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‘New Kid’ Kelsea Ballerini Can’t Believe She’s Performing in Front of Country Music Legends

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All eyes — including those of legends — will be on country star Kelsea Ballerini Wednesday night, but she’s waiting until later to “freak out.”

The 23-year-old tells PEOPLE on the 50th annual CMA Awards red carpet what’s special about performing at the show: “Looking out into the audience and seeing Dolly Parton, seeing all these women that have paved the way sitting there, looking at the new kids like me.”

She adds, “You look at last year, and you see Chris Stapleton — that was like his breakout moment. And he’s a legend now.”

John Shearer/WireImage
John Shearer/WireImage

• Watch PEOPLE and EW’s red carpet LIVE show, airing Wednesday, Nov. 2 at 5:30 p.m. ET on our homepages or the newPeople/Entertainment Weekly Network (PEN). Go to PEOPLE.com/PEN, or download the PEN app on Apple TV, Roku Players, Amazon Fire TV, Xumo, Chromecast, iOS and Android devices.

People Special Edition 50 years of the CMA Awards – Cover
  • PEOPLE’s Special Edition 50 Years of the CMA Awards is on sale now online and on newsstands.

The “Love Me Like You Mean It” singer wouldn’t have been quite as cool and collected, however, if the night’s surprise performerBeyoncé — was on the stage ahead of her.

“Its kinda good, because I know that there’s a lot of incredible performances tonight,” she says, “If they ended up telling me I was after Beyoncé, I’d be like, ‘I can’t.'”