Kelsea Ballerini. #1 song Legends. #1 in the hearts of her fans. Her latest album, Unapologetically, tells the story of her life from the time she released her first album, The First Time, until now. That vulnerability is one way her fans connect with her. CMChatLive touched base with Ashley McNeil and Jenna Starosta, who together run fan-site Kelsea Central.
Legends (with more than 12 million views to date)
What first connected you to Kelsea and her music?
Ashley: I saw people on Twitter talking about her, but I never thought anything of it until I heard her music on my iHeartRadio app. I loved every song and tweeted that I wanted a physical copy of her album, and she somehow saw it and asked if she could mail it to me. I loved the honesty in each song and the fact that I could relate to the words she wrote. I then met her in person and realized what a truly genuine person she is, and how much she cares about everyone that takes the time to play her music.
Jenna: My original connection to Kelsea came through her songs I had heard on the radio. At the time, I didn’t know who the artist was, but Sirius XM The Highway was playing ‘Dibs‘ as one of their featured songs and it was so catchy I couldn’t get it out of my head. When I heard ‘Love Me Like You Mean It’ and found out the two songs were sung by this new female named Kelsea Ballerini, I was instantly hooked. It wasn’t until then that I really took the time to get to know who Kelsea was as an artist and as a person. Her bubbly personality matched her fun songs and I knew I was a fan. When her album came out, I realized how much depth she had as well. After meeting her a few times and really getting to know her, I respected her as a person as well as an artist. Plus, the way she treats her fans is like nothing I’ve ever seen. To her, we are her friends, and that means everything.
How did you decide to start Kelsea Central?
Ashley: About a year before Kelsea Central was created, I made a group chat with Kelsea fans to do a ‘Peter Pan‘ lyric video project with them. It very quickly grew into a place where people were forming close friendships and relating to each other. We became a family. People started going to shows together, and just really clicking. I especially became close with (my now best friend and co-owner) Jenna even though she lives in Wisconsin and I’m from West Virginia. I made a website when ‘Yeah Boy‘ became a single so I could put ways to request the song in one place for fans to support it. People were really enthusiastic about it, so Jenna and I decided to expand upon it, and thus the Twitter and Instagram account was created to allow fans to become more involved. The website became more than just requests and tied the social media accounts together.
Jenna: I dedicated a lot of my free time to following Kelsea and getting to know her fans. I wanted to be a part of something that not only got news out there for the fans but a place people could come to with questions regarding anything Kelsea. I had met so many people going to shows and events she was at, I wanted to help create a place where fans felt included and wanted to be a part of. Partnering with Ashley was the greatest choice I could have made. We have the same values when it comes to Kelsea and her fans and oftentimes share many of the same ideas. We click and communicate so well together and creating this would have remained just an idea of mine had she not been there to partner up with and create this all with me.
What do you have planned in 2018 to help promote Kelsea and her music?
Jenna: With Kelsea releasing her new album late 2017, we have been focused on spreading the word about Unapologetically. The rest of this year we will be focused on the promotion of her new single ‘I Hate Love Songs,’ as well as The Unapologetically Tour and her upcoming GraffitiU Tour with Keith Urban.
Ashley: We definitely want to keep promoting her radio play, especially when ‘I Hate Love Songs‘ goes to radio. We chalked the streets of Nashville during CMA Fest to promote ‘Legends‘ and I think this year we want to expand upon that and maybe hand promotional items out to fans. After all, CMA Fest is where all the country music lovers are in one place! More importantly, I think we’d love to continue to promote fan unity. Kelsea’s fan base is growing daily, and if everyone can get on board for projects like we did requesting ‘Legends,’ I truly believe her career will be stronger than ever. A strong fan base usually equals a strong artist.
Your website shows all the time and care you’ve devoted to its creation – how do you get all the content?
Jenna: Most of the content is found via social media. We look specifically for news articles, events, photoshoots, and appearances Kelsea has done or will be doing. We also stay up to date by searching YouTube and paying close attention to radio for any interviews she may be a part of. We depend a lot on each other and work so well together to make sure every aspect is covered. It’s definitely so much more than a one-person job!
Ashley: We work well together in all aspects of the content, which is good because being on the same page is half of the battle. I have a lot of website knowledge and can bring things to life on there. I also focus more on the fan projects. She is good about taking care of television appearances, and the technical stuff when it comes to screen recording and media. We have learned a lot from each other, and I think being in constant communication and understanding each other is so important. I am in nursing school and have two jobs. She is a full-time pharmacist. We are able to collaborate our schedules so that when one person is too busy, the other can pick up the slack.
How can fans help?
Jenna: Fans are so great about sending us anything they find that we may have missed. Whether it is Instagram posts, news articles, or video interviews, we appreciate everyone being so supportive of helping us as much as they can. The fan projects have always been such a success because of the warm responses we always get from so many people wanting to help out and lend a hand. We depend on the other fans SO much. We couldn’t do it without them!
Ashley: We typically know at least one person at every show that will text us pictures and videos to help us out. Even strangers will message us and say that they’re going to a show and ask if we want their pictures and videos. We wouldn’t be able to do this without the incredible participation from the other fans. It just wouldn’t work! They are always down for any ideas we throw out and go above and beyond to contribute. This fanbase has become a team, and a family, and Jenna and I just making a website would never be enough to make anything happen. Without them, we would just be a news site, but together we move mountains. An example of this is Kelsea’s birthday, we wanted to send her an Edible Arrangement. Within a week, we had collected $700 dollars and were able to donate $400 of it to St. Jude on Kelsea’s behalf.
Your part in the new number one?
Ashley: When ‘Legends‘ hit Top 10, I thought about how we could make sure it was being requested by fans to push it as far up as it could go. At 2 am one night, it hit me that we could have a friendly competition. I called Jenna immediately and woke her up, and she was 100% game. Fans were separated into seven different groups such as Team Golden, Team Fire, Team Magic, etc. to match the metaphors in the song. Each team had weekly goals and assignments for tasks such as requesting and streaming. The team that did the most during the week got shout-outs and bragging rights. Members within the teams would encourage their teammates and remind them to request each day. The week before the number one, we knew we had to step it up, and decided to do a 7-day giveaway of Kelsea’s merchandise. People had to submit proof that they requested, and it made things so fun! Everyone in the fan base blew us away stepping up as leaders to encourage each other and make this happen for Kelsea. It eventually became a small army fighting for a common cause, and other fan accounts for other artists were telling their followers to request Kelsea.
Jenna: Seeing the accountability groups really come to life over the past few weeks has been beyond rewarding. Ashley came up with this fantastic idea to really make everyone feel responsible and important. Plus, everyone has a competitive side to them! By creating these teams, it really ensured all of our bases were covered. But everyone stepped up in such a huge way. In running the contest for merch over this past week we saw even other fan bases really come into the picture and encourage each other to rally behind Kelsea. Ashley is right when she said a request army was created. And together, we achieved the ultimate goal!
Ashley: Working on Kelsea Central is a lot of work, and definitely not easy, but it’s been so rewarding to be a part of. Watching everything become with it is, and continue to grow, makes me feel so full. Nothing makes me happier than knowing that fans can come to us with questions and look to us to lead promotion projects. It’s become more than just a hobby.
Jenna: Kelsea Central has become so much more than I ever dreamed it would be. Originally, I just wanted to be a part of something that people might stumble across now and again. Seeing what it is now is beyond rewarding. I’m so thankful for the opportunities it has given both of us and the people it has introduced us to. And ultimately, it’s all in the name of supporting Kelsea. Like Ashley said, it isn’t always easy. But it is without a doubt always worth it!