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Lauren Alaina is in country music for keeps. And if you've doubted that, you need to check out this video of her boldly debuting a song she just co-wrote, "Same Day, Different Bottle," at a private music industry party in Nashville on Monday. The American Idol alumnus turns 19 on Friday but seemed soulful well beyond her years as she delivered a bold, freshly minted ballad about her father's struggle with alcoholism.
Alaina performed the song for about a hundred guests at a CMT Next Women of Country brunch. Although the tune really wasn't intended for public consumption yet — she hasn't even started recording her second album yet — we caught her performance on shaky-cam video, and Alaina graciously allowed us to share it with you, as a glimpse into the pain she's experienced personally and the great strides she's making professionally.
We caught up again with Alaina in Nashville Tuesday night to ask her about the true-life story behind "Same Day, Different Bottle."
"The song is about my father," she confirmed. "He actually got out of rehab today! I haven’t gotten to see him yet, because he’s back in Chattanooga, where I’m from. That song was like therapy for me. It’s not easy growing up in a household with something like that. I love my dad — he’s one of my favorite people in the world — and he’s a great person. He just struggled with alcohol, and he’s overcoming it right now, so I’m really proud of him. I played him the song, and he loved it. It made him cry. I think it was good for him to hear my side and to see how it affected me. Today is a new beginning for him. It’s gonna be a battle for the rest of his life, but I’m going to be right there with him, and pray that every day he doesn’t want to drink it up and touch a bottle. I hope it’s no longer the same day, different bottle. Different day, no bottle!"
The song will surprise anyone who expected Alaina, who came to fame at 16 and still has one year left as a teenager, to focus on the sunshine-and-roses side of a personality that so charmed a nation on Idol.
"It’s a lot harder to write a song like that than it is to write a happy one, I can tell you that right now," she told us. Not that she has huge amounts of experience with either kind. "I just recently really got into songwriting. So I feel like with this new album, I’m probably not gonna write every song on there, but the ones that I do, people will learn more about me and who I am—for the good and the bad."
"Same Day, Different Bottle" reflects the good, the bad, the ugly, and the blossoming. That last part may not be reflected in the lyrics themselves so much as what Alaina got out of the process of co-writing it with Caitlyn Smith and Dan Couch.
"It was therapeutic," Alaina affirmed. "I went in that day and it was weighing on my heart. I was worried about my dad and about my life. I didn’t want to write about it, yet I did want to write about it, because I knew it would probably make me feel better. And I battled with it for 25 minutes and was really struggling with deciding whether or not to speak up. Because I never, ever even talked about my dad drinking—ever—to anyone. Some of my best friends that I grew up with didn’t know; he went to work every day," so it wasn't like he'd ever been a falling-down drunk whose behavior invited public inspection, she noted.
"So for me to get in a room with two other writers and say 'My dad’s an alcoholic—can we write a song about it?' is a hard thing to say. I’m so glad I did. Because in a weird way, I think it helped my dad and helped me. I don’t know that I would have ever performed it if he didn’t get help, because I didn’t ever want to talk about it. But I think that if people get it when they hear it, it can help other people that are in my situation growing up with that, or the person that’s doing that. It’s a sticky situation to talk about, but so many people are affected by it. It’s my situation and there’s nothing I can do about it, except pray that he stays sober and continues the fight every day. I wrote the song while he was in recovery, about how I felt for so long. Because when he first went in, I was so confused and I didn’t know if it was gonna work. But I’ve talked to him every day, and I have no doubt that he will stay sober. No doubt."
At one point in our chat, as she discussed her painful past, Alaina blurted, with her customary candor, "I believe this is a very sad interview!" But getting this out of her system has obviously resulted in more catharsis than melancholia, and the reaction to the song —in the room at the CMT party, and since we posted it on YouTube — has convinced her she did the right thing. "It’s scary to put out a song like this and see what people think about it, because it is so personal. It’s a problem in my life and not necessarily an uplifting personal thing. But it’s not all bad," especially if listeners know the off-screen denouement is a hopeful one.
And there's nothing downbeat about how the song is proving that Alaina is ready to make a leap forward, putting that proven lungpower behind a tune that merits all the emotion she can muster.
Could it be a hit single? Now, that's another matter. The country chart is currently riddled with a ridiculous number of pro-alcohol — bordering on pro-alcoholism — anthems. If you listen to the format much lately, it could be described as "same hour, different drinking song." Ready or not, Alaina's song could be just the corrective tale to inject some real-life levity into country's current hundred-proof haze.