Lainey Wilson spotlighted the five fast-rising artists selected as part of the inaugural program she’s spearheading to help springboard their budding careers. The yearlong Emerging Artists Program aims to “discover and support” up-and-coming singer-songwriters with mentorship from Wilson and a few other established country stars, and the “Heart Like A Truck” icon shared the stage with the group during a powerful performance.
Wilson recently hosted a Bell Bottom Barn Dance in Downtown Nashville, Tennessee, taking the stage after each of the five emerging artists performed some of their original music. The Bell Bottom Country hitmaker joined forces with Ashley McBryde, Dustin Lynch, Lauren Alaina and Kat & Alex to curate the program and offer guidance to the five rising stars, selected from a lengthy list of nearly 900 applicants:
- Hailey Verhaalen from Oregon City, OR (Currently resides in Nashville, TN)
- Drew Hale from El Paso, TX (Currently resides in Kingsley, MI)
- Tae Lewis from Goldsboro, NC (Currently resides in Nashville, TN)
- Cosette Smith from Gilbert, AZ (Currently resides in Cypress, CA)
- Austin McNeill from Salisbury, NC (Currently resides in Charlotte, NC)
Wilson, a mentor to Hale — who’s also “gonna be teaching me a whole lot myself,” she predicted — shared that she made a promise to fellow mentor McBryde to give back to other artists as soon as she could (in previous conversations with iHeartRadio, Wilson also pointed to Miranda Lambert and other powerhouse singer-songwriters as mentors who have showed her unwavering support and inspired her to help others). In late 2022, the Baskin, Louisiana-born star revealed plans to help boost emerging artists via an ambassadorship with Tractor Supply. Each artist selected in the first-ever program embodies a “Life Out Here” style, which Wilson brought to life with her Bell Bottom Country track, “Live Off.”
“All I wanted was just for somebody to lend me a helping hand,” Wilson reflected of the earlier days of her career as she took the stage during the invite-only Bell Bottom Barn Dance. “I knew that I could do it. I knew that I just needed the opportunity and I think it’s really important in this town and in this business to help each other over that wall. We might as well hold hands and run to the finish line together, and I’m so glad that I was given this opportunity to do that and give back. Ashley McBryde, who is one of the mentors of the entire program, she’s one of the folks who helped me over that wall. I remember when we were in Texas playing a show, and she said ‘Lainey, I wanna help ya,’ she said, ‘I love you and I believe in you, but you gotta promise me that if I do that you’re gonna help that next person, whoever that is. I love you and I believe in you, but you gotta do the same,’ and I said, ‘you got a deal.’ So, it feels really nice to be coming into a position that I can do that. I will tell you, the talent that we have all chosen, y’all better write their names down because you are gonna be hearing from all of them. I’m such a fan of all of them.”
“If I can save them [rising artists] any time or energy or heartache or whatever, I wanna do that because this is hard. It ain't cut out for everybody, and that's the brutal truth,” Wilson previously told iHeartRadio. She added later that she wants to “be able to be a sounding board for these people. I want to be able to be a cheerleader. And after the program, too, these are relationships. I believe when you create relationships with people, it ain't just, ‘here today, gone tomorrow.’ …Call me anytime that you want to, because you've gotta have people like that in your corner, no matter what.
“I'm just glad to be involved and I'm glad to just hopefully make some dreams come true.”
Wilson invited all five artists on stage to perform the final chorus of her empowering smash-hit anthem, “Heart Like A Truck,” with her. Watch Wilson’s powerful performance with Verhaglen, Hale, Lewis, Smith and McNeil (including a clip shared by Verhaglen, who noted to “just wait until you hear her mentee, [Drew Hale] hit that long note 🔥”) here: