Carly Pearce knows firsthand that nothing sparks modern-day romance quite like sliding into the DMs.
“I’ve known Michael for about five years, and we started then playing radio shows together once I got a record deal,” Pearce tells PEOPLE. “I did what any girl does in 2018 — I slid into his DMs.”
Pearce, 28, and Ray, 30, made their relationship Instagram official in July and then made their red carpet debut as a couple at the 2018 CMA Awards on Nov. 14. Though it was a big moment for the couple, Pearce says she “wasn’t nervous.”
“I think I was more nervous about posing correctly since I’ve never posed with anybody,” she says. “I’ve always taken girlfriends, and they don’t walk the red carpet with me. I think we did pretty good, and it’s just been really nice to see people in the industry and country music fans really embrace our relationship.”
Pearce says she knew Ray was a good match from the very first night they hung out as just “Carly and Michael.”
“I totally knew right there, and I think he would tell you the same thing,” she says. “I felt like I didn’t understand the clichés, but now I do.”
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“I try to be 100 percent authentic of where I’m at, and I knew that this was the right song for me to release because I fell in love this year,” she says. “I want to celebrate that, and I want fans to be able to see that side of me because I know that so many of them have been rooting for me to find happiness and find love just because of how honest I’ve been with Every Little Thing. I felt this was the perfect way to come out with my next single.”
While Pearce makes it clear that having a significant other in the same industry as her has been “very nice” since they can relate on that level, she answers a little more coyly when asked if a duet from her and Ray is in the works. “Maybe it’s already done,” she teases.
Ray isn’t the only one Pearce turns to in the industry if she needs help, though — she has a number of female friends who have supported her throughout her career.
“Kelsea [Ballerini] is the number one,” she says. “She’s been an advocate of mine and a dear friend for the whole time that I’ve been out. She was actually the first person to take me out and let me open shows for her back in 2015 before I had a record deal or anything. She’s given me advice on every single step of this career and I look to her in every light. She was one of the first people I told about Michael.”
“Maren [Morris] is another one who is a very dear friend who champions me and the Runaway June girls,” she continues. “Honestly, Reba [McEntire] has been amazing to me and just an advocate for me, and obviously I look at her as a huge inspiration.”
While some female country stars have spoken out recently about the lack of representation in the genre, like Sara Evans and Miranda Lambert, Pearce says she thinks it’s “an exciting time to be a woman in country” instead.
“Speaking of Kelsea Ballerini, she just announced her headlining tour as a solo female with two male acts as her support — one being one of the biggest new artists of the last few years, Brett Young,” she says. “So I think that is a huge testament of the direction that we’re heading, and I think it’s a time to celebrate the women because we’re here to stay.”
It’s certainly an exciting time for Pearce in both her personal and professional life. She recently performed for the first time at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and now she’ll get some time off to spend the holidays with family before heading out on her co-headlining The Way Back Tour with Russell Dickerson starting in January.
Since she’ll be hitting the road soon, Pearce partnered with Zarbee’s Naturals as she’s a big fan of including their Honey Cough Soothers in her pre-performance rituals.
“I’m a big advocate for winter wellness especially with all of the traveling that I’ve been doing and making sure that I preserve my throat because that is, as I call it, my money maker,” she says. “I love that Zarbee’s Naturals have no processed sugars, no artificial colors, no artificial flavors and I love honey-flavored stuff so the soothers are really awesome for preserving my voice and keeping it in good shape.”
In all aspects of her life, Pearce says she likes to make her health a focus.
“I drink a lot of water, I am a big runner, I try to get as much sleep as I can, I wash my hands and just try to eat a really clean diet,” she says.
Speaking of these whirlwind last few months, Pearce says, “Honestly, it’s really hard to put into words. I’m happier than I’ve ever been and never thought that all of these things could be happening the way that they are, but I’m really thankful.”