Kelsea Ballerini Host the 2024 CMT Awards. Reveal it’s Her Final Year.

Kelsea Ballerini Host the 2024 CMT Awards. Reveal it's Her Final Year.

Kelsea Ballerini Host the 2024 CMT Awards

Kelsea Ballerini has been the main host of the CMT Music Awards for the past few years, but that’s ending. Tonight’s show will be her last time at the helm, after co-hosting with Kane Brown in the past.

Ballerini talked about her experience hosting the awards, which are now broadcast on CBS. She’s enjoyed her time but is also excited to pursue other opportunities. The day before the show, she relaxed and was happy backstage at the Moody Center in Austin and opened up about her decision to step down.

Kelsea Ballerini confirmed this is her last year hosting the CMT Awards. She said: “It’s my final year, yeah.” Ballerini has been involved with the show for four years and has enjoyed hosting “many different kinds of ventures over the last decade.” Hosting was her first big experience outside of music, and it made her ask herself: “‘What else? Like, what else can I do?'”

Ballerini is open to returning, but she wants to explore new things for now. She said: “Never say never — I will never say that I won’t come do this again. I love it. I just am excited to see what else I can do.”

Ballerini has hinted at wanting to work in other media before. She wants to “get involved with newer artists and find a way to creatively collaborate.” She’s also excited about the idea of “doing some stuff in film and TV and just pushing myself outside of my comfort zone.” While music will always be “my baby and my focus and the thing that I protect the most,” she said, “in the space around it, I want to keep growing and I want to keep challenging myself.”

Kelsea Ballerini Host the 2024 CMT Awards.  Reveal it's Her Final Year.

Taking on the hosting role solo wasn’t scary for her. She feels confident after her experience, although she misses having Kane Brown there to help her avoid tripping. She said with a laugh: “I wear a lot of very large heels, and now I don’t have a friendly arm next to me to help me not trip. So that’s terrifying.”

Ballerini released a new, slower and more emotional version of her hit 2014 single on April 5, explaining in an Instagram post that her goal was to celebrate the beginning of her career and how far she’s come in the decade since.

Ballerini has a new album in progress, which will follow up her Grammy-nominated “Rolling Up the Welcome Mat” project. But before she starts teasing that, the singer has just released a between-albums one-off — a newly rearranged version of her breakout hit “Love Me Like You Mean It,” which she considers “just a little thank-you” to the fans who’ve been with her for 10 years. That’s the song she’ll be seen doing on the CMTs, pre-taped in front of a crowd at the tower at UT Austin.

“I still stand by the song and the sentiment so much,” she avows. “The heart of ‘Love Me Like You Mean It’ is that we accept the love we think we deserve, and encourage each other to hold ourselves accountable to accept good love. And I as a 30-year-old feels the same way, but has a lot of life since I wrote that song at 19. So I was like, how would 30-year-old me sing this? And that was a really fun discovery. To me it was like the ending of a decade of music together, and and then a continuation of ‘Welcome Mat’ and sonically kind of a hint as to what’s next.”

Kelsea Ballerini Host the 2024 CMT Awards.  Reveal it's Her Final Year.

Her role in the show aside, Ballerini has picks for what she thinks telecast highlights might be.

“In my opinion, the performance of the night’s gonna be Little Big Town and Sugarland, that they already have such a synergy and a history together,” she says. Although the identity of the song the two acts are doing together isn’t being revealed prior to showtime, “I’ve heard the song, because Karen (Fairchild) is just a dear sister to me,” she says. “And I remember when I heard ‘Life in a Northern Town when they did it together years ago” — on the CMT Awards in 2008, the last time those two groups collaborated on a performance — “and it just brings me right back to that, and I think it’s gonna be a moment.”

Also Read: 2024 CMT Music Awards Complete Winner List, Performances Here.

She’s also high on a brand new artist, Dasha, who’ll be transitioning from TikTok star to prime-time television for the first time with a performance of “Austin.”

“I mean, we have Trisha (Yearwood) and we have Keith (Urban) holding it down, as pillar, household-name country artists that people have tuned into these shows for for years and years to see. And then the range goes all the way to Dasha, who is blowing up on TikTok. I called Jason (Owen), my manager, about a month ago, and I was like, ‘I don’t know if all the performance spots are booked or not, but if not, can we get her on the show’ She has the song called “Austin”’” — as in, perfectly coincidentally, the host city — “and it’s perfect. I think we need her, and I’m so happy she’s on the show now. And it’s her first awards show performance and her first performance in an arena, so it’s a big deal.”

Kelsea Ballerini Host the 2024 CMT Awards.  Reveal it's Her Final Year.

The host finds herself now in that hopefully sweet spot where she’s looked up to as a veteran by some of the youngest female artists coming up but is still a veritable kid to much of the industry that’s kept her as a star for 10 years — a middle ground she’s happy to inhabit right now, however hard it is to realize from the inside out fully.

“That makes me smile,” she says, when told how many young women with debut albums mention her as an influence or someone they hope to meet. “I’m always in conversation with myself on finding the right line of still thinking I’m a new artist, and then also honoring the decade that I’ve had and not discrediting the success I’ve had. I feel like I’ve spent a lot of my career kind of with my shoulders a little bit hunched in, and I’m really trying to stand tall in this last decade of work and be proud of myself and show up for that, while also knowing that I still have a long way to go and I always wanna push myself and keep growing.

So it’s really fun to be able to be friends with and in the same room and situations as my heroes, but then also being meeting the newer artists that I still really identify with, a lot of the time.”

Of her previous three stints hosting or co-hosting the CMTs, last year was her favorite. “I was proud of the show as a whole, and I was proud of what I was able to bring to the show,” she says of 2023’s show— including a musical performance from her that included a phalanx of drag queens, right as Tennessee legislators were enacting anti-drug legislation, plus an opening statement addressing gun violence in the wake of a Nashville mass school shooting. “As far as my opening statement, my performance hosting with Kane, being in a new city, I feel like we really did bring a new breath of life to the show that was really fun to watch happen in real time. So I think that, for me, is the bar.”

Kelsea Ballerini Host the 2024 CMT Awards.  Reveal it's Her Final Year.

Definitely not the high point, but something she is able to look back on with some affection, was the year 2022, when she was scheduled to co-host in person with Anthony Mackie but shifted to virtual co-host when she tested positive for COVID, despite feeling fine. Brown stepped in to assume some of the duties she would have had at the host arena in Nashville, while Ballerini did live remotes from the socially distanced comfort of home.

“I laugh at it now, and I’m really proud of the pivot that we ended up being able to do,” Ballerini says. “It would’ve been really easy for them to be like, ‘OK, we’re gonna just fill your spot,’ and they didn’t. They put a satellite truck outside of my house with all the equipment that it was easy for me to figure out and to still be a part of it. It was very much a bookmark of that time, which was pivoting and figuring things out as it was happening to us. It definitely wasn’t ideal, but we pulled it off, and I got to end the night in my sweatpants, so it was a win.”

She highly approves of the CMTs being in Austin for a second year, as both this show and the ACMs have shifted to a Texas base for the sake of shaking things up but also with no small help from financial incentives. “You know, I am Team Evolve. I’m Team Try Something New — see how it works, see if it’s right,” she says. “I just think especially as a genre, being able to put ourselves in new places and try new things, that’s how we evolve. And to be here, whether it’s for just two years or the next 20, I think it was an awesome, healthy change.”

This year, “I do know going into these moments that I love having fun with the fashion and the looks and all that stuff, and I really pride myself on not taking myself too damn seriously. And I think especially with this show, and really with the script this year in particular, I get to lean into that more and just kind of be who I am.” Which is… “Really, I’m a goofy girl, and I like being able to be that alongside being a credible artist. Two things can live in the same space.”

Kelsea Ballerini Host the 2024 CMT Awards.  Reveal it's Her Final Year.

Ballerini’s next album has fans guessing about its sound. Her 2022 album “Subject to Change” was mostly upbeat and lighthearted, while her 2023 EP (later expanded to an album) “Rolling Up the Welcome Mat” was a much darker exploration of her personal struggles related to divorce.

The success of “Welcome Mat” proved Ballerini’s artistic depth to some who might have previously underestimated her. It earned her Album of the Year nominations at major awards shows, something her poppier material hadn’t achieved.

The big question is: Will her next album be a return to mainstream pop-country, or will she continue in a more serious direction?

“Well, I think that’s kind of like what I was saying earlier: two things can be true. Like I am a deeply emotional and committed songwriter. That is my absolute truth. It is the love of my life; it is my craft. And even in this new season of life, I’m really being diligent about making a record that has that same level of songwriting and honesty and intention as ‘Welcome Mat’ in depth. In the same breath, I’m a 30-year-old girl that really is enjoying my life, and I’m in a different phase of my life now that is filled with a lot more light and joy. And I love being able to celebrate that, and there’s space for both.”

But you won’t see much of the “Welcome Mat” side of her on the CMTs. For the bigger audience that now watches the show live on CBS and Paramount+ (and, after a few days, its namesake, CMT, too), she will be rolling out a true welcome mat that’s closer to comedic in tone.

“You know, I’m gonna be doing a little ‘Barbie’ bit. I’m gonna be doing a little impromptu collab. And I’m gonna be making fun of myself at the top of the show. Because I just like to beat people to the punch, and I am going to be probably losing (as a nominee)… but looking good and doing it well.”

Kelsea Ballerini Host the 2024 CMT Awards

On Sunday, April 7, at the annual CMT Awards, Kelsea pulled off double duty. She hosted the event and took the stage to perform a new, reimagined version of her debut single, “Love Me Like You Mean It.”

Sporting a sparkly gold bodysuit paired with black tights and heels, Kelsea delivered the track’s updated rendition on an outdoor stage. Fans held golden lights in the air, creating a magical atmosphere.

Kelsea Ballerini Host the 2024 CMT Awards.  Reveal it's Her Final Year.

Kelsea referred to “Love Me Like You Mean It” as the “song that started it all” for her. The track was nominated for breakthrough video of the year at the 2015 CMT Awards (although it ultimately lost to Sam Hunt’s “Leave the Night On”).

This year marked a significant change for Kelsea, as she hosted the CMT Awards solo for the first time. Previously, she co-hosted with Kane Brown. Reflecting on this new experience, she said, “It’s definitely new grounds for me, but it’s my fourth year hosting, so I feel like I’ve learned a lot.”

Other Performers

Aside from Kelsea, the 2024 CMT Awards featured an impressive lineup of performers, including Jelly Roll, Keith Urban, Lainey Wilson, Sam Hunt, Bailey Zimmerman, Jordan Davis, Trisha Yearwood, NEEDTOBREATHE, Cody Johnson, Megan Moroney, Old Dominion, Parker McCollum, and Brittney Spencer.

Kelsea Ballerini’s ability to seamlessly balance her “goofy” and serious sides proves that “two things can live in the same space.” Her performance and hosting skills continue to captivate audiences, making her a true star of the country music scene.

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