Mackenzie Carpenter Got Engaged, Signed a Record Deal and Released Her First Single in the Span of One Week

It's not only a good time for the door to be swinging open professionally for the rising country star, but also personally

Mackenzie Carpenter was raised in Hull, Georgia, a small town situated seven miles outside of Athens, Georgia, that's currently home to 230 people and the singer/songwriter's favorite hot dog stand.

"There are a lot of things about my childhood that I once considered tacky," remarks Carpenter, 23, during an interview with PEOPLE. "I used to be embarrassed about the car that we drove or all the small-town stuff I grew up around, but now I see it as my superpower. It's about being the truest version of yourself. You got to embrace it. You got to be tacky and let it fly."

Carpenter lets out a laugh, but there is as much charm as there is tackiness permeating off her Southern drawl, especially when she speaks of the life she came from and a family that included her preacher daddy, her hard-working mom and two older brothers.

"All three of us grew up playing instruments," remembers Carpenter of her childhood days that included a bedroom decked out in purple and zebra print. "It was a very musical household, but it was my dad who actually told me in the very beginning that if I was going to pursue this, I was going to have to learn how to write songs."

Mackenzie Carpenter
Mackenzie Carpenter. Harper Grace

And Carpenter ended up doing just that.

Shortly after graduating from Belmont University in Nashville, the spunky songstress scored co-writing creds on Lily Rose's breakout hit "Villian." And it was this success, along with a hefty amount of TikTok love from her growing legion of fans that eventually led Carpenter into the writing room with the legendary Nicolle Galyon.

"I could sing her praises all day, but her name kind of speaks for itself," says Carpenter of Galyon, the songwriter best known for lending her creative magic to songs such as Dan + Shay's "Tequila" and Kelsea Ballerini's "Half of My Hometown." "She is such a force in songwriting and for females in songwriting in general. Every time I walk into a writer's room with her, I walk out a better songwriter."

On one of these special days in the writing room, Carpenter found herself alongside Galyon and fellow songwriter Brandon Hood, and the beginnings of the sassy song "Don't Mess with Exes" began to materialize.

"I came in with a lot of Texas inspiration because I had just been on a trip to Texas and I really wanted to write a song about it," remembers Carpenter, who will head back out on the road with Conner Smith starting March 30. "I had a few different puns, and then someone just said the phrase 'don't mess with exes' out loud, and we immediately started Googling to see if anyone had ever done that."

They hadn't.

"How many times have you thought about a guy friend you grew up with and wonder if he ever changed?" the singer of songs such as "Can't Nobody," and "Huntin' Season" questions aloud. "It's like what you tell your friends behind closed doors, and they tell you not to do that to yourself again. This song opens the door for everyone to hear."

It's not only a good time for this door to be swinging open professionally for Carpenter, but also personally. "I got engaged in May of 2022," she tells PEOPLE of Cole Neuber, who proposed last year. "I got engaged on May 14th. I signed my record deal on May 17th. And my first song came out on May 19th."

She laughs.

"My fiancé is incredible," concludes Carpenter, who has a spring and summer filled with dates at big-time festivals such as Stagecoach, Country Thunder and Tortuga Music Festival, and who plans to release her debut album later this year. "He is truly the best guy ever. He is so amazing and supportive. He moved on to Nashville six months ago. We have set a date for 2023, and we're so excited. I tried on over a hundred wedding dresses!"

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