SALT LAKE CITY — Sandy-native Savannah Keyes has been singing country music for as long as she can remember, thanks to her grandma who introduced her to country greats like Patsy Cline and Dolly Parton at an early age.
"My mom jokes about how if I wasn't talking, I was singing," Keyes told the Deseret News.
That passion for music, paired with a powerhouse voice, prompted a then-13-year-old Keyes to submit her YouTube videos to "The Ellen Show" back in 2011. Before she knew it, Keyes was showcasing her vocal chops and big personality to Ellen herself, who enthusiastically told the studio audience: “You know this girl is going to be a big star.”
It didn't take long for Keyes to start down the path towards stardom. She got a record deal when she was 13 and moved to Nashville when she was 16. Although she was young and the move was difficult for her, she said it "just made sense, although I really love Utah; I really love my hometown." She continued to write and record, but two years ago, she and her label parted ways, a mutual decision.
And though it appeared that Keyes had hit a dead-end, she was actually just getting going.
"Although I was really bummed, I was like, 'OK, let's start a new chapter," she said. "I started working three jobs, writing songs and figuring out who I was as an artist, not being labeled as one anymore. Randomly, the show kind of saw what I was doing over the past two years and they thought of me when this all came about."
That "show" is USA Network's new reality program "Real Country," premiering Nov. 13. Keyes is one of 21 artists hand selected by an impressive panel of judges, consisting of country stars Jake Owen — who chose Keyes — Shania Twain and Travis Tritt. In each episode, three artists will compete for $10,000 and a performance at Stagecoach — California’s Country Music Festival — and a chance to be in the finale and compete for the grand prize of $100,000 and performing at the Grand Ole Opry.
“‘Real Country’ is just about real country music artists and sharing their stories," Keyes said. "All 21 of us come from a different place within country music — whether that means a different city, a different story of how we got to this point, or a different style. And it's really cool. It's really diverse.”
Keyes explained that “Real Country” isn’t like "American Idol" where viewers watch the auditions, or "The Voice" where audiences witness the mentorship. Instead, it’s essentially a musical showcase where experts in the industry get to advocate for who they think represents the new sound of country.
Although all the episodes of “Real Country” were pre-recorded and Keyes can’t reveal the results of the show, she did disclose that it was an experience she’ll hold dear forever.
“We got to work with the best of the best as far as vocal coaching, the band and stylists. I grew so much as an artist and I also made really good friends, which was so much fun,” Keyes said. “I've never really been given the tools to put together such an incredible live performance like what we all got to do.”
Keyes credits the show for not only giving her more exposure but also giving her confidence to finally release her own music. She debuted her first single "Hypocrite" on Nov. 9.
“The show has definitely pushed me to go outside of my comfort zone,” Keyes said. “I’ve always been afraid to put my fingerprint on country music … but with the TV show I figured … what better time to do it when people get to know me at the same time.”
After hearing Keyes' cheery enthusiasm over the phone, it’s no wonder why Ellen deemed her "a big star," or that country singer Owen hand-selected her for the show — she’s not only an incredible talent, but she has a magnetic personality to match, which has only helped further her career. For Keyes, staying true to herself is as important as making good music.
“I'm really not afraid to be myself — whether that's a good or a bad thing, I'm not sure. I’m not afraid to be quirky. I think in (this) profession ... there's a standard of what you're supposed to go by, (and things) you're supposed to do, and I’ve never been nervous to stray from that.”
_"_Real Country" premiered on USA Network on Nov. 13, 8 p.m. MST. Savannah Keyes will be featured on the Tuesday, Nov. 20 episode.