Who Is CMA Awards New Artist of the Year Nominee Hailey Whitters?

If you’ve been paying attention to country music lately, you’ve likely heard the name Hailey Whitters. The 34-year-old Iowan with a sweet voice and spitting lyrics has been covering the airwaves with her breakthrough hit “Everything She Ain’t”–but she’s been hustling in Nashville long before that.

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Who Is Hailey Whitters?

The Shueyvile, Iowa, native moved to Nashville after graduating high school in 2007. Before she became one of Nashville’s brightest rising stars, Whitters established herself as a songwriter. She found herself in the room with songwriting royalty, Lori McKenna. The two penned “Happy People,” the second single from Little Big Town‘s 2017 album, The Breaker, which reached the Top 40 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. She has two writing credits on Martina McBride‘s 2016 album, Reckless, and scored a coveted deep cut, “The Older I Get,” on Alan Jackson‘s 2021 album, Where Have You Gone.

Whitters started off her career as an independent artist, releasing her first album, Black Sheep in 2015 and 2020 follow-up The Dream on indie labels. The honesty of The Dream‘s opening track, “Ten Year Town,” caught the attention of fans and industry folk alike. After hearing the song, Maren Morris invited Whitters to open for her on her 2019 Girl: The World Tour.

“I was waiting tables at the time and I didn’t have any team around me or anything. I just posted the song ‘Ten Year Town’ on my Instagram and Maren Morris heard it and reposted it, invited me to come out on her Girl: The World Tour, and I remember that reignited the town around me,” Whitters recalls to American Songwriter.

When she’s not writing for other artists, Whitters also draws in the star power on her own songs. LBT returned the favor when they appeared on the exuberant “Fillin’ My Cup” on the 2021 deluxe edition of The Dream which also saw guest appearances by Trisha Yearwood and Jordan Davis. Whitters continues to live The Dream. In the two years since the album was released, Whitters dropped Raised in 2022 which contained her breakthrough hit, “Everything She Ain’t.” Whitters was in a writing session with Ryan Tyndell and Bryan Simpson when they were initially working on a dark ballad akin to a spaghetti western song. Deciding to take a lighter approach, Whitters threw out the line, I’m everything she is / And everything she ain’t, which became the foundation for the song.

[RELATED: Review: Hailey Whitters Serves Up Strength and Heart with ‘I’m In Love’ EP]

“It’s just owning who you are and not being afraid to stand out and be you,” Whitters explains to American Songwriter about the song’s meaning. “I definitely feel like that’s something that I’ve had to really do in this town as I’m navigating this industry.” Though the album was done by the time the song was written, Whitters’ team was adamant about including it on Raised. “Everything She Ain’t” soon went viral on TikTok, peaking at No. 17 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart.

“[It’s] totally not in my head what I thought my first hit would be, but I think this whole thing has taught me to get out of your own way,” she continues. “Just follow the music and let the music do the talking. I definitely feel like that’s been my experience with this song. It’s opened so many doors for me.”

Among those opportunities are opening slots on Eric Church and Shania Twain‘s tours, in addition to performing it on the side stage at Nissan Stadium during 2023 CMA Fest. She also scored a slot on the main stage at 2023 Pilgrimage Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival. In July 2023, Whitters released her I’m in Love EP, with the title track becoming the most-added song on country radio. “The last record was Raised, and it’s where I came from, and I feel like life is good. There’s been a lot of cool things that have happened in the last year,” she tells American Songwriter backstage at Pilgrimage. “‘Everything She Ain’t’ is on a project and that song has changed so many things for me. This new project is a bridge between Raised and what’s to come.”

Whitters scored a major win when she was named New Female Artist of the Year at the 2023 ACM Awards. She’s now vying for New Artist of the Year at the 2023 CMA Awards alongside Jelly Roll, Zach Bryan, Megan Moroney, and Parker McCollum. But every step of Whitters’ journey has led her to her recent success.

“I think the biggest thing I always think about is the mental toll that this business can take on you. It’s constantly being told to change who you are or be different. I remember being told, ‘We already have enough girls.’ I think being in this town and really believing in something and being told by everyone else it’s not gonna work, that is not fun,” she tells American Songwriter. “But I think that there’s also people who do believe in what you do and I think that it’s important to focus on them and on the fans and no matter how small that little group may be at the time, really pour yourself into it. I do think that if you work hard, it will all turn around and eventually it’ll see the light of day.”

The CMA Awards air live from Nashville on Wednesday (November 8) at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

(Photo by Danielle Del Valle/Getty Images)

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