An hour before she was scheduled to take a tour of the White House, country singer Abby Anderson sat in a hotel lobby and tried to remember whether she had been to Washington before. She was home-schooled growing up in Dallas, so she never took a school field trip to the District — and if she did visit, she was too young to appreciate the significance.
“This is the first time I’ve actually been able to take it all in,” said Anderson, 21, a performer at the 96th annual National Christmas Tree Lighting, which taped Wednesday and airs Sunday at 10 p.m. on Ovation and ReelzChannel. Other performers include “American Idol” finalist Gabby Barrett, “The Voice” finalist Spensha Baker, country acts Locash, Thompson Square and more. “Regardless of your political affiliation, it is so cool to just see the history of our nation . . . it’s a very patriotic feeling.”
Plus, she was psyched to chronicle her trip to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue: “The Instagram story will be fire today!”
After she signed on for the Christmas Tree Lighting, an event President Trump and the first family planned to attend, Anderson braced herself for negative comments on social media — but didn’t receive any. Country artists are routinely advised to not share their political beliefs, and Anderson is a believer in that strategy.
“As an artist, I want to stay away — as much as possible — from political parties I’m affiliated with or whatever. I’m a musician, and my job is to bring people together, not tear them apart,” Anderson said. “I’m thankful to be an American. . . . I’m thankful to write music I want to, to say the things I want to and to be a free 21-year-old young woman.”
Anderson is one of the most-buzzed-about new singer-songwriters in Nashville, where she moved when she was 17. Two years later, she signed a record deal with Black River Entertainment, the independent label whose flagship artist is Kelsea Ballerini. Anderson’s soulful vocals and sharp songwriting caught the attention of other tastemakers in town; she was named one of CMT’s “Next Women of Country” last year and landed on Pandora’s "2018 Country Artists to Watch.”
She released her debut EP, “I’m Good,” this fall. Her first single was “Make Him Wait,” a piano-driven ballad that urges girls not to feel pressured while dating: “When his Pontiac’s in the driveway/ and his eyes are midnight blue,/ take a deep breath, do the opposite of what you wanna do./ … A boy’s gonna run, but a real man’s gonna stay/ Girl, make him wait.” Written with hit songwriters Tom Douglas and Josh Kerr, it has been streamed more than 4 million times on Spotify. Anderson was surprised the ballad connected so much with listeners, who have shared countless personal stories about what the song means to them.
“That just goes to show how privileged I was growing up to write a song like that and not think anything of it: Like, ‘Yeah, every girl knows this,’ ” Anderson said. “But most girls don’t know that or understand their worth, or understand their value as a young woman . . . I’m really happy with the message that song brought.”
Anderson’s bubbly, stream-of-consciousness Instagram presence has brought her thousands more followers as she heads into 2019 with many tour dates and plans to release new music. And in a genre that suffers from a serious gender imbalance on the radio, Anderson is poised to become a breakout artist: During CMT’s Artist of the Year ceremony last month, Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild listed her as one of the singers that radio should be playing. For Anderson, it was an extremely significant moment.
“Very rarely am I quiet, but I was bawling and just taking a moment to tell myself, ‘One day, hopefully when I’m standing where Miss Karen Fairchild is, I’ll remember that girl sitting side stage bawling her eyes out,’ ” Anderson said. “I’ll always remember that feeling, and that moment.”