With hits and a husband-to-be, it's fair to say this country music thing is working out for Jana Kramer.
The Rochester Adams High School grad has established herself with acting roles on TV shows such as "Friday Night Lights," "Beverly Hills 90210" and "One Tree Hill," but her move to music in early 2011 has been the real story of the past two years. Kramer's self-titled debut album, which came out last June, hit No. 19 on the Billboard 200 and No. 4 on the Country Albums chart, while "Why Ya Wanna" was a Top 5, gold-certified hit and the new "Whiskey" is currently climbing.
She received three American Country Award nominations last year, and this year's she's up for Academy of Country Music Awards for Top New Artist and Top New Female Artist. And on top of all that she's engaged to marry fellow country star Brantley Gilbert later this year.
"Jana is an emerging singer-songwriter who seems to have broken out of the pack of new females," says Tim Roberts, program director of Detroit country station WYCD-FM. "Her Hollywood good looks and video charm has her cued up for a strong year."
The Grosse Pointe-born, Washington Township-raised Kramer finds her success "really fun. It's exciting. I definitely was worried at first. When I first came to (Nashville) a lot of people were skeptical because I came form the acting side. I knew I was going to have to work my butt off to get respect.
"So I'm really happy that radio embraced me and that country fans embraced me the way they have. It definitely kind of shocked me.
Kramer, 29 -- who resides in Nashville with her mother but is estranged from her father, a General Motors engineer -- certainly displayed a strong work ethic in establishing her acting career. Relocating first to New York and then to Los Angeles after graduating from Rochester Adams, she started out in the low-budget horror film "Dead/Undead" before landing TV roles in "Grey's Anatomy," "Private Practice" and a couple of the "CSI" franchises. "Friday Night Lights," in the recurring role of Noelle Davenport, provided her breakthrough in 2007, followed by slots on "90210," a four-episode arc on "Entourage" and then "One Tree Hill," where Kramer was able to premiere songs such as "I Won't Give Up" and "Whiskey."
"I knew that show offered a lot of opportunities for an artist," Kramer says. "I had been flying to Nashville, dipping my feet in there, and I gave some songs to the creator of the show (??). He liked the music and turned my character (Alex Dupre) into a singer and really gave me confidence to do" the music.
By the time Kramer made her final "One Tree Hill" appearance in January of 2012, she had signed a deal with Elektra Nashville and had the "Jana Kramer" album well in motion with producer Scott Hendricks. "Why Ya Wanna," co-written by good friend Ashley Gorley, came out that month with the music video premiering in February, and it made its way to No. 3 with sales of more than 730,00 so far.
"I wanted the music to be country," says Kramer, a country music fans since she was young. "It seems crazy to say that, but there's so many (country) records that go more pop. I wanted to keep as true to country as I could without it sounding too hokey. I put my little spin on it, kind of like earthy country. But I wanted it to be authentic and have songs that talk about everything I've been through and all of that."
In that regard, Kramer is confident that "Whiskey" is "one of those song that I think we can all relate to, about having some regret in our lives." She's hoping for a third single from the album, but she's also started work on her sophomore set, which she plans to start recording later this year. "I'm writing a bunch of stuff myself," says Kramer, who co-wrote two of the tracks on her debut, but she's also received "a pile of great songs" from other writers -- submissions that have only increased in the wake of her success.
"There's so many great songwriters in Nashville (that) they're all really amazing songs," notes Kramer, who will be on the road opening for Blake Shelton this year. "I wouldn't say I'm getting priority over anyone else, but I'm definitely happy with what I'm hearing come my way."
Kramer doesn't expect to release anything new until later this year or early 2014, but music is her "focus" now, with acting on the back burner. "I do miss acting, and I'll definitely do it in the future and try to make both work. But right now music is where I'm most passionate."
And music also includes fiance Gilbert, a Georgia native and hitmaker in his own right. Kramer, who's been married twice before, met Gilbert at a CMT party last summer and "just became friends and started dating" in September, with the engagement announced earlier this year. "He's an absolute gentleman, a real Southern gentleman," says Kramer, though the two are keeping wedding details "hush-hush" for now.
As for possible musical collaborations, Kramer says she and Gilbert have "written a couple of things together, but not anything we're going to put out. We like to just kind of chill and throw ideas off each other. He helps me with ideas and vice-versa. It's really cool to have that creativity flowing through the house. It makes for a really good life."
Jana Kramer and Canaan Smith perform at the 5th Annual Jammin' For Joseph concert Wednesday, March 6 at the Fillmore Detroit, 2115 Woodward Ave. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $22-$100. Proceeds benefit Team Joseph, which funds research to find a cure for Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Call 313-961-5450 or visit www.livenation.com. Team Joseph information can be found at www.teamjoseph.info.
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