• What: “American Idol,” Season 12 premiere
• When: 8 p.m. Wednesday- Thursday
• What network: Fox
1. Having been on "American Idol," what do you know now that you would advise this season's contestants?
"I wasn't really prepared for it all. I had no idea what I was getting into. I probably would have hugged my family a little tighter before I left because I didn't get to see them for quite awhile. "As far as the actual show, it's a learning experience. I wouldn't tell the contestants too much because it would ruin it. I was very young; I was learning a lot about myself while I was there. It's just a learning experience; you grow as an artist and then you become one."
2. What skills did you learn on "American Idol" that serve you well now?
"I wasn't camera shy, but I'd never been on camera a lot. It taught me how to work a camera. That's how you reach people is through the camera.
"I think what I learned the most was interviewing skills. I hadn't done interviews, and now I do them all the time. When you are on TV doing an interview, you have to repeat the question because the person doing the interview isn't necessarily going to be shown. So I really practice that, repeating the question in the answer. I wasn't good at that. Two years ago I wouldn't know what to say, now it's like making a sandwich."
3. Tell me about the Aerosmith walk-on.
"Steven (Tyler) has been my buddy since my ('American Idol') audition. When I found out he was going to be in Nashville, my management got me tickets and I got to go backstage and hang out with him.
"In the middle of the show, I got a text that said 'We're going to pull you up onstage.' I went out and danced with him on 'Walk This Way.' It's always been one of my favorites, so it was really cool that I got to go up on that song and sing with him a little bit."
4. Were you surprised when you got on the cover of Country Weekly?
"I was so surprised. It was very flattering, that's for sure.
"I've worked really hard and my team has worked hard to promote me, and it's nice to see that paying off. It's my first actual cover of a magazine; I've been in small pictures on a corner before. But to be on the front of Country Weekly is a huge deal for a country artist."
5.What's next for you?
"I'm going to (South) Korea at the end of January for a week at the Special Olympics World Games. I'm the Special Olympics ambassador (Special Olympics Project UNIFY Ambassador for North America.) It's going to be freezing cold, but think it will be a really fun time."
6. You're a senior now; will you walk with your class at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School?
"Yes. I graduate in May."
7. Is there a new album coming?
"I've been writing for the album a lot since summer with some of the best writers in Nashville. People have been submitting songs for me. I've been going through them with my team trying to find the best of the best. "Winning New Artist of the Year picked me up a little bit more for this album. We want to make the best decisions possible with this album. It's crucial. What makes you or breaks you are the songs you pick and the songs you release to radio, and that's what we're focusing on right now."
No one was more surprised than Lauren Alaina when her name was called as Best New Artist at the recent American Country Awards.
"I thought it would be Jana Kramer," says the Rossville teen.
"At rehearsal, when they ran through the show, they played Jana's song after my category. I shouldn't have thought anything of that, they don't play the winner, but I got it stuck in my head that Jana was going to win. So when they called my name, I freaked out!"
The fan-voted ACA award is just another example of the power of "American Idol" in launching new artists. Season 12 of the Fox network's juggernaut kicks off Wednesday night at 8 p.m.
Internet spoilers have already leaked that the Hollywood round in the new season will include Matheus Fernandes, whom "Glee" fans will remember from Season 1 of "The Glee Project." It also will feature at least 12 singers who are repeats from previous "American Idol" seasons; and Paul Jolley, a country singer from tiny Palmersville, Tenn.
Two years ago this month, Lauren was also an unknown singer from a small town who was about to become a household name to 26 million television viewers. After three months of weekly performances, she wound up as runner-up in Season 10 with a new record deal.
Now she's pals with stars ranging from Aerosmith's Steven Tyler (she did a walk-on with him in Nashville just last month) to Country Music Television Artist of the Year Jason Aldean and Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles, having been the opening act on tours for both in 2012.
She's sung for President Barack Obama. She's hosted a Country Music Awards red-carpet show for The Boot website. When she crashed a prom last spring in Kentucky, it made national celebrity news sites.
Her CD, "Wildflower," debuted at No. 2 on Billboard's Top Country Albums and No. 5 on Billboard's Top 200 when it was released in October 2011. She was the youngest female country artist to debut that high since LeAnn Rimes' debut album, "Blue," came out in 1996. According to Soundscan, "Wildflower" has sold more than 300,000 copies.
And the first week of this year, she was on the cover of Country Weekly magazine.
Jon Freeman, deputy editor at Country Weekly, says Alaina has made significant footholds and progress since her 'Idol' experience.
"Everybody knows now that even winning 'American Idol' doesn't guarantee success," he says. "You have to work and she is taking those steps. She needs a big breakout smash hit and that will really signal that she has made it."
Others say the ACA prize is solid proof that her fan base has grown and become strong enough to further her success in the business.
"We pay special attention to fan-voted awards because we want to make sure we play the music fans want to hear. Her fans are our fans, too," says Bill "Dex" Poindexter, WUSY-FM 101 music director and afternoon radio show host.
From an industry perspective, Poindexter calls the award "a huge deal" for its significance because Alaina bested heavyweight names such as music prodigy Hunter Hayes and superstar Miranda Lambert's side project, Pistol Annies.
"When you beat competition like that, people in the industry take notice," he says. "I think any award is obviously a great thing, but this award certainly keeps her name out there and, in a very competitive business like the music industry, you've got to have your name and face out there."
Alaina believes the award validates the work she and her team have put in to this point, as well as jumpstarting possibilities for the new year.
"Winning the ACA makes people pay attention and say, 'Hey, Lauren must be doing something right because she won New Artist of the Year,'" she explains.
"As far as building a career and making a career, it's the time you put into it and the decisions you make that count."
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 ...