Jamie O’Neal is a tad infatuated with Lauren Alaina.
The 54-year-old loves the 25-year old’s wit and her talent, her beauty and her authentic nature, her way of bringing emotion to a song and the way she always seems to find the silver lining both on and off the stage.
She also loves to hear her sing.
So when the ACM Awards came to Jamie O’Neal last year with the idea to have her collaborate with a member of the new generation of country music at the ACM Lifting Lives: Decades showcase, O’Neal knew exactly who she wanted by her side.
“I called (Lauren Alaina’s) manager Trisha McClanahan and said, ‘I don’t care who sings with who, but I want to sing with Lauren.’ (Laughs.) I mean, I begged. I was like ‘please let her sing on ‘Arizona’ with me.”
And McClanahan made sure it happened.
Not once, but now, twice.
O’Neal recently released “There is No Arizona 2.0,” a collaboration with Alaina that puts the powerful song right back into the spotlight exactly 20 years since the chart topper’s release. Originally written by O’Neal alongside songwriters Lisa Drew and Shaye Smith, a new version of the song that still tells the story of unrequited love and broken promises will be featured on O’Neal’s upcoming album Sometimes, set for release next month and her first since 2014’s Eternal.
“Lauren (Alaina) is the kind of singer that can sing anything,” she says. “There are just no boundaries with her. She’s not afraid of anything and I absolutely love that.”
And its this adventurous vocal nature that is showcased on the new version of “There is No Arizona,” a version that had both singers pushing each other to new heights.
“The song became so much more about the vocals,” says the platinum-selling entertainer and hit songwriter of the song, which now features a high harmony in the chorus that is nothing short of gorgeous. “Singing with Lauren (Alaina) allowed both of us to lift this song out of any tight corners that we could have felt painted within. We definitely played off each other with all of the adlibs.”
“You know, some artists just can’t adlib,” admits O’Neal. “I have sung with some of them. (Laughs.) They just can’t do it. They tell me right off the bat. But Lauren (Alaina) and I are the same in the way we want to find a way to take a song and make it new all the time and try new things.”
In fact, while O’Neal’s new album will have her also collaborating with some of her fellow queens of country such as Martina McBride (“When I Think About Angels”) and Sara Evans (“Trying to Find Atlantis”), O’Neal finds herself increasingly intrigued by the genre’s new class of female country artists, ‘girls with big voices’ who all seem poised to sing about what they want and how they want.
“I think there was a long lull, but now there seems to be a new appreciation for these singers,” says O’Neal. “The time is right. The boundaries are limitless. There are no lines in the sand saying what you can do. You can do anything. The female vocalists that are breaking through right now are not only hugely talented, but they are making us think and feel through their songs.”
So, who does O’Neal have her eyes and ears on right now?
Actually…she has many.
“Mickey Guyton…I mean, what a voice,” O’Neal gushes. “Priscilla Block from Tik Tok…she is amazing. And Lindsay Ell’s new album Heart Theory? There’s a song on there called ‘Make You’ that literally brought me to tears. And Taylor Swift’s new album? I listen to that album over and over again.”
And yes, music is holding O’Neal, and the world, together at this precarious time.
“Music is the staple that we can’t live without,” O’Neal concludes. “It can make you feel something if you want, or it can allow you to escape and feel nothing for awhile. Either way, it can soothe you. I can’t imagine not having it to lean on at a time like this.“