Each day leading up to next week’s CMA Awards, PEOPLE will feature one of the five CMA new artist of the year nominees sharing thoughts on his or her favorite music and memorable musical moments.
Brandy Clark, whose debut album 12 Stories earned critical raves when it was released last year, is the lone female among the five new artist of the year nominees (fellow nominees are Brett Eldredge, Kip Moore, Thomas Rhett and Cole Swindell) – and the singer says she was “shocked” by her CMA nod.
“It makes me feel really good that the voting members of the CMA even have me on their radar,” says the 36-year-old “Stripes” singer, who’s currently opening for Eric Church. “The other guys in that category, it feels to me that they’ve done so much, so to be alongside of them makes me feel like ‘OK, I’m doing something right.'”
That she has! And she’s also done a lot – in general. Read on for her firsts and faves:
First concert? “Ronnie Milsap at the Puyallup Fair – the Washington State Fair. My parents were big fans. I had to be in kindergarten because I hardly remember it but I remember his songs and I remember him making a joke about being blind.”
Best concert? “I saw Linda Ronstadt in Louisville, Kentucky, about 12 years ago. She came out before she sang and said, ‘I just want to tell everybody I’m sick and you’re going to hear some squeaker notes tonight.’ But her voice only cracked twice all night. It was amazing – when she spoke it sounded like someone with a terrible cold, but when she sang it was like crystal.”
First song you performed in public? “One of the first songs I learned as a kid was Dolly Parton‘s ‘9 to 5’ and I’d perform it for my family. We had watched the movie, and my parents and my grandparents, who lived next door, loved Dolly. That’s one of those songs I wish I had written. It’s airtight.”
Album you couldn’t live without? “My favorite record of all time is Patty Loveless‘s When Fallen Angels Fly – she’s one of my favorite female singers. But that’s kind of an album that brings me down, so it might be George Strait‘s 50 Number Ones. That’s probably played on my iPod more than anything and I’d probably take that to a desert island. It makes me feel all the emotions.”
Favorite road music? “I don’t listen a lot on the road. If I’m on the bus, I’m usually sleeping! But I just downloaded the new Little Big Town record Pain Killer and I thought I’d listen to that in my bunk. I love them and my manager texted me about how great this song is on there called ‘Girl Crush.’ Lori McKenna wrote it and I love Lori.”
Most unexpected song on your iPod? “‘Gummy Bear’! One of my nephews loved that song and every once in a while it will still come up and I’ll hear that little ‘pop.’ When I was on the Jennifer Nettles tour, I was on the band bus and they used to play this ‘defend your iPod’ game where you would hit shuffle and whatever song comes up, you have to defend it. I was always afraid ‘Gummy Bear’ would come up!”
Guilty pleasure music? “I do love The Carpenters and I listen to them a lot. That might shock people because they are so different from what I do musically. The arrangements are so cool in my opinion and I love her voice.”
Go-to karaoke song? “‘Crazy’. That’s my favorite song of all time, so anytime I can go to that, I go to it. It goes over well – depending on what key it’s in!”
Your pick for most romantic song? “Something like ‘The Way You Look Tonight’ or ‘At Last’. I think it’s probably that they’ve been used in so many movies in romantic scenes that my brain associates them with romance. And ‘The Way You Look Tonight’ – who wouldn’t want to hear that?”
Your ‘rock out in the car’ song? “Right now it’s ‘All About That Bass’. I heard that and instantly downloaded it and it was all I listened to for several days. That song always puts me in an amazing mood. In the car, it makes me act like a complete goober – you’d see me hitting the steering wheel and doing some sort of seat booty move that would be real embarrassing cause I’m not a good dancer in any way.”
The CMA Awards air live on Wednesday, Nov. 5, on ABC.