If you asked Jana Kramer to describe her life in this very moment, she would say "Dreams really do come true." Indeed, this singer, songwriter, and former One Tree Hill actress has every reason to keep her head in the clouds, as her first single "Why Ya Wanna" has climbed the charts at a record pace. Growing an audience over 10 million in only 10 weeks after its country radio debut, the song quickly moved to the Top 25 on the charts (Currently No. 21). Now, Jana is poised to release her self-titled debut album, available June 5 on Elektra Nashville, which she recorded with multiple award-winning producer, Scott Hendricks (Brooks & Dunn, Alan Jackson, Blake Shelton). It seems theres no dream too big for this honey-voiced Nashville newcomer. Its just that some dreams take a little more courage than others.
Jana grew up in suburban Michigan with a dad who played in "every type of band that exists, including polka" and a knack for entertaining others that was revealed during an infamous performance of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" the rock version at age 5. Her musical upbringing included singing, playing guitar and piano, but it didnt last long. "Honestly, my dad was really hard on me," Jana confesses. "I didnt feel like I was good enough to keep it up." Instead, she channeled her performance abilities into 13 years of competitive figure skating. "In my house, that was rebelling," she says with a laugh. And after exploring the possibility of being a TV anchor, she eventually decided to pursue acting. "I figured it would be easier to hide behind a character than actually be myself," she admits. "Music was the thing I wanted to do, but was terrified."
Jana moved to New York the day she graduated from high school. "I just knew that I had to get out of Michigan," she explains. "I wanted to do bigger things than I thought I could accomplish there. Im not the kind of person to live with regret, so I moved as soon as I graduated." It quickly became clear shed made a difficult, but ultimately, worthwhile decision. After landing a bit part on the soap opera All My Children in 2003, Jana followed her dream to Los Angeles, her mother joining her there, the two living off frozen taquitos to save money as Jana struggled to launch her acting career.
As she slowly started to land parts in projects both legitimate (CSI, Click) and questionable (Return of the Living Dead: Necropolis), Jana never lost her love for country music, especially Reba McEntire and Patsy Cline: the latter a warm soundtrack to a childhood spent baking cookies with her grandmother. Jana began writing country songs in secret, channeling her personal challenges into her lyrics, and collaborating with a friend named Deanna Dozier to form a country side project called Moonshine. They put a few tracks on MySpace, but Jana continued to be intimidated by the idea of singing in public. "Id listen to the radio and hear Carrie Underwood and Martina McBride, and they just had these big beautiful powerful voices," Jana says. "I was too overwhelmed, I just couldnt do it."
It was during the 2007 Hollywood writers strike that opportunity came knocking. At the time, Jana had a recurring role on Friday Night Lights, but when production shut down, Moonshine got a call that the show Can You Duet was interested in casting them on the first season. Against the advice of her TV agents, Jana headed to Nashville to audition, and sang in public for the first time in front of none other than Naomi Judd. While she was a hit, sadly, Deanna didnt make the cut. It was a dealbreaker. "I could not do it alone," Kramer remembers. "I needed her there, supporting me, so I ended up leaving the show the next episode." She laughs at the memory. "I was perfect drama for them."
As fate would have it, turns out the girl who only chose acting because she was too terrified to sing, simply had to commit to a six-year television contract in order to launch the career shed always wanted. When Jana joined the cast of One Tree Hill in 2009, the shows producers wrote her musical talents into the character. You know, just as soon as Jana found the courage to mention them. "I never told anybody," she explains. "I just kept it private, because I doubted myself. Problem with that is Ive always been the kind of person who preaches to friends, Do what you love to do! Well, music is was what I always wanted to do, so I finally gave the shows creator a few songs that I wrote. When he didnt get back to me right away, I thought, Great. He hated it. It wasnt until I read through the next episode, where I saw he wrote in that my character started singing. I just started crying, I was so excited!," she gushed.
Over the next two seasons she would release four songs to the public on the show, and ultimately sign to Warner Music Nashville. The incredibly supportive team at One Tree Hill let Kramer out of her TV contract so she could take on her first real radio tour... and she quickly learned the scores of actress-turned-singers that came before her had paved a pretty rutty path down Music Row. "A lot of people werent taking me seriously," Jana remembers. "They thought I was going to try it and then realize that it's actually a lot harder than it seems, and take off back to Hollywood." So with the same impulsive strength that sent her to New York the day she graduated high school, Kramer decided to fully commit: She bought a house in Nashville. "I had a house in about two days," she laughs. "I wanted to stay no matter how long it took to make it happen. I wasnt going anywhere."
All it takes is one listen to the poignant Southern swing of debut single "Why You Wanna" to wonder why anyone ever doubted her, or why she doubted herself. They say the best songs are the ones weve lived, and Jana knows this story by heart: "I had been seeing this guy who I fell madly in love with, but he totally bailed," Jana says. "And every time I see him, he wants to come and give me a hug! Its like, I am not over you! Stop giving me a hug, this is killing me!" Its exactly that truth and Jana's easy, interpretive style that has led to the stunning success of "Why You Wanna." The song garnered over 55 radio adds in its first week, making her the most added debut artist in the history of Country Aircheck, with adds nearly triple the previous record for any debut female artist.
Better yet, after so many years of self-doubt, Jana has finally come to terms with her musical abilities. "I love the rawness and the imperfections of my voice," she says. "That makes me me. Its different, and Im embracing that, not apologizing for it anymore." Her long love affair with country music is evident in every track of her upcoming debut, as are outside influences like James Taylor and Patty Griffin. And from the sultry confidence of "What I Love About Your Love" to tender ballad "I Wont Give Up," the songs showcase her clear, expressive, and yes powerfully beautiful country voice, as well as her natural ability to fully inhabit the lyrics of her songs. "Im not going to sing something that I dont believe," she says. "Ive been through a lot. Hopefully I can share my stories with fans."
As her star continues to rise she made her Grand Ole Opry debut April 13 Jana now finds herself with the courage to live perhaps the greatest dream of all: "I'm ready to not hide behind anything anymore," she says. "Im ready to just be me. And now Im like, You know what? Even if there are negative things, bring it. I do what I do, I love it, and Im not going to hold back any more. Theres no time for that."