10 Questions with ... Samantha Stephens
August 28, 2011
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
I happily get up before the crack of dawn as the Entertainment Reporter for the CMT Radio Network, and guest appear on the best morning shows in the country to dish the latest news and inside scoop on Country's biggest stars. I was lucky enough to be a featured commentator for CMT's What's Your 20? 20 Greatest Women, 20 Years and host of CMT's Next Big Nashville showcase. I'm a singer and songwriter brought to Nashville two years ago after working as a performer, show designer, and Country music consultant in corporate entertainment for Six Flags Over Georgia, who's also logged time as a voice-over artist, producer, and sound engineer for marketing, public relations, and consulting firms.
1.) It seems like you have quite the experience under your belt when it comes to Country music. How did you get your first gig in radio?
I call it divine intervention! I'd worked in communications as a voice-over artist, produced radio spots-even designed and engineered a fictitious Country radio station for Six Flags Over Georgia in 2009-but had never actually put all the radio "elements" together to "work in radio." A dear friend who previously worked in this position at CMT actually recommended me, and thankfully CMT Radio took a leap of faith and gave me my first shot on-air. Yep, they hired me with this southern accent.
2.) You are constantly communicating with different stations throughout the country. What is your favorite part about interacting with morning hosts nationwide?
They're all so dynamic and truly unique! Every station call is like a stop in another city, and every host is like a personal tour guide. I feel like I'm on a great road trip every morning-from the mountains of Washington State, through the Midwest, all the way to my home turf along the Georgia coast.
3.) How do you decide which stories are the most important to report each morning?
My rule is: keep it classy, keep it sassy, and keep it positive! The artists generating the most buzz with our listeners are always a priority, but what's important is giving them news on their favorite artists they can't find anywhere else. I try to put myself in the shoes of the listener-driving to work, getting their kids out of bed at 6am. What would I want to know and hear, and how would I want to hear it? My favorite moments as a listener are the moments where I've laughed so hard, I've nearly spit coffee onto the dashboard of my Jeep. If I can make 'em laugh out loud in the car, then I've done my job.
4.) You must have a pretty early wake-up call. Walk us through a typical morning for you.
I set three alarms in the morning. The first wakes me up to local Country radio at 3:30am. The second goes off at 4am. And just to be safe, my cell phone rings at 4:30am. Believe me, all three are necessary. It takes a lot to fully "wake-up" at that hour! I comb over our daily prep, and check the web and my Twitter for any breaking or interesting news I may have missed before bed. I head into the studio at 5:30am, get my coffee, and hit the airwaves from 6am until 10am!
5.) As an aspiring singer/songwriter how did you transition to radio?
I made the decision to take a hiatus from my music career back in 2009. I was burned out, and needed to recharge my battery and my creativity. It was the both the hardest and smartest decision I've ever made. Working in Country radio opened my eyes to so many elements of this business I would have never known, and allowed me to see just how interdependent artists, radio, promoters, publicists, publishers, and record labels truly are, and how important it is to foster good relationships with all. It also allowed me to realize that I could be happy and fulfilled being somewhere other than "onstage."
6.) You served as the host for CMT's "Next Big Nashville" showcase. Give us a few details on what that entailed.
One part prep, one part nerves, and one part vodka tonic! I'd literally just joined the CMT Radio Team, so this was baptism by fire! But what a great opportunity to introduce some of my favorite artists I'd been following for several years-Chris Stapleton, who's written some of country's biggest hits; Sonia Leigh, who's now sharing the stage with Zac Brown Band; and Angeleena Presley, who's now one-third of the Miranda Lambert's Pistol Annies. Hard Rock Café treated us like rockstars-even asked me to autograph the artist guitar in the green room. Maybe they were a little confused by my sequined get-up, but we'll take it, right?!
7.) As a huge classic Country music fan, CMT's "What's Your 20? 20 Greatest Women, 20 Years" must have been very exciting! What was your experience like filming a television show?
When they first approached me to be a guest commentator for '20 Greatest Women,' the head producer Shane Caldwell, asked me, "So do you think you could talk about, you know, maybe Reba? Her career, her influence?" I shot back, "How much tape do you have? 'Cause I can take it all the way back to 'Whoever's-In-New-England' Reba if I have to!" And just like that, I was sitting in a makeup chair. It was my first network TV appearance for CMT and I just couldn't believe it was happening. They introduced me to the crew, sat me in front of the green screen, and told me to just be myself. One month later, I was sitting with friends watching the premiere, fielding at least a dozen calls from my mama screaming how proud she was of me-and asking me why my hair was so flat. CMT will never know how grateful I am for that opportunity.
8.) Since you have been a performer your entire life, what artists have influenced you along the way?
Elvis Presley, Patsy, Loretta, The Eagles, Otis Redding, Fleetwood Mac, and Carole King were all a part of my musical tapestry growing up. Patty Griffin, Emmylou Harris, Patty Loveless, and Linda Ronstadt were influential, but Reba McEntire was the artist that changed me. I just ate up those albums as a kid, and finally saw her in concert in college. She is the quintessential performer. I was mesmerized by how she could raise one eyebrow onstage and have 14-thousand people eating out of the palm of her hand.
9.) As a Country music consultant for Six Flags Over Georgia, what type of duties did you have to fulfill? And what ride would you sneak on to when the boss wasn't watching!
I'd actually been a performer in their shows, but was brought on as a "Country connoisseur" if you will, to help write a new Country show for the 2009 season. I was really the only Country singer in the department, and because of my own music endeavors, I had ties to studios, producers, and musicians in the Atlanta music scene. They hired me to cast the songs, engineer the show demo, and sing on the actual show tracks! Being cast in the show was icing on the cake-every day, the lights and fog would come on, and I would smile remembering how it all started with five songs on a post-it note. It went on to win an IAAPA Award for Best Theme Park Show. PS, Totally snuck out in full Zombie costume and makeup during my final FrightFest for one last ride on the original Monster Plantation. Shhh.
10.) You have had a chance to interact/interview many of Country music's biggest names. Which experience sticks out the most?
It takes a lot to render me speechless, but I could not form words when I met Dolly Parton. Talk about an idol-I actually have a tattoo commemorating my two favorite Dolly songs. I was so awestruck by her beauty, her voice, her humor, and her heart. Also, Jake Owen kissed my cheek on the red carpet at the CMT Music Awards and complimented my dress - that wasn't too shabby either.
1) What current song in any genre, do you have on repeat?
"Springsteen" from Eric Church's new album Chief. If I close my eyes, I smell honeysuckle and see "lightning bugs" every time I hear it. It's a flawless album.
2) If you could choose one actress to play you in a movie about your life, who would it be?
Kate Winslet-let's face it, the woman survived the Titantic, the Holocaust, and snagged an Oscar in the process. I'm also hoping her British accent might give me some sophistication.
3) Who is your favorite person to follow on Twitter and why?
Of course, Blake Shelton, his "Blake-isms" are hysterical, but what really tickles me is how generously and genuinely he responds to his fans. He just gets what being an artist is truly about, and it's all because he's just a sweetheart of a guy.