Tuesday is the day Lauren Alaina said she has anticipated since she first picked up a microphone: Her debut album, "Wildflower," hits stores across America.
"I've been dreaming of this since I was, like, 3 years old," the Rossville teenager said in a phone interview. "I can't believe that it happened by the time I was 16. It's mind-blowing."
Lauren has a ready-made fan base of 26 million viewers who followed her journey earlier this year through Season 10 of "American Idol." With Grammy-winning producer Byron Gallimore (who has worked with Sugarland, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill) at the helm and tracks written by an A-list of Nashville songwriters, "Wildflower" is already generating buzz in the industry.
US Weekly's music critic posted: "Start sweating, Carrie Underwood ... 'American Idol' at last has a finalist as good as its top alum."
Lauren spent three months recording the album's 12 tracks in studios across America between stops on the "American Idol" tour this summer. "Wildflower," on the Mercury Nashville label, will sell for $9.99 on iTunes.
She said she chose the title because it reminded her of herself.
"Wildflowers are sweet, but they have a little bit of spunk to them," she said. "I like to have a lot of fun, and I'm really sassy."
Her tracks reflect that buoyant, youthful spirit in uptempo odes to Southern life. But it's the impressive vocal range she displays -- much stronger than what viewers saw during 'Idol' -- that will convince skeptics the teen has the talent judges kept alluding to during "Idol's" run.
Lauren called working side-by-side with Gallimore an incredible learning experience.
"Byron Gallimore is now officially a part of my family. I just could not have had a better producer for my first album. He knew I was new in the studio, so he kind of let me do my thing, then he would listen to it and point out certain parts I needed to fix.
"He wasn't judgmental at all. He really helped me work through things. I learned so much from him about the whole process -- from how recording works, to how they get the band together, to how they do musical tracks."
SONG SELECTION PROCESS
WHO'S WHO OF SONGWRITERS
The songwriting credits on Lauren Alaina's "Wildflower" album read like a who's who of Nashville talent. Here are a few of the notables, songs they wrote and the singers who made them famous.
Steven McEwan: "Young," Kenny Chesney; "Just a Dream," Carrie Underwood
Liz Rose: Co-wrote "White Horse" and "Teardrops on My Guitar" with Taylor Swift
Luke Laird: "Hillbilly Bone," Blake Shelton; "Last Name," Underwood
Hillary Lindsey: "A Little Bit Stronger," Sara Evans, "This One's for the Girls," Martina McBride
Brett James: "Out Last Night," Chesney; "The Truth," Jason Aldean
Gordie Sampson: Co-wrote "Jesus, Take the Wheel" for Underwood with Lindsey and James.
Source: Various Internet sites
Lauren said she had a specific criteria for evaluating songs as she listened to demos.
"I wanted good songs that I would like to hear on the radio and that were appropriate for little girls to listen to because they are a big part of my fan base," the singer explained.
Of the dozen cuts, three are by songwriters with local ties.
"The Lord works in mysterious ways," she said of that coincidence. "I didn't know until I'd selected them."
Nathan Chapman is the Lee University alumnus who produces Taylor Swift. Kelley Lovelace is the Hixson High School grad whose lyrics helped make Brad Paisley famous.
And, in perhaps the most serendipitous collaboration, Cohutta, Ga.'s own Mallary Hope had two songs chosen, one of which is Lauren's second single, being released this week. Lauren said its title, "Georgia Peaches," appealed for the obvious reason that it's also her home state.
In a phone interview from Nashville, Hope said she wrote the song thinking it would be her next single. But when her management nixed that idea, she put it up for grabs, although she still sings it in her own shows.
"Any songwriter in town would be really happy and excited to have this opportunity," Hope said of inclusion on "Wildflower."
"I knew if Lauren ended up cutting it, her record would get it out and people would listen. She has a lot of followers. I think it will be a great opportunity for me," Hope said.
Another interesting album note: Lauren is the first to record a song written by her own idol, Carrie Underwood.
"Can you imagine my face when I found out?" exclaimed the teen.
"Eighteen Inches," written by Underwood, Lovelace and Ashley Gorley, is a coming-of-age song about a young couple who elope and soon find they will be parents. The 18 inches first represents the distance from "the head to the heart," then it's their newborn's length.
"We wrote that for Carrie for her last record, but she didn't record it for whatever reason," Lovelace said in a phone interview from Nashville. "I believe Carrie might have pitched it to Lauren. I know Carrie always loved that song. It's a really strong song, and I always hoped that it would get recorded."
"It's really cool for me to be able to sing that beautiful song written by my idol and her being able to have a song out as a writer instead of the artist. I really, really love the song. It's well-written and has a beautiful melody," Lauren said.
Lauren also included one of her original songs in the mix.
"In love, sometimes the timing is never right, and that is basically what 'Funny Thing About Love' says. It talks about how love confuses you and makes you all crazy inside. I love it," the singer said.
Lauren will be in New York City this week promoting her album on "Good Morning, America" and "Live With Regis and Kelly." The week of Oct. 17, she'll be in Los Angeles for appearances on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" and possibly "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno." A CD tour is being scheduled for after the new year, she said.
She has two appearances set at the Grand Ole Opry. On Oct. 22, she'll perform at Women Rock for the Cure/Opry Goes Pink. She'll participate in the CMA Awards in Nashville on Nov. 9, although she said she doesn't know in what capacity yet.
She's still a student at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School, keeping up with her junior class through the school's online credit recovery courses, the same lesson/test curricula she followed while competing on "American Idol."
But her biggest test comes Tuesday when the charts show whether "Wildflower" is a hit with country music's fans.
"This is a competition not unlike 'American Idol,' but this time her competition is Kenny Chesney, Brad Paisley, Martina McBride and Taylor Swift," said Bill "Dex" Poindexter, WUSY 101 Radio music director and afternoon show co-host.
"It's a good CD. They've definitely pulled out all the stops, got the right writers and the right songs. I think she'll do real well," he said.
"AI" winner Scotty McCreery's CD made its debut Oct. 4 and was No. 1 on iTunes the following day.
Does Lauren feel the pressure?
"You know, I'm over the competition thing now. It's just about our careers," she said philosophically.
"Whatever God has set out for both of us, that's what's going to happen. There's no sense in being competitive. You've just got to do the best you can and hope for the best. My mama raised me that way.
"I just really hope everybody likes 'Wildflower' and I can make Chattanooga, Rossville, Ringgold and Fort Oglethorpe proud."
Susan Palmer Pierce is a reporter and columnist in the Life department. She began her journalism career as a summer employee 1972 for the News Free Press, typing bridal announcements and photo captions. She became a full-time employee in 1980, working her way up to feature writer, then special sections editor, then Lifestyle editor in 1995 until the merge of the NFP and Times in 1999. She was honored with the 2007 Chattanooga Woman of ...