April 2015

Miranda Lambert: From Nashville Star to Superstar

Reviewing the career of country success story Miranda Lambert, from her struggles as a teen to her recent Grammy wins.

National Standards: 1, 2, 4, 6, 9, 10

Prepare: Have the class read From Nashville Star to Superstar (page 32 of the student edition). The article reveals the steps of Miranda Lambert’s career in becoming a country superstar, and how her desire to write her own music distinguished her from her peers early on.

Key points in the article:

  • Lambert’s positive experience in a talent competition at age 16 motivated her to seek out an opportunity to record demos in Nashville. When she disliked the material she was given at the studio, she became interested in writing her own songs.
  • Later finding success on Nashville Star, Lambert placed third, then got a contract with Epic Records.
  • Though it was her personal songwriting that distinguished her in the beginning, her latest releases show less of her writing.
  • Lambert is the first country artist in history to start her career with five albums in a row charting No. 1 on Billboard. Rather than feeling content with her level of success, she seeks to push herself to be even better.

Begin: Discuss the pattern of events and influences that contributed to Lambert’s current success. Topics may include:

  • Her positive response to the negative experience at the recording session in Nashville
  • Her persistence in entering Nashville Star where she found success, and gained the publicity that led to a contract with Epic Records
  • Her attitude after incredible success, looking for where she can further achieve

Develop: Play the following music video of Miranda Lambert’s “Somethin’ Bad” featuring Carrie Underwood, from her newest album Platinum:

What are the defining qualities of the song?

  • Edgy rock feel with country style vocals and vocal harmonies
  • Imagery that crosses between rock and country
  • Crime and law enforcement themes, influenced by family private investigator background

Expand: Play the following video of Lambert’s song “Over You” from her album Four the Record (2011), which she co-wrote with her husband, country artist and The Voice judge Blake Shelton:

What elements about this song are different from the previous song? Consider Lambert’s contributing authorship to “Over You,” where in comparison, “Somethin’ Bad” was authored by three other people.

Apply: Have students take the quiz here.

Answer Key:

Note: Answers appear in random order for students. Correct answers are in bold:

Question 1: Which Grammy did Miranda Lambert win at the 57th Annual Grammy Awards this February?

Best Country Album for her album Platinum
• Best Country Album for her album Four the Record
• Best Female Country Vocal Performance for her song “The House That Built Me”
• Best New Artist

Message with correct answer:
Lambert took home the Best Country Album award for her fifth full-length release Platinum (2014). This was her second Grammy; she first won Best Female Country Vocal Performance for her song “The House That Built Me” in 2011.

Question 2: As a teenager, Lambert participated in talent contests in Texas, including the Johnnie High Country Music Revue in Arlington when she was 16. What was the outcome of the competition when she was a contestant?

She didn’t win, but was encouraged by the positive reaction she got from audiences.
• She won first place, a recording session in Nashville to produce her own demos.
• She did poorly and was discouraged, before discovering her interest in songwriting.
• She entered with a backing band, who received more attention than her.

Message with correct answer:
Though she didn’t win the competition, the warm reception from the audience encouraged and motivated her to seek out a recording session in Nashville to produce her own demos.

Question 3: On the heels of the encouraging Arlington talent competition experience, a teenaged Lambert booked a recording session in Nashville to record some demos. It ultimately failed when she was handed material she hated. What did she do next?

She became inspired to write her own music.
• Discouraged by the experience, she spent several months without singing before she realized she wanted to try again.
• Discouraged by the experience, she gave up.
• She educated herself on country recordings so she could confidently request material that better suited her in the future.

Message with correct answer:
A defining moment in her career, Lambert describes the experience saying “It was a cheap lesson because I learned in three hours what I wanted to do.” She asked her dad to teach her how to play guitar, and began writing her own songs.

Question 4: A few years later, Lambert auditioned for country singing competition Nashville Star. She won the audition in Houston after not making the Top 30 in Dallas. What are the reasons she cites for her lack of success in Dallas?

She wore a “hideous outfit,” did a poor performance of a Shania Twain song, and felt uninspired.
• It was an off day.
• Though she was confident in her performance, she felt the judges weren’t receptive of her on first impression.
• She performed a Willie Nelson song, “Crazy,” that she later regretted choosing.

Message with correct answer:
Lambert says of her first audition, “My heart wasn’t into it.” But her persistence in seeking out a second audition in Houston led to her winning the audition and placing on the show. Her choice of song the second time around was “Crazy” by Willie Nelson, made famous by Patsy Cline.

Question 5: Performing self-written material distinguished Lambert on Nashville Star, where singer/songwriters are especially valued. Through the competition, Lambert gained exposure for her music and ended up with what she wanted:

A third place winning and a contract with Epic Records.
• A position as a Top 10 finalist and enough attention to earn a fanbase that allowed her to tour successfully.
• The first place prize, and a record deal and tour through Nashville Star.
• A lifelong mentor in one of the show’s judges.

Message with correct answer:
By placing third in the competition, Lambert escaped the unwanted association of being the “winner of a TV talent show.” Epic Records allowed her songwriting to shine on her first record Kerosene (2005), which hit Top 20 on Billboard 200, No. 1 on the Country Albums chart, and went platinum, selling over a million copies in the U.S.

Question 6: Hit singles “Gunpowder & Lead” (2007), “White Liar” (2009), and “Baggage Claim” (2011) contributed to Lambert’s reputation as a “bad girl” for their themes of women taking revenge on boyfriends and husbands who mistreated them. These themes were influenced directly by:

Her family’s involvement in criminal investigation and law enforcement.
• Her interest in crime drama in television and film.
• Her personal interest in crafting stories on the subject to empower women.
• Songs like fellow country artist Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats.”

Message with correct answer:
Growing up, Lambert’s father worked as a private investigator, and in conjunction with the church, her parents sheltered abused women at their home while she was a teenager. Having witnessed difficult situations such as her friend’s mother with a black eye, she says, “I saw it all and I absorbed it–that’s what songwriters do.”

Question 7: Now a successful recording artist, the personal songwriting that distinguished Lambert at the start of her career is less featured in her work as she often co-writes or covers songs on her newer releases. This could be attributed to:

Her heavy writing contribution to side project Pistol Annies.
• Her preoccupation with writing crossword puzzles.
• Her frequent collaboration with husband, country artist, and judge on The Voice Blake Shelton.
• A loss of interest in writing now that she has more control over the material she’s provided with.

Message with correct answer:
Lambert teams with fellow country artists Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley for side project Pistol Annies. She wrote or co-wrote nearly every song on their two releases.

Question 8: Lambert is the first artist in history to start her career with five country No. 1 albums in a row. In light of her success, her philosophy is to:

Ask herself how she can push to be better.
• Retire from her career but continue to write and perform for leisure.
• Enjoy her success and consider the next step in her career while taking things slow.
• Try exploring different genres.

Message with correct answer:
“You don’t build an empire by settling once you’ve won something,” says Lambert, seeking the next challenge that will help her grow further in her career.