the woman I am now. That’s why I made ‘It Was Me’ the first song on the record because that’s self-realization of I didn’t love myself yet… It took a lot of therapy, praying and healing for me to get to a place to be able to see that situation for what it was.”
Alaina also shares her journey of self-discovery in Getting Good at Being You. “I’m used to writing about situations that happen in my life for about 3 ½ minutes, so writing in full chapters was definitely different,” she says, “but it was such a healing process and I really loved it. Hopefully the things I’ve gone through can help other people. That’s ultimately my goal as an artist is to be a light in this world and to promote healing.”
Though she’ll be on TV, in bookstores and on the radio this fall, the one place Alaina won’t be is on stage opening Florida Georgia Line’s I Love My Country tour. The duo cancelled the outing last week due to Covid-19 concerns. “I was so excited to be on that tour promoting everything we’ve got coming up. It was a real bummer,” she says of the cancellation. However, she’s looking to replace the shows this fall and winter: “We’re going to get out there as much as we can and as safely as we can.”
Whether on record or live, Alaina is looking forward to fans hearing her new songs. “This album represents who I am now,” she says. “Road Less Traveled I wrote about going from those teenage years of people seeing me on TV to being a young woman in the industry and figuring out who I am as a person. This album is about being really proud of the woman I’ve become. This album really represents love and loss, loving yourself even when someone doesn’t and redemption, hope and new beginnings, chapters closing and new ones opening. I think it’s the best music I’ve ever made.”