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In Conversation With Janelle Arthur

Photo courtesy of Janelle Arthur

I had the pleasure of speaking with singer/songwriter Janelle Arthur this week. I can thank our mutual friend Zack LaChappelle for connecting me with her. She was such a joy to chat with. I absolutely loved her sweet southern accent! I hope you’ll take a few minutes and get to know her as I did, via our conversation which follows:

Patti McClintic: Hi Janelle, how are you doing today?

Janelle Arthur: I’m good. How are you?

Patti McClintic: I’m great. I’m very happy to be interviewing you today. I’m very thankful for my friend Zack for getting us connected.

Janelle Arthur: I know! He’s awesome.

Patti McClintic: Great. Well, let’s get going. Why don’t we start off by you telling me where you’re from, where you grew up, tell me about the area you grew up in.

Janelle Arthur: Okay, well, I grew up in a very small town in East Tennessee called Oliver Springs. My whole family’s there, we all lived on the same property. I literally could walk up to my grandmother’s house or my cousin’s house, my aunt and uncle’s house. I just was very tight-knit and close with my family. I’m still really close with my family, and we’d play music on the porch pretty much anytime we’d get together.

Image courtesy of townmapsusa.com

(At this point she asked me to please hold the phone because she was picking up a food order. Yes, country music artists do eat too.)

Janelle Arthur: So, yeah, I’m a big family person and believe it or not, I lived in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee even longer than I lived in my hometown because I started singin’ there, in Pigeon Forge, when I was eight-years old. I got my first job when I was eight-years old. (Laughs)

Patti McClintic: Wow. Most people aren’t employed at eight-years old, so that’s interesting.

Janelle Arthur: That’s true. (Laughs)

Patti McClintic: You were actually performing at that age, correct?

Janelle Arthur: Yeah, I actually started singin’ on stage when I was about four, but I got my first job portraying a young Dolly Parton in a show about her life story called Paradise Road.

Video courtesy of Janelle Arthur and YouTube

Patti McClintic: Is it true you actually got to meet Dolly at a young age?

Janelle Arthur: Yes, yes I did. I got to meet her a few times and she was always just so sweet to me. I remember a conversation that she and I had backstage one time. She wanted me to come sit next to her, and she was always just so kind and just Dolly. She’s always Dolly.

Patti McClintic: Yeah, how nice. Where did you get to meet her? Did you meet her at Dollywood or somewhere else?

Janelle Arthur: I did meet her at Dollywood because I was in a show, and of course she was there visiting and watching the show, and sometimes she would be a part of the show. So, she was around when I was around and that’s how we ended up having conversations, and she was always just so kind to me.

Patti McClintic: That’s wonderful.

Janelle Arthur: Yeah, it was.

Patti McClintic: So, when you were small and coming from a musical family, what types of music were you exposed to? Music that your parents or maybe your grandparents and everyone around you listened to?

Janelle Arthur: Well, I was exposed to a lot of different types of music, but mostly country. My mom and dad, they were big Jackson Browne fans and stuff like that, but once I came along, they really got into a lot of country music, so that’s what I started hearing. I was born right around the time 90s country was coming in and my parents were listening a lot to Reba McEntire, Vince Gill, Patty Loveless and people like that. So, I started singin’ a lot of songs by Faith Hill and Shania Twain as I started singin’ on stage, but overall a lot of times I was listening to pop music. I’m a big Michael Jackson fan, and an Eva Cassidy fan and I just listened to all kinds of music, even jazz and blues. Those genres were really influential on me, so I just love it all really, but I think country is what’s in my heart.

Patti McClintic: I can tell. Obviously you have a strong southern accent, so it seems like it should be, but that’s not always the case.

Janelle Arthur: No, you know, you look at Britney Spears. I was always really inspired by Britney Spears’ stage presence and I like her music too, her early music, but look at Britney. She was from Louisiana and she has a really strong southern accent, but she’s a pop singer. So, I think you sometimes have different music that really speaks to your heart, and as much as I love all kinds of genres, country music is the one that speaks the most to my heart and feels the most natural to me because of where I was from, and it was the music I grew up singin’.

Patti McClintic: Right. So, you were a young performer. What did other kids your age think about you being a performer?

Janelle Arthur: (Laughs) Well, it really wasn’t the easiest being around kids when you’re doing something like that and you’re from a small town. Just to be honest, or just to be blunt, I dealt with quite a bit of bullying because I guess that was just an unusual thing to do. It was different. I wasn’t a cheerleader, I wasn’t playing sports. I was doing something that was different and I was branching out and I really never talked about it. I didn’t go to school and brag about it. If anything, I didn’t talk about it on purpose, because I knew that there was a lot of backlash, you know, but it’s okay. I really feel like that’s been a part of my growth and it is what it is, and I’m grateful because every experience has made me who I am, so that’s okay. (Laughs)

Patti McClintic: Yeah, and in the end it worked out well for you.

Janelle Arthur: That’s right.

Patti McClintic: It’s all good now. You became a performer and you stuck with it through your teens. Did you know then, in your teens, was that about the time when you knew that this was what you wanted to do for your career?

Janelle Arthur: When I was four-years old I was tellin’ my mom I wanted to perform on the Grand Ole Opry.

Patti McClintic: Oh, wow.

Janelle Arthur: Because when I was eight-years old and performing in Pigeon Forge, I realized, “Hey, this is something I can do for the rest of my life.” I mean, there were people who were two and three, probably five times my age that I was performing with, you know? I knew that they were doing this for their career and they were makin’ a livin’ being on stage. So, it was crazy. I just always knew from the time I was really young, and I had so much experience in Pigeon Forge. I did other shows like Country Tonite Theatre and the Smoky Mountain Jubilee. I ended up, in my 12-year period livin’ in Pigeon Forge, just from eight-years old to 20, I did over 7,000 shows.

Patti McClintic: Wow. That’s just crazy and wild.

Janelle Arthur: It was great preparation. I’ll tell you, if there’s anything I know about, it’s being on stage and that really helped me so much.

Patti McClintic: That’s something else, that’s impressive.

Janelle Arthur: Thank you.

Photo courtesy of Janelle Arthur

Patti McClintic: Then you had your American Idol experience. Tell me about Season 12 of American Idol. Would you say that it was a good experience overall?

Janelle Arthur: Yes! I would say that American Idol really helped open up doors for me today. If you don’t have the right team around you after you’re on a show like that, that can make a difference, you know, but overall, American Idol was a true blessing. I’m so grateful for the exposure. I still have a lot of fans that began following me when I was on the show. I still have a lot of those same exact fans. You know, I don’t know if I ever would have played the Opry as soon as I did if I hadn’t been on American Idol, so it opened up doors for the Grand Ole Opry, it opened up doors for me to star in a movie (Runnin’ From My Roots with Deana Carter and Neal McCoy), so I am very grateful for American Idol.

Video courtesy of Janelle Arthur and YouTube

Patti McClintic: Do you have any funny or interesting stories from your American Idol experience that you’d care to share with us?

Janelle Arthur: Hmmm… let me think. During a lot of it I was nervous. Oh, yeah! I know! So, I had these cowgirl boots that were made for me that I wore on American Idol. They were designed in rhinestones by a fabulous crystal artist named Jacqi Bling. She designed these boots for me, sent them to me and I wore ’em on the show. Well, Nicki Minaj was a judge on the show at the time, and for fun they put the boots on her when they came back from the commercial break, it was just supposed to be a little joke. Well, the show’s over and I’m still standing around and I’m barefoot. I’m like, “Where are my boots?” I’m just barefoot, I’m standing backstage and I’m barefoot. I asked one of the stage managers, “Where are my boots? I need my boots.” He said, “Well, Nicki still has ’em on.” I’m like, “Well, those are my boots, they were sent to me.” Then he said, “Well, she already left,” and I told him, “Well, you better go get those boots because they were made for me,” you know? (Laughs) They were personalized and everything. So they literally had to go get my boots off of Nicki Minaj’s feet. So, that was probably the funniest thing that happened.

Patti McClintic: (Laughing) That’s actually hilarious. That’s a fun story. I like that and that’s probably not one you tell every day.

Janelle Arthur: No, I don’t. Not at all. (Laughs)

Video courtesy of ninetwo bee and YouTube

Patti McClintic: I watched your audition on YouTube. What was it like to sing a Keith Urban song in front of Keith Urban? (Janelle sang “Where the Blacktop Ends”) Was that nerve wracking?

Janelle Arthur: It was, but it was also very fun because I’m such a Keith Urban fan, and I just hoped it would be flattering to him that I knew his songs. I’ve gotta say, when we got down to the wire and there were five females left and I was one of those females, I was probably the only girl that had all of Keith’s CDs in my car, you know? I was a true Keith Urban fan. If I’m gonna be in front of Keith Urban it was only right for me to pay tribute to him.

Patti McClintic: “Where the Blacktop Ends” is one of my favorite Keith Urban songs too. I love that song and you did a great job with it.

Janelle Arthur: Cool, good. I’m glad you liked it.

Patti McClintic: He did look flattered that you sang that one.

Janelle Arthur: He did look flattered, yeah. A fun fact, and a lot of people don’t know this, but I had actually already sang and made it through before that. I sang “Lovesick Blues” by Hank Williams and they edited it to make it look like the Keith Urban thing is what got me through.

Patti McClintic: Wow.

Janelle Arthur: But I actually sang “Lovesick Blues” and they said, “You made it to Hollywood,” and I said, “Yay! But I want to sing something for Keith.”

Patti McClintic: Okay, so they let you do that one.

Janelle Arthur: Then they let me do that one after I had already made it to Hollywood, but on the TV show they made it look like that was the only song that I did, but that was not the song I auditioned with really.

Patti McClintic: Well, that was really cool of them to do that then, and you did a really nice job with it.

Janelle Arthur: Well, thank you.

Patti McClintic: I am a big Keith Urban fan also.

Janelle Arthur: Oh, yeah, he’s just the best. He’s so good, so talented and not everybody deserves to be where they are and he’s one of those people that deserves to be recognized, and a lot of times he isn’t recognized enough.

Video courtesy of AmericanSee and YouTube

Patti McClintic: I’m with you on that one. I love him. So, for anyone that’s thinking about going on one of those singing competition shows, what would be the one piece of advice that you would give them?

Janelle Arthur: My number one piece of advice would be do not get depressed, down or discouraged if you don’t make it, because a lot of times it’s not as much about talent. It is about talent, but a lot of times when you’re on a TV show you need to be good TV. So, they’re looking for a good story, they’re lookin’ also for you to be a character, like, to fill a position. They’re kind of typecasting in a sense. So, you might not make it through because they’ve already got someone that’s just like you. It’s not that you’re not good enough, but it was just simply because they had already filled the position for the type of artist that you are. So many people get discouraged because they’re like, “Wow, they didn’t think I was good enough,” and it’s like, “No, it’s just that there’s somebody that’s just like you that already made it and they’ve got that position filled.”

Patti McClintic: Right. People can’t think they’re the worst in the world if they get turned down. They can’t get down on themselves.

Janelle Arthur: Yeah, don’t be discouraged if you get cut, you know, just go into it knowing that this is a TV show and they’re looking to cast you, in a sense.

Patti McClintic: Right, you’re a cast member.

Janelle Arthur: Absolutely.

Patti McClintic: It was a fun experience for you.

Janelle Arthur: Oh, yes it was. It was so stressful. The most grueling schedule I have ever had in my whole life. I’ve had a lot of crazy schedules. You know, I told you about living in Pigeon Forge and working there. We had some grueling schedules there, but it did not compare to what they had us do on American Idol. (Laughs) Sometimes I don’t know how we all did not end up in the ER. I’m really not kidding about that.

Patti McClintic: I’m glad you made it.

Video courtesy of Jazzie Hart and YouTube

Janelle Arthur: We made it. I mean, to this day I don’t know how I physically made it through. You go through so many months without a lot of sleep, and there’s so much stress and so much fight-or-flight. I mean, you’re constantly going through that fight-or-flight, like soldiers do, you know? You’re goin’ out in front of billions of people and you know, it’s either do or die, and it’s like, “Okay, I gotta kill it out here or I’m goin’ home.” It’s just a lot of pressure, but it was so worth it and I’m crazy enough that I’d do it again. I’d do it all over again. (Laughs)

Patti McClintic: Well, that’s some testimony to the experience I guess, if you say you’d do it again.

Janelle Arthur: Yeah.

Patti McClintic: Let’s talk about your move to Nashville.

Janelle Arthur: I moved to Nashville before I went on American Idol. I had actually been here for three years before I made it on the show. I moved here when I was 20, and I wanted to be in Nashville because I knew I wanted to be a songwriter. Whether an artist career took off or not, I wanted to be a songwriter, so that’s what really brought me to Nashville.

Photo courtesy of Janelle Arthur

Patti McClintic: When you got here how did you get yourself acclimated? How did you start meeting the right people?

Janelle Arthur: Well, luckily, I had quite a few friends that lived here already, but really and truly it was American Idol that opened up a lot of doors for me in Nashville as well. More people were willing to give me a chance to co-write with them. It opened up a lot of doors for me to play certain shows. So, yeah, I have to give American Idol that credit too. I did already have some incredible singer/songwriter friends who live here who sort of showed me the ropes and were wanting to write songs with me, so that’s always good.

Patti McClintic: I listened to as much of your stuff as I could and I saw that you made a record with Vince Gill, and it’s a great song. (The song is “Love You Anyway” (feat. Vince Gill) and it appears on the 2015 EP Janelle)

Janelle Arthur: Aww… thank you!

Patti McClintic: How did that come about? That doesn’t happen every day.

Video (audio) courtesy of Janelle Arthur and YouTube

Janelle Arthur: No, no it doesn’t. I’m just so blessed that the two people who have given me the most respect and the most belief have been my two heroes, Vince and Dolly. It’s crazy to me because they say, “Don’t meet your heroes because you might be disappointed,” but I’ve been everything but disappointed. I’ve just been blown away by their kindness and their humility. Vince and I met when I performed on the Grand Ole Opry with him, he and I were both on the lineup. Then he randomly asked me to close the show with him, and we closed the show together and we got a standing ovation. He introduced me as a world-class singer, so I just about passed out.

Patti McClintic: Yeah, right! Was that your Opry debut when that happened?

Photo courtesy of Janelle Arthur

Janelle Arthur: That was not my Opry debut, that was later. That was my Ryman debut, but I had already played the Opry six months before that. Yeah, I had already been playin’ the Opry by that point. Yeah, after that, Vince just sort of became a mentor for me and would just really let me pick his brain. Then he ended up hearin’ my song “Love You Anyway” and he said, “Man, that’s a great song.” So, I passively said, “Well, you can sing on it if you like it that much,” and he said, “I can do that.” I was like, “You shouldn’t have said that because I will take you up on that.” So, that’s how that happened. I just can’t say enough good things about him, and he’s a great person. We know how talented he is, his talent speaks for itself, but when you know someone’s a good and genuine person, there are no ulterior motives. He’s just a great overall human and everybody knows that, and that’s why he still has such a great career.

Photo courtesy of Janelle Arthur

Patti McClintic: Wow, that is so fabulous, isn’t it?

Janelle Arthur: Yes, and refreshing. Very refreshing.

Patti McClintic: I’ll say. So, when was your Grand Ole Opry debut?

Janelle Arthur: It was June 19, 2013.

Patti McClintic: Was that the most incredible day of your entire existence?

Janelle Arthur: It was one of the most incredible days, because I would say performing with Vince was up there on the list. It was just a huge goal of mine. It was one of the biggest bucket list things I could check off, and I was nervous, but it was incredible to perform for such a warm crowd. They genuinely love country music and they genuinely cared. It was also awesome to see so many family and friends out there as well. Coming from a TV show where they judge you afterwards, going from that, to just being so loved and being so appreciated after you perform, it was so overwhelming.

Patti McClintic: Who was hosting the night you made your Opry debut?

Janelle Arthur: Bill Cody.

Patti McClintic: Oh, that’s fun.

Janelle Arthur: Yeah, Bill Cody, he’s awesome.

Patti McClintic: Yes, he had to have made the whole thing so much easier.

Janelle McClintic: Oh, yeah. He’s so fabulous and I love Bill. I’ve gone on the WSM radio show quite a few times, so they’ve always been really supportive of me and what I do.

Patti McClintic: That’s really nice. Now let’s talk about your latest single with Dolly herself. What in the world? I mean… (The song is “Hand Me Downs”)

Janelle Arthur: (Laughing) I know, right?

Patti McClintic: It’s so beautiful.

(A Spotify error in the songwriting credits listed Emily Lynch as the sole writer of “Hand Me Downs,” but Janelle informed me that she was a co-writer of the song. We ironed that out and moved on with our conversation.)

Patti McClintic: It’s really a beautiful song, I absolutely love it. So, how did Dolly end up on the song with you?

Janelle Arthur: Well, Dolly heard the song. She heard it because after Emily and I wrote it, it hit me that the song gave me the same feeling like you would get when you listen to a song like Dolly loved to write. Something that’s meaningful and makes you proud of where you came from. Proud of the good and the bad and the quirks and everything. From “never forget where you came from,” and to be proud of that. I was like, “Oh, my goodness, this sounds like a modern day Dolly song.” So, I was like, “How in the world am I gonna get this song to her?” Then I remembered that someone I was friends with, and I’ve been friends with since I was eight-years old, that I met in the show about Dolly’s life at Dollywood, Steve Summers is his name, he is now Dolly’s Creative Director for Dolly Parton Enterprises. (Laughing)

Photo courtesy of Steve Summers on Facebook

Janelle Arthur: Just on a whim, I reached out to him and asked him, “Do you think Dolly would be willing to sing on one of my songs?” I sent it to him and he played it for her. She could have said, “Well, that was real sweet. That was a pretty song. Tell Janelle I’m proud of her, but I can’t sing on it.” She didn’t have to say anything, but instead Steve said, “Call me.” When I called him he said, “I played her the song. She wants you to let her know what you want her to do.”

Patti McClintic: Wow. (I have to admit, I was pretty awestruck by this one. Not every story really amazes me, but this one? I was impressed.)

Janelle Arthur: So she wanted direction from me. She wanted to know what I wanted her to sing. I’m just thinkin’, “As if I care, I don’t care what you do, you’re Dolly!” You know? So, she was just so humble about it, so trusting, and Dolly is a business woman. If you really have followed Dolly’s career, everybody knows how smart she is. So, being as business savvy as she is, the fact that she trusted this song, and me and everything enough to put her stamp of approval, her voice, her brand and her name on this song is really what overwhelms me. It just makes me forever grateful for everything that she is.

Photo courtesy of Dolly Parton on Facebook

Patti McClintic: That has to be the ultimate compliment. It’s also probably the ultimate dream of so many artists and you actually had it happen.

Janelle Arthur: It is. A hundred percent. So many artists, even people who aren’t in the country music world. Their dream is to meet Dolly. The fact that I got to collaborate with her, I feel so unworthy, but I feel so grateful. It just really speaks to who Dolly is, and also to what God can do, because a lot of people were probably thinkin’, “How in the world did that happen?” (Laughing)

Patti McClintic: How did you get that recorded?

Janelle Arthur: We did it remotely. She did it remotely and we finished everything up in 2019, and the song was supposed to come out in 2020. Then with the pandemic, everything shut down and we just knew it really wasn’t the right time to release this jewel of a song. So, we were like, “Okay, we need to wait,” and we did. Once the beginning of the year came, we felt like people were a little bit calmer about everything. We understood more about what was goin’ on at this point, and people were feeling safer and things were starting to open up, so we were like, “It’s time to put this song out.” Also, with everything we’d all gone through last year, I know it gave me a different perspective on what really matters. So, because this song is about family and what really matters, I hope that it speaks to a lot of people. We’ve all kind of been refocused on that through this pandemic and everything, so really there was no better time to release it than now. Also, Dolly’s hotter than ever, that’s a wonderful thing as well. Dolly’s just everywhere, so the timing of it was even more perfect, and we didn’t anticipate that, you know? Our plan was last year, not this year.

Patti McClintic: I feel everything happens in the right time.

Janelle Arthur: I think so too.

Patti McClintic: Is that song going to be part of an EP or an album?

Janelle Arthur: I’m gonna have more songs to release, it’s not gonna be an EP or anything like that as of now, but you never know, it could change. As of now I just have some other singles that I’m gonna release, so everybody needs to be on the lookout for that. Fun fact. During “Hand Me Downs” you can probably hear a heartbeat runnin’ throughout the song. That’s actually the sounds of my mother’s heartbeat.

Patti McClintic: Really?

Janelle Arthur: Yes, because I’m a co-writer and a co-producer on this song, I was very adamant about wanting my mother’s heartbeat on the song. So, we recorded that, and that just adds a whole other layer to how special this song is to me.

Patti McClintic: I’ll say, and that’s gonna go on forever and ever!

Janelle Arthur: That’s right, that’s right.

Video (audio) courtesy of Janelle Arthur and YouTube

Patti McClintic: I love that. That’s a very fun fact. So, now that the pandemic is settling down and things are opening up, do you have any live shows coming up?

Janelle Arthur: I do. I have some shows in Knoxville, a show in Georgia coming up, and Kentucky. So, I am tryin’ to get back on the road and just take shows whenever they come up, and tryin’ to get out there wherever I can.

Patti McClintic: Okay, great. So, with things opening back up and tourists flocking back to Nashville, is there anything you recommend that tourists do that they don’t usually do, or they miss when they visit?

Janelle Arthur: Something that’s really great that you can do in Nashville is go to the General Jackson Showboat. I have a lot of friends that perform on the boat there, but that’s more for pure entertainment. If you want to see singer/songwriters and hear their original music, The Listening Room is a great place to go to.

Photo courtesy of Janelle Arthur

Patti McClintic: We’re getting near the end, but I have a box of random question cards and I’m just gonna pull one out and ask you the question on it. Okay?

Janelle Arthur: Okay, yeah, sure.

Patti McClintic: Alright, it says, “If, like the newspaper, you could have anything of your choice delivered to your doorstep every morning, what particular item would you want it to be?”

Janelle Arthur: Oh, absolutely iced coffee. Like, whatever the best iced coffee is, that would be great. Every morning just go to the door and get my iced coffee.

Patti McClintic: I would be down with hot coffee. Please, somebody deliver me a hot coffee. That would be beautiful, I don’t want to make it every morning. Then, finally, because we are Think Country, when you “Think Country,” what do you think?

Janelle Arthur: When I “Think Country,” I think of home and I think of the instruments that originated in country music. I think of the fiddle, I think of the steel, I think of the mandolin. I think of the hardships that people went through to write the music that they started writin’ in the Appalachian Mountains all those years ago. When I really, really start thinkin’ about country or country music, that’s what I think about.

Patti McClintic: I’m in total agreement. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today Janelle.

Janelle Arthur: Thank you Patti!

I really enjoyed this interview. Janelle Arthur certainly possesses all kinds of southern charm! She’s smart and funny and it goes without saying how talented she is. It’s going to be exciting to follow her career from here. I may be a little late to the party, but I’ve never had too much trouble catching up in the middle! I wish her the very best and I can’t wait to see what she does next. She’s already managed to do some sensational things. At this point I would guess she can do anything she sets her mind to. Keep an eye out for Janelle Arthur. If she’s good enough for Vince Gill and Dolly Parton, I’d say she’s good enough for the rest of us.

Photo courtesy of Janelle Arthur


FACEBOOK: Janelle Arthur on Facebook

INSTAGRAM: Janelle Arthur on Instagram

YouTube: Janelle Arthur on YouTube

For more news, interviews, reviews and features that always bring country closer, please visit thinkcountrymusic.com

*Featured photo courtesy of Janelle Arthur


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