It’s been almost two weeks since Nashville sensation Lainey Wilson notched the most nominations — nine, to be exact — from the Country Music Association Awards for the second year in a row, and she’s still in a state of shock.
“It’s crazy,” she marvels of being the leading lady heading into another CMAs. “I mean, there’s a few categories where I’m competing with myself. It’s wild. If you would have told little Lainey that this would happen this soon into my career, I would have told you you were lying.”
But while the 31-year-old Baskin, Louisiana, native won new artist of the year at the 2022 CMAs, she’s no Nashville newbie.
“I got here in 2011 in my little camper trailer, and it was 12 years Aug. 1st. But I feel like I’ve only had my foot in the door for a couple of years,” reflects Wilson. “Some people just show up to Nashville, and it just happens and that’s it. But I have always truly had the mentality of, ‘OK, if this takes me longer, that’s fine.’ That means that I’m going to have longevity, that I’ll be here till the cows come home.”
Now, that long-game plan is scoring big for Wilson. After taking home two CMAs last November, she added to her trophy haul with four Academy of Country Music Awards — including album of the year for her fourth studio LP, “Bell Bottom Country” — in May.
And when the 2023 CMAs go down at Nashville, Tenn.’s Bridgestone Arena on Nov. 8, she’ll be up for the prestigious entertainer of the year prize against the likes of Morgan Wallen, Luke Combs, Carrie Underwood and Chris Stapleton.
Then, of course, there’s her art-imitates-life role as country singer Abby in the hot Western drama
“Yellowstone,” which she joined last November for the fifth and final season. (With the actors’ strike ongoing at the time of this interview, Wilson wasn’t permitted to discuss the show.)
She has certainly come a long way from working as a Hannah Montana impersonator in high school, booking three or four birthday parties a weekend. With a string of country hits since 2021 — including “Things a Man Oughta Know,” “Never Say Never” (with Cole Swindell), “Heart Like a Truck,” “Wait in the Truck” (with Hardy) and current single “Watermelon Moonshine” — Wilson is on the kind of roll where she seemingly can do no wrong.
“I feel like the stars have just aligned,” she says. “But the truth is, I think we worked so hard on the front end of this. It’s been brick by brick for me, it’s been song by song, it has been team member by team member, it has been fan by fan.”
And having found all of this success at 31 instead of 21, Wilson isn’t about to lose herself in her newfound fame. “I know who I am. I know what I want to say. I know how I want to say it,” she says. “And it’s cool to think that I’m not being anything other than myself … if that’s what the magic is.”
It was certainly a magic moment for Wilson at last year’s CMAs, when she got to attend the awards as a “cordially invited” nominee instead of a wide-eyed fan for the first time.
“I used to wait outside just so I could get a free wristband, hoping that I could be in the pit,” she recalls. “Or I’d save up my money, and I’d buy a ticket in the nosebleeds. And I would go buy an outfit just to get all dressed up and feel like I was a part of it. And I would look down on the floor, and I would see all of these artists who I’m inspired by.
“And so when last year happened,” she continues, “I just felt like I was a part of the community. I felt, like, very embraced. It made me feel like, ‘Wow, I’m really starting to gain the respect of my peers and the people that I look up to in this industry.’ And when that happens, it just kind of lights another fire under you.”
Wilson is also winning in her love life. At the 2023 ACMs, she and her boyfriend, former Pittsburgh Steelers player Devlin “Duck” Hodges, made their red-carpet debut as a couple.
The singer has been boo’d up with the ex-quarterback since 2021, but the pair — who met through mutual friends in Nashville — hadn’t gone public until that star-studded date night in Dallas.
“I just decided to keep something for myself, you know?” she explains. “And I laugh and say I wanted to see if he was in it for the right reasons — and turns out he was. He’s a good boy. He’s the kind of dude that high-fives me on the way out the door. He’s just a good person, and he’s my cheerleader. He knows how important country music is to me, and he knows how important my job is to me, and he just cheers me on from the sidelines. It’s really cool to be able to share a life with somebody who also was super passionate about something since he was a child.”
Hodges, 27, has also served as Wilson’s muse, giving her some real-life material. “I’ve never really been able to write a genuine love song … until I met him,” she says. “It’s been really fun to kind of dive into that emotion. And, you know, even though I’m madly in love and crazy about him, it’s still not those kinds of love songs that are just googly-eyed. It’s not all butterflies and rainbows — it’s going to have a little grit and edge to it. Because the truth is, that’s our relationship.”