Mary Sarah turned only 21 in July, but she’s already lived a life many people three times her age could only wish they had lived. With her 2014 album “Bridges,” she sang alongside country music legends like Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton, among others, and then, earlier this year, she competed on “The Voice,” landing a spot on Blake Shelton’s team. She’ll be performing at Champions Billiards on Saturday as part of a benefit for Kathryn Snider and her family to assist in her battle with brain cancer. We caught up with Sarah to talk about how she got started in show business, what it was like being on “The Voice,” and why she wants to one-day work with Trisha Yearwood.
Doing some research, I read that you were involved with Kidz Bop as a child?
I was! I started performing around the age of eight or nine years old, and then I took it seriously at 11. I headed out to L.A. back and forth with my mom and ended up landing Kidz Bop at 12 years old. So, I went on tour for about six months across the east coast and midwest. It was 48 cities and it was absolutely amazing. It was a full-on live rock concert. Me, five other kids, and two lead adults. We played arenas and theaters and it was just really something crazy to do at 12 years old.
Do you still keep in touch with any of those people?
Oh my gosh, yeah. Actually, my mom’s best friend is one of the other kids’ mom. We all keep in touch and keep updated on what we’re doing as far as music and acting and dancing and all that kind of stuff.
How was that experience? It seems like it would be a whirlwind, especially at that age.
It was amazing. Looking back at it now, I guess at the time, I didn’t feel super young. It was just kind of all happening and I didn’t realize that I was 12 years old. Not many 12-year-olds are actually touring at that age. Looking back now, I’m like, “Holy crap, I can’t believe I actually did that.” But it was an amazing experience. I learned so much about stage performance. We would do two-hour autograph sessions after the fact. It was really where I learned I wanted to do this for the rest of my life because I loved the touring aspect, I loved visiting each city.
Where did you go after that? How did you stay connected to the music industry?
I ended up going to L.A. for four months after that. My mom kind of wanted me to be a kid at that age. It was a little intense – the classes and auditions and things like that – so, she was like, “You know what? I think we should go back to Texas.” So, I went back to Texas and started performing in the oprys again. I really dug myself into traditional country music, falling in love with it. I went to high school, played tennis. I was an average kid for a bit, but I was still doing music on the side. I never wanted to stop. My typical weekend wasn’t out partying on a Friday night, it was playing at the opry to 80-year-olds and up.
You eventually landed on “The Voice,” but I think you put out “Bridges” before that?
I did. I started “Bridges” at the age of 15.
That’s amazing, considering the people you worked with. That had to have been such a trip.
Yeah, it was kind of same thing as Kidz Bop, though. When it was happening, I didn’t realize how young I was. The older I get, I’m like, “Oh my gosh, that’s crazy.” Luckily I had my family around me to support me. Being 15 and singing with people like Dolly Parton and Merle (Haggard) and Willie (Nelson) – these people have been there, done that, and bought the t-shirt. And here I am, just stepping my foot into country music. It was intimidating, but at the same time, I literally grew so much as an artist with that project. It lasted between the time I was 15 and 18 years old. In between there, I was able to perform with Merle and Willie, and it just felt like college to me. They were giving me advice and everything. There was so much learning to do during that time in my life, and there still is.
Leading into “The Voice,” it was the same kind of idea. I learned so much from these legends with “Bridges,” why not keep doing that with people who have been there, done that, bought the t-shirt? Like Blake Shelton, Pharrell Williams, Adam Levine – they’ve been there. I thought, “This is such an opportunity to keep learning about myself.” One thing I preach as an artist is that you have to put yourself outside of your comfort zone to grow. If you are consistently in your comfort zone, there’s no growing to be done. So, I’m always putting myself out of my comfort zone.
I’m not the competition type, either, but it wasn’t a competition when I got there. It was crazy. I gained so many friends. Starting from the beginning – just even the auditions, the first week we were there, we’ve all kept in touch. I was just in L.A. at Alisan Porter’s house and we all got together at her place to watch season 11’s premiere. Going into it and taking a leap of faith like that, getting out of my comfort zone, it was so great and I gained so many friends from it. It was truly an amazing experience. I look back now and think, “Man, I have done so much and learned so much and had so many opportunities and I’m so blessed.” It’s crazy to only be 21 and look back at my life and see what I’ve done already.
Do you have a favorite memory or a favorite story you might be willing to share about being on “The Voice?”
One of the coolest things that happened was me, Paxton and Adam were still on Blake’s team and Blake had pulled up in a van and was like, “Hey I have some gifts for you guys,” and he gave us Takamine guitars. It was really cool. He said it had been a guitar he’s used on the road and it’s been a really good guitar to him, so it would be good for each of us to have one.
Blake said to you when you were eliminated that being on “The Voice” would open all these doors when you went back to Nashville. How many doors did it open?
Oh my lordy, my life has gotten 100 times busier than it had been. Especially as far as touring and booking dates. The number one thing that happened right off the bat, was that I had my Grand Old Opry debut, and that was crazy. I had dreamt about it for so long and I always wanted to be on it. To have that door open and have the opportunity to grace the stage that so many legends and so many influential people in the U.S. – I mean, presidents have spoken on that stage – it was such an honor and one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.
You’ve done it more than once. Do you ever get used to it?
No. Never. You get a little more comfortable being on the stage, but there’s always still going to be those butterflies and I don’t think it’s ever going to go away. I hope it doesn’t.
I’ve seen that you’ve been on the awards show circuit, like the CMT Awards. How has that been?
Any chance I get to dress up and be like a princess for the night is kind of awesome (laughs). I always feel like it’s a glamorous day when that happens. You wake up in the morning and immediately do hair and makeup. Usually, I always do my own hair and makeup, so when I have somebody else do it, I’m like, “Oh my gosh, this is epic.” To meet all the artists on the carpet, it’s awesome to get to network and do all the interviews. I love that part of it. I’m really hoping that the next time I’m there, I’ll have a reason to be there – like an award to have, or be nominated for an award. So, we’ll have to keep our fingers crossed for that.
Is there anybody you have not worked with yet who you’d really like to work with?
This is crazy, but I just went a breast cancer event and a friend of mine had invited me – his wife was putting on the event. Trisha Yearwood was actually hosting the event and I got to meet her after the fact. I already knew by word of mouth that she’s an amazing person, but just to get to meet her was really amazing. Just to pick her brain more and work with her would be incredible.
When do you think you might have new music? Next year?
As of right now, I’m writing. Anytime I’m back in Nashville, I usually have writes. I’m consistently writing. I’ve got some great songs already in the books. I’m hoping before next year, but if not, maybe just the start of next year. It shouldn’t be too long. I know my fans are wanting some new stuff, so it will be happening soon. I don’t want to rush the process, though, because it is artistry and that takes time. I don’t want to just put half of an effort into it for my fans, just to give them something. I want them to really know who I am, where I come from and what I’m influenced by. With “The Voice,” that was my main goal, too, with every song I chose. I wanted people to get to know me. Picking the classic songs, I had sang those songs for years and years and years. That was my main goal and it still is my main goal – to introduce people to who I am.