Kelsea Ballerini is the newest member of the Grand Ole Opry, a career accomplishment that happened a lot sooner than she anticipated. The 25-year-old recalled dreaming of playing on the Opry stage as a child after first visiting the venue as a young teenager, never imagining how far that dream would take her.
"I'll never forget my mom got me tickets and me and her drove in," Ballerini told PopCulture.com and other media. "We both love Josh Turner and Josh Turner was playing. And, I just remember we walked in, and it's the kind of thing even as a fan, you walk in the room and you get it. You just feel it.
"I knew that even as a fan I wanted to be a part of the Opry. I just wanted to be there as much as I could," she continued. "I just wanted to be there and be here. Once I got my record deal, I remember I have this very intensive goal list, and that was at the very top, was to make my Opry debut."
Ballerini's first invitation to perform at the hallowed stage happened when "Love Me Like You Mean It" was slowly making its way up the charts.
"I knew that it happened at different times for different people, but they invited me to come sing my debut single, before it was even Top 30," recounted Ballerini. "And I just remember thinking, 'Oh my gosh, this is the coolest thing that had ever happened to me at that point." But then when it happened, every time they asked me. I have to come play here. Then I added to my bucket list, one day I want to be a member. I didn't think it would be four years later. I thought it would be 42. It's pretty crazy."
"I remember for my debut, you walk in and you see everyone, and you're shaking hands, and you're meeting people.," recalled the singer. "There's a camera crew, and I was just kind of talking to people. They were like, 'Hey do you wanna go out and just see the stage before we start the show, before you actually go sing? I was like, 'Yeah of course.' The curtain was down, and I was kind of in the buzz of everyone in the hallway. I walked in, I think I was with my label guy, Gordon Kerr.
"It was the best," Ballerini continued through tears. "I'm so new. I'm such a baby artist, and to be able to play this stage once is a dream, but to be able to know that I can play this stage in 30 years when the radio quits me, when touring quits me, it's really comforting and it's really beautiful, so I'm really excited."
Ballerini followed both Dustin Lynch and Chris Janson in becoming members of the Grand Ole Opry, ushering in a new generation of singers ready to carry the torch.
"I think that the Opry, being able to bring us into the family, it just shows that they love all kinds of country," Ballerini noted. "I think country music's at a really cool time right now, where you're having pop country, and soul country, and crossover country. There's always been flavors of that in country music history.
"I think it's cool that 30, 40 years from now when there's a new group of country music artists that are looking at the wall, we're reflecting what's happening on the radio right now," she added. "It's really cool of the Opry to show that."
Photo Credit: Getty Images/Scott Legato