Mary Sarah is slowly carving out a place for herself in country’s future. What sets her apart is that she’s doing it by honoring country’s past.
The Richmond, Texas resident is only 16 years old, but she’s already accomplished more than many artists twice her age. When she was 12 she landed a spot as a feature singer with KidzBop, which had her touring the nation performing before thousands of fans each night.
Then when she was only 14, she recorded her first album, “Crazy Good,” which came out last year. The album not only showcases her singing, but also her skill as a songwriter. She co-wrote six of the album’s nine tracks.
On most weekends you can find her performing at one the many Oprys or Squares in the Houston area. It’s there that she not only sings songs that are inline with today’s pop-country, but also tips her hat to traditional country by singing the songs of Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn and the like.
She loves the small stages, but Mary Sarah is no stranger to the area’s big arenas. She’s performed the National Anthem for both the Houston Astros and the Houston Texans. But her most noticeable stage performance (at least for now) came in 2011 when the Oak Ridge Boys invited her onstage to sing. The then 15-year-old brought the crowd to its feet with her a cappella version of Connie Francis’ “Where The Boys Are.” (See a video of that performance below.)
It’s clear that the Oak Ridge Boys see a bright future for her. They’re not alone. The fast lane may be calling, but for now Mary Sarah is taking it slow and enjoying her high school years. Yes, she’s dreaming of serving up hits, but she’s also dreaming about perfecting her serve as a member of the varsity tennis team. Plus, like every other high school student, she’s waiting to finally get her driver’s license and first car. (She’s hoping for a VW Beetle!)
No matter what comes of her career, she knows she wants to help others. As she puts it, “I want to be a voice for those who need one.” She’s heavily involved with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. It’s a very personal project for her as her brother has been living with the disease for ten years and even needed a liver transplant.
Mary Sarah took time out her busy schedule for an interview via email. Just what every high school student wants: a writing assignment! But in this case, I don’t think she minded the extra work. As you will read, it’s evident she has a passion for music, an extraordinary love of family and a deep respect and appreciation for those who have come before her.
When did you first know that you wanted to be a singer and has country music always been your passion?
I was around 8 years old playing piano and my teacher brought it to my parents’ attention that I was constantly singing with the song and that I had really good pitch. I started lessons around 10 and then landed the KidzBop Tour…on stage was when I had “that moment” that I knew I wanted to do this for the rest of my life. I started out thinking POP music…but I fell in love with story telling in a country song.
As you just mentioned, you spent time on tour with the KidzBop concert series. That was when you were 12. What did you take from that experience that you still use today?
SO MUCH FUN and hard work. Life on the road was not easy but I loved every minute of it…the afternoon practices before the show and meeting all the kids after the show. I learned that I could do more than I thought and that all I needed to do was try…when you try and do your best you can never fail!
Right now you’re still in high school. How hard is it juggling school, extra-curricular activities and your singing?
My life is busy but I don’t think any busier than a lot of motivated high school students. I probably travel more than most but everyone around me helps me keep my schedule straight! When I feel overwhelmed I just take a deep breath, pray and tell myself I can handle it.
Family seems to be a large part of not just you as a performer, but you as a person. How important is your family in everything that you do?
Mega. They are my top priority. I think sharing my gift with the ones I love is the best. My family is blessed….we love to hang out together and we can make each other laugh and we help each other stay focused.
You’ve mentioned that Carrie Underwood is one of your idols. Have you considered trying to literally follow in her footsteps and audition for American Idol or The Voice?
Yes, I have been approached to audition, but when it comes down to it I want to finish high school and have all the experiences that you only get once in your life. I have my whole life to use my gift and I have been given the opportunities to not be in a hurry! I am learning a lot! If I remember correctly Carrie was 18 when she tried out…so if doors that I currently am walking through begin to close I may talk about it again with my parents.
Speaking of the The Voice, I have a pair of questions for you from Team Blake’s RaeLynn, another talented Texan teen who actually lives very near you. First: What was it like writing with her cousin, Leeland Mooring of the progressive worship band Leeland?
Oh my gosh…please let her know that we are rooting for her and that she is doing an awesome job! Writing with Leeland was overwhelming. He is amazing and the evening flew by so quickly because you can listen to him sing and preach all night! He is a fantastic person and an unbelievable songwriter and performer. We first fell in love with LeeLand (the band) when we attended a worship gathering years ago.
Second, RaeLynn asks: Would you ever write with her?
First I would love to meet her face to face! I have had dinner with her Aunt’s family and cousins but she was in L.A. at the time. I think two sassy Texans like us could work out some great lyrics!! It would be an honor!
Your song “New Crush,” which you wrote with your sister Emilee, took 2nd place in the Teen Division of the 2010 International Songwriting Competition. How did that add to your confidence as a songwriter?
It was awesome to have that recognition but honestly…I have a long way to go when writing. I have been around so many wonderful writers that I am very intimidated. I think there will always be a part of me that thinks that…I feel like singing and performing comes much more naturally. So needless to say I wanna write with the best in the business!
You released your first album, Crazy Good, last year. For the most part, the songs speak about the life of a 14-year-old girl, which you were at the time you recorded it. Due to your age and the subject matter, the comparisons to Taylor Swift are inevitable. What’s your reaction when people compare you and your music to Taylor?
It’s a great honor. She has told some amazing stories through her songs. They captivate you and you lose yourself in them. That is what I want to do with my music. She has also been a great role model for young women like me getting in to country music. She is simple with a very big heart towards her fans…and she loves putting on a great performance. I imagine myself on the stage whenever I see her in concert! I just want to affect people in a positive way and I believe she has done that.
The songs on Crazy Good are country, pop-country and a bit of rock. But you’re a huge fan of traditional country. How did someone so young fall in love with old school country?
After KidzBop I was in LA for a while and decided it just wasn’t the thing for me. I wrote some songs and had them produced but the lifestyle and everything that goes along with it just didn’t work for our family. I came back to Texas wondering what I was going to do next…my dad mentioned the Opry’s and some of the songs that I would need to sing. I was reminded that the first song I sang on a stage was “The Yellow Rose of Texas,” so I said I would give it a shot. I started with “Crazy” by Patsy Cline and the rest was history.
I learned so much researching the traditional country and I learned a lot about my voice and what I could make it do. I also fell in love with the Opry audience…it’s like I have so many grandma and grandpa’s cheering me on in my career. I hope to bring back the old traditional and add some new that just says “Mary Sarah”! My all time favorite to perform of course is “Where The Boys Are” by Connie Francis. But I love “Jolene” by Dolly and so many others. I think if I could add that dueting with my dad and our friend Moses has been lots of fun too!
I start to sing a song or two for them and tell them they are missing out on some of the best country music ever written. They think I am a little crazy till they hear me sing them! I hope it has that effect on my generation.
How important is it for the next generation of country performers to carry on the tradition that was established by those who came before them?
Very…honoring those that have gone before me is soooooo important. My parents taught me that and the more I realize they are right the more blessed I am. There is a part of those songs that just touch your soul in a way that other music does not. Very simple lyrics with deep, deep meaning!
Do you have any projects coming up that we should be on the lookout for?
Yes, I do but unfortunately I can not tell you much about the current project. I can tell you it is the greatest thing I have ever done to date and I am overwhelmed at the opportunities I have had this past year. I believe I will always look back at this time in my life and pinch myself because what I am doing will last forever!!! I promise that when I get to tell…you will be one of the first!
Finally, I’d like to give you an open forum to say anything you would like for people to know about you, your music or whatever’s on your mind. The floor is yours:
I would like to tell people it is very important to just be yourself, NEVER compromise who you are and be true to yourself. Everyone may not like you but you will always like yourself!
Never chase after popularity or fame just focus on your strengths and not your weaknesses. Also, don’t be in a hurry. You only go around one time! (lol, that’s from my song “One Time Around”)