Kelsea Ballerini is officially "unapologetically in love."
The 24-year-old GRAMMY-nominated country star released her long-awaited sophomore album, Unapologetically, on Friday and to celebrate, she went back to her roots and took ET's Certified Country along for the ride.
"I've always wanted to do a show at my high school, but I wanted to make sure it was the right time," she says over cookies at her favorite local bakery, Rita's, in Knoxville, Tennessee. Later that night, she would play for a sold-out crowd of fans on the same stage at her alma mater, Central High School, where she performed an original song for the very first time as a student.
"I've done a couple hometown shows and they've been really, really special, but getting to do it at my high school -- I feel already so emotional about it," she says. "It was really defining years for me and so to start this next chapter and putting this record out where this all started, it feels super full circle."
Ballerini's next chapter includes not only a major album release, but a marriage. She's set to tie the knot with fiance Morgan Evans in a few short weeks, just under one year after he popped the question.
The adorable couple's romance has been nothing short of a whirlwind. Evans proposed nine months after the pair met while hosting an awards ceremony in his native Australia last March. Shortly after, Ballerini wrote her album's title track in his honor.
"I wrote it three weeks after we met," she adorably admits, "and I was like, 'This feels aggressively quick.' So I didn't show it to him until a couple of months later."
Eventually, Evans would go on to record backing vocals for the sweet track. She broke the news in an interview with ET back in February.
"It was one of my favorites from the beginning," Ballerini says of the song. "When I showed it to him, it was one of his favorites too."
Ballerini's mom also makes a sweet cameo via voicemail recording on "In Between" -- a song that's topically reminiscent of Britney Spears' iconic "I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman." In the chorus, Ballerini sings, "Sometimes I'm my mother's daughter, sometimes I'm her friend."
"It is my favorite line," she says. "But that is what the whole song revolved around, and she has been such a big part of this journey. She moved me to Nashville and I just felt like it was a perfect ode to her."
On "I Hate Love Songs," Ballerini declares: "I hate Shakespeare and Gosling and cakes with white frosting/Two names in a heart-shaped tattoo."
"I don't hate [Ryan] Gosling! I'm a human!" Ballerini hilariously explains. "I love the Dr. Seuss kind-of rhyme of it all."
The early fan-favorite track is placed on the album just ahead of her gushiest offering, "Unapologetically."
"I love the contrast of that," she says. "It's that story of, 'Oh man, you're going to turn me into that sappy girl.' And then the release of, like, 'I'm here! Hello, sappy Kelsea.' I like that tug of war."
Ballerini's hometown show was a family affair for the singer, with her fiance and her father among those showing their support. The event was part of the Tennessee Department of Tourism Development's "The Soundtrack of America: Made in Tennessee" Snapchat concert series, which brought in fans from 28 states. Tickets were completely free and all snapped up within one minute. For her part, Ballerini teamed with the Academy of Country Music to donate $20,000 to the school's choral department.
As Ballerini prepares to walk down the aisle and embark on a tour, she says the couple's "two-week rule" is what keeps their relationship strong.
"You just have to make it happen," she says. "I think that if we didn't make that rule, we'd go months all the time [without seeing each other.] But our relationship is obviously a priority. It's one thing that makes me happier than anything else, so I need to have that as a priority in my life."
As for how she thinks marriage will change their dynamic, her answer is simple: "I don't."
"I think that's the best part," Ballerini gushes. "I think that we're both so happy in our lives right now. Were both in the craziest seasons in our careers and I think it's just an extra layer of, we're going to do this forever."
You can see Ballerini's interview in this week's episode of Certified Country, below. Watch and Follow for fresh new episodes with country's top hitmakers every week.
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