Cincinnati, Ohio, native Gracie Carol Aufderbeck is in her last year at Belmont University in Nashville, studying commercial music-voice. You may have met her as your singing server at the Opry Backstage Grill. No doubt you’ll take notice of the 21-year-old when you hear her sing – just as Keith Urban did four years ago.
Singing a duet in concert with Keith Urban at 17. Check.
What ran through your head when you heard that you were selected to be Miranda Lambert for the night and sing their song “We Were Us” on stage in your hometown of Cincinnati?
“Ever since I was little, I dreamed of someday becoming a country artist. Singers like Alan Jackson, Sara Evans, Terri Clark, Keith Urban, and Brad Paisley were some of the biggest people (to me) that were in country music. I would listen to them non-stop with my parents. When I heard there was a contest going on, Keith wanting to find someone in Cincinnati to sing with him on stage in concert, I honestly thought it was just a fairytale dream that would never happen to me. I would never be the one Keith Urban would pick, I had just turned 17, why would he want to sing with me? That’s what I would tell myself and this contest went on for about two weeks.
During the time of this show, I was performing in Coney Island Amusement Park’s Live Entertainment shows and we just so happened to be doing a ‘Kickin’ Country Show’ that had Keith Urban and Miranda Lambert’s song ‘We Were Us‘ in it. I joked and said to my cast, after a week in, a half of the contest still happening, ‘what if we all sent in a video together?’ After saying that, it kind of sparked my attention to thinking why I just couldn’t send one in myself. It took me three days, after saying that to be brave enough and have the courage to send a video audition in, submitting it to B105.1FM where competition was being held. This entry was due Monday morning, and it was 1AM that Sunday night/Monday morning, I finally decided to submit my video. Mind you, this concert was THAT Thursday, so I was even more nervous than ever to find out, and, after seeing all of the other entries, I still thought there was no way he would pick me, but I had some hope. Maybe because I had been doing this song all summer, maybe he was destined to pick me.
The next day, Tuesday, July 29th, I went to work like any other day at Coney Island Amusement Park, but that day I will always remember. I got a call from one of the workers with B105 saying Keith had picked ME to perform with him on stage at Riverbend Music Center in Cincinnati, OH. Honestly, I did not believe him, tears came to my eyes, I was shaking, it was one of the best moments of my life getting this news. I was thinking someone actually noticed me. When I got off the phone, I told my whole cast, I quickly called my mom and dad (who are long-time Keith Urban fans) and ran around Coney Island telling everyone to come. Which is perfect in a way because Riverbend and Coney Island share the same parking lot! I knew this moment was the beginning of my career, I will always be so thankful, so blessed, and so grateful that I was able to share this moment with someone I have always looked up to as an artist. Thursday, July 31st, was the best day of my life. It was like I got to see my future in a way, and I knew my dreams could be turned into a reality someday if I work hard enough.”
Keith then invited you to audition for American Idol. What is the audition process like for the show?
“The process for me was a little bit different. Since Keith had invited me, it wasn’t like an open call audition that everyone has to go through before even deciding if the producers want to put you through to the celebrity judges. I picked the next closest date to audition in, which was in New York City, and my family and I packed up our bags and headed there for a weekend. The day of the audition I wasn’t sure what to do or where to go so I stood in line waiting like everyone else in an open call. Eventually, a producer came and found me. There ended up being a room of other hopeful contests who did online auditions waiting their turn to find out what the next steps were for them. I waited for what seemed to be a long time, come to find out Keith Urban had been in a family emergency and had to go back to Australia for a bit. So, he wasn’t even there. It was kind of nerve-racking, I didn’t think they were going to let me audition.
A producer came in and took a couple of us to another room saying they wanted to send some of us to the next city, but only picking a couple. So, what that meant was I had to practically compete for a spot on the next flight to Minneapolis, which was where the next auditions were being held, against three other girls. It was terrifying, I had not experienced such a thing in my life. But I sang my little heart out, thinking about the feeling I had on stage with Keith Urban and did my thing. As I went back and sat out in the hallway, they pulled me back in, and said, ‘We want you to come, we think you could have a real potential on the show.’ Honestly, I couldn’t believe they picked me again! I was thinking this is the most amazing year of my life.
So, they gave me my flight and the next weekend we were in Minneapolis, Minnesota. We were in into the audition waiting room, all of my family is with me, and I was feeling like a star. It was a feeling of love, loyalty, and compassion. I will never forget the feeling. Keith Urban was back and doing okay, I couldn’t wait to see him again and I couldn’t wait to see what he’d say. When my number was finally called, I was waiting with a couple of other contestants sitting in line to go into the doors. When it was my turn, I was so nervous most of it is such a blur. I walked through the doors seeing Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez, and Harry Connick Jr. Immediately Keith says, ‘I’ve sang with you before!’ and I said ‘yes!’ with so much enthusiasm. He meets so many people in his life and you never know who is going to remember you! I was very excited. We talked a little bit about the concert and how it went, how it changed my life and that I was so thankful. It was so amazing standing there talking to these three celebrities. The first song I sang was ‘Blown Away‘ by Carrie Underwood. When I was finished I got an instant yes from Keith, but Jennifer wasn’t too impressed, she didn’t think it was the right time for me (which I get, I mean I was 17).
Harry said he liked it a lot but wanted to hear one more song, so then I brought back the song that all lead that moment ‘We Were Us‘ and looked right at Keith with a smile on his face. When I was finished Harry started clapping and said, ‘Well, I guess you’re going to Hollywood!’ I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe my eyes, taking the golden ticket out of his hands. I thanked everyone as I left the room, I thanked Keith Urban for getting me here. I ran out with the ticket and my family JUMPED and CHEERED. Another moment in my life I will never forget.”
You are now in the Nash Next 2018 competition.
How did you come to enter the competition?
“I actually entered the contest last year as well, but the song I chose was a demo song I had written with some other co-writers. It wasn’t amazing, but I wanted to see if anything would happen. I got some voters but I wasn’t pushing myself too much just because I knew that wasn’t who I wanted to be as an artist. Now I have been writing songs for a long time, but I never had a song I felt really represented myself, and I never was able to write a song to show off who I am and who I wanted to be as a writer.
Until this year, back in January, I wrote a song for the first time that I fell in love with called ‘Living on the Moon‘ and I knew this song was the first song I wanted to give out to the world and show myself off as an artist. So, this summer, I finally had the time to work with it and perfect it to where I wanted it to be and how I wanted it to sound with the help of some amazing musicians and producers. I actually had forgotten about the Nash Next Competition until I heard it on the radio one day driving to the job I have now. I got everything together with my song and sent it in. As much as I wanted to release this song as a single first, it wasn’t quite ready for that. Now for Nash Next, I am letting everyone know how much this contest means to me this year! There are some really awesome contestants all around the NashFM stations so I cannot wait to hear what the outcome will turn out to be.”
Your new song, “Living on the Moon,” sounds so good! What’s the song’s backstory?
“Thank you so much! This song is very dear to me and it’s very interesting how this came to mind. My boyfriend, Zach Smith, also known as Z. Smith, was the one I wrote this song about. We are currently living in Nashville, TN, while home for both of us is Cincinnati, Ohio. He was speaking to his mom on the phone one day back in December, a couple days before Christmas, and they both said, ‘I love you to the moon and back,’ to each other. That got me thinking about the distance there is to the moon and how we are miles away from Cincinnati. It’s like we are living on the moon because you have to travel with that love to get there. So, I wrote down that idea of a possible song.
Then my Christmas gift I receive from Zach was a beautiful necklace with a half moon and a circle in it that says ‘I love you to the moon and back’ and I thought that was so perfect. Afterwards, it really sparked my mind and I just came up with these lyrics and a melody right away. It came to me so natural and so simple, and for the first time, I felt like I could actually do something with this song. I knew right away this was the song I have been waiting for to be my first single to release. This song describes who I am as an artist and as a singer/songwriter. I knew I was waiting for the right song, and I am so happy with it. I can’t wait for everyone to hear it if they haven’t already!”
When did you start writing songs?
“I’ve had three inspirations in my life. I was around the age of 10 when these three people inspired me to start writing and create my song notebook. Those three people are Alan Jackson, Taylor Swift, and my mom. My mom is a huge Alan Jackson fan (and is quite the singer too, but doesn’t show it off) so I listened to him for all of my childhood. I didn’t mind at all because I liked him and I could sing along to him. His songs were my favorite. Then one day my mom asked me, ‘When you grow up, do you want to sing cover songs like Alan Jackson or write your own songs?’ I never answered her because writing songs had never been a thought to me. I thought everyone was just singing, I didn’t realize everything you have to go through as a song writer to even get an artist to cut a song. Now Alan didn’t do a lot of cover songs, but he did do some. For a while, I thought that could be cool if Alan Jackson was doing it. Then, the first time I saw Taylor Swift was on TV singing ‘Tear Drops on My Guitar‘. She and that song really inspired me. I either read an article or saw a video around that time, Alan Jackson had said that ‘Tear Drops on my Guitar‘ was the cleverest song her had ever heard. Right then and there, that is when I started writing songs.”
Is there a song you are most proud of writing?
“‘Living on the Moon‘ I’ve never felt any better about any song I’ve ever written. And I believe that it took a long time before releasing my first single because I was waiting for this song. It may not be absolutely perfect with lyrics and to some other songwriters’ eyes but it really feels perfect to me, and that’s why I feel so proud of this song. But don’t worry, there will definitely be more to come!”
You were featured on Smoke Before Fire on “Outcome Unknown.” Any future collaborations with Zach?
“So far, Zach and I have been working on our own music. Once and a while we help each other out with writing our own songs so we do collaborate really most of the time. But for now, you can take a listen to the two songs we have out now which are called ‘Cinematic‘ and ‘Outcome Unknown.’ There is no doubt in my mind that we will probably have another song together in the future though.”
Any other collaborations in the works?
“So far, I’m just working on my music right now. As for writing the music, I have been collaborating with other artists, songwriters, and producers this past summer doing co-writes with them, but no duets or anything so far. My friend VinnyB and I are possibly working on something though, so stay tuned.”
Saw your Instagram travel pictures. What has been your favorite trip to date, was it your Disney trip?
“Actually, going to the beach has been my all-time favorite place to travel so far, but this last Disney trip was definitely one of my top favorite trips! I went to Disney for my 21st birthday. And two of my sisters (we happen to be triplets) have been working at Disney all summer doing the Disney College Program. So, I thought what a better way to spend my 21st birthday! It was such a great time, considering that I hadn’t seen my sisters in six months, it was really worth the wait seeing each other for our birthday and I think that’s why it made the trip so special.”
What is your dream travel destination?
“I have two, Hawaii and Italy! I’m really into relaxing, beautiful vacations and I have never traveled to those places before. Even though the places are very different, I think that’s why I am so interested in both so to go there for any kind of vacation seems like a perfect way to relax, sight see, and have a great time.”
Back to music. What do you think of Bobby Bones’ upcoming all female radio show?
“Bobby Bones has always been supportive of all female artists and that is so so awesome of him. He’s really helping female artists take huge steps back onto the radio, and for us to really succeed and get more listeners for female artists songs, having a female radio show is such a big step forward for us. So, thank you to Bobby Bones!”
Which female artists do you consider your role models?
“My role models are really almost every female artist who is putting herself out there and making ways to get on the radio for listeners to turn into fans. But I really consider Carly Pearce, Kelsea Ballerini, and Lauren Alaina my top female artists I look up too. They are doing everything to achieve more success each day, and they are the exact female artist/role models that every future artist should watch.”
How in turn do you see yourself paving the path for future female artists?
“Honestly, I want to be that person that young artists look up to, get the courage to accomplish their dreams, and write their feelings. Just like I look up to artists like Lauren Alaina, Kelsea Ballerini, and Maren Morris, it took them time and hard work to get to them achieving their dreams too. It took them to figuring out who they are as an artist and how they wanted everyone to see who they are as a person before getting the right song to really make it on the charts. They have been amazing role models to myself and now I want every other future female artist to know, no matter how long it takes to open up or to finally feel like they have the perfect song themselves, that it’s okay because it will happen as long as you work hard to get it.”
A number of artists are posting Spotify playlists. What songs would you put on an end of summer playlist?
I’ll give you my top 15:
1. Tequila- Dan and Shay
2. Hide the Wine- Carly Pearce
3. Life Changes- Thomas Rhett
4. Make Him Wait- Abby Anderson
5. Best Shot- Jimmie Allen
6. I Hate Love Songs- Kelsea Ballerini
7. Coming Home- Keith Urban, Julia Michaels
8. Simple- Florida Georgia Line
9. Famous- Mason Ramsey
10. Heaven- Kane Brown
11. Take You Home- Cassadee Pope
12. More- Clare Dunn
13. Babe- Sugarland, Taylor Swift
14. Meant to Be- FGL, Bebe Rexha
15. Kiss and Run- Lauren Weintraub
Any binge-worthy shows on Netflix you’d recommend?
“OH yes! Stranger Things, The Office, and Parks and Recreation are my top shows I binge watch. (really the only show I watch).”
“Living on the Moon” will be available July 26th on all music platforms!
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