Lainey Wilson recalls early days, impersonating Hannah Montana: ‘I’d run backstage and put my wig on’

Published On May 22, 2024 » By »
Lainey Wilson at the 2024 Academy of Country Music Awards.
(Photo : Getty Images) Lainey Wilson at the 2024 Academy of Country Music Awards.

Lainey Wilson might have been the real winner of Tuesday’s The Voice Season 25 finale, when coach Reba McEntire surprised an emotional Wilson on live television with country music’s highest honor.

“Lainey, I am so proud of you. I am thrilled to death if I had anything to do with your career, because you are blowing it up,” McEntire told Wilson. “I was so proud of you at the ACMs the other night, and I couldn’t be more proud to be the one that helps you to bridge the gap between our generations. So, I’d like to be the person who invites you to be an official member of the Grand Ole Opry.”

Mentioning that her family was in the Voice audience, Wilson then said, “They took me to Nashville when I was 9 years old, and we went to the Grand Ole Opry. … I knew that I wanted to play there. I wanted to do it.”

Not too shabby for a woman who landed in Nashville more than a decade ago; was rejected by The Voice‘s rival show, American Idol, an embarrassing seven times; and who got her start impersonating another onetime Voice coach, Miley Cyrus.

“So, from eighth grade to 12th grade, I did birthday parties, fairs, festivals, St. Jude, you name it, and I impersonated Hannah Montana,” Wilson told Lyndsanity on The Voice‘s red carpet, laughing at the memory of giving early audiences her own version of the best of both worlds. “I would open the show — ‘Lainey’ would get up there with her guitar and do a few songs — and then I’d run backstage and put my wig on. And I had this little portable sound system and I’d put on a show.”

Wilson then joked, “There was a time after I hung the wig up and I quit being Hannah Montana, I thought about picking it back up, because I was like, ‘Man, I was killing it in high school!’ And then I got to Nashville and tried to be myself and for years — for 13 years — and I was broke.”

As Cyrus herself might say, it’s the climb. For many casual fans, Wilson might seem like an overnight success story, but her seven failed American Idol auditions were among the many rejections she faced before she broke through with 2022′s Bell Bottom Country, which won Best Country Album at the Grammys and Album of the Year at both the CMA and ACM Awards, and earned her the title of CMAs Entertainer of the Year. Like many of this season’s Voice contestants, including top five country singers Karen Waldrup and Team Reba’s Josh Sanders, Wilson has been grinding for a long time.

“I really do think that timing is everything,” Wilson, 32, mused. “In August of this year, I have been in Nashville for 13 years. In a weird way, I feel like I got there yesterday, and then I feel like I’ve kind of been there my whole life. I knew that a part of my story was just going to be time. I knew that I needed to live a little bit more life to tell the kind of stories that I needed to tell. And so, that was a pill that I swallowed a long time ago. And so, at the end of the day, country music is my life, and I was like, ‘However it looks, I’m just going to keep on going and we’ll see what happens.’”

On Tuesday’s Voice finale, Wilson performed her brand-new single “Hang Tight Honey,” but since The Voice is known for cover songs, Music Times had to ask her about her other latest musical offering: a duet with Wynonna Judd on “Refugee,” from the forthcoming tribute album Petty Country: A Country Music Celebration of Tom Petty.

“Just first of all, to be able to honor [Petty], because he’s had such a big influence on country music… I mean, a lot of the people that I write with, one of their big, main influences is Tom Petty. The way that they write, they’re like, ‘Man, what if it has this Petty feel?’ And then when I found out that I was going to get to do ‘Refugee’? First of all, it’s one of my favorite songs, one of my band’s favorite songs that we jam to. And when I found out I was going to get to do it with Wynonna? I mean, she’s one of my biggest inspirations. I remember being a little girl, trying to get that growl in my voice that only Wynonna can do. Yeah, it just made complete sense. So, I was very honored to do it.”

Petty Country drops May 31; Wilson’s much-anticipated fifth studio album, Whirlwind, comes out Aug. 23.

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