Little Big Town’s Kimberly Schlapman Talks Returning to Host the CMT Music Awards

2018 CMT Artists Of The Year - Red Carpet
Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images for CMT

Little Big Town is in for a busy night when the 2019 CMT Music Awards take over Nashville.

Not only do Jimi Westbrook, Karen Fairchild, Phillip Sweet and Kimberly Schlapman return to host for the second time in a row, but the harmonious headliners also join a record-breaking list of performances, first taking the stage with Thomas Rhett and Trombone Shorty, then singing their latest hit “The Daughters.” And let’s not forget the chance to take home some fan-voted trophies.

Schlapman checked in from the road to talk about how they’re getting ready, women in country and making new music in today’s landscape.

What would you say you guys learned last year from hosting that you’re going to apply to this year’s show?

Kimberly Schlapman: Last year was the first time we’ve done anything like that. Reading a teleprompter was something to get used to. I think we had that pretty well wrapped up by the end. Just feeding off the energy of the crowd. That crowd is so much fun and so infectious. They make the job easy because they want to be there. They want you there. The biggest takeaway for me was to be ourselves because it comes across authentic. We love to have a good time, so that’s what we’re going after this year. Just trying to have a good old time again.

Little Big Town performs onstage at the 2018 CMT Music Awards at Bridgestone Arena on June 6, 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for CMT)

It seems like the CMT Music Awards in particular really is a party atmosphere. What’s it like to prepare for the show and trying to stand out from other past hosts of these ceremonies?

I’ll tell you, we haven’t started our run-through yet. We have been so busy. We’re gong to do that in a couple of days, the run-through of the script. CMT has such great writers. They know our personalities, so they’ll gear it toward that. We’re looking forward to getting with them as it’s all very collaborative. If we read the script and something doesn’t feel right, they give us the ability to change it or come up with something different to run by us. They are awesome to work with. By the time we are prepped, we’ll feel good about it.

Do you take inspiration from other hosts, like a Reba McEntire or Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood?

Reba, any time we’re around her, we just feed off her. The talent and her genuineness. It just comes so natural for her. She is so good at it. Brad and Carrie, their chemistry is so incredible. They have and are amazing writers. We definitely studied and learned from those people, for sure. Then, when it’s your turn, you realize how hard these hosting jobs are. We hope to be close to as good as they are. That would be our goal.

Karen Fairchild (L) and Kimberly Schlapman (R) of musical group Little Big Town and Gladys Knight perform onstage during the 2018 CMT Artists of The Year. (Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for CMT)

In addition to hosting, together you’re also nominated for Group Video of the Year. In addition, you and Karen are up for CMT Performance of the Year with Gladys Knight from your performance at the 2018 CMT Artists of the Year event. How does it feel to be in the running for an award alongside such a legend?

We met Gladys Knight backstage at The Voice several years ago. We are lifelong fans of hers. We’ve been fans forever and grew up on her music. We hit it off real quick with her and said, “Let’s do something together.” Not long after that, she invited us to be a part of a charity event she was doing.

We went over to one of the Carolinas and sang with her for that benefit. We started a friendship with her. Just being on stage her, it’s like you died and gone to heaven. It doesn’t get any better than that. We did a string of shows at the Ryman and asked her to come sing at one of the shows as a surprise for our crowd.

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That was one of the sweetest gifts anyone has ever done for us. The crowd flipped out. They went crazy when she was there. Then they asked us to do the collaboration for the CMT special. Every time we are with that woman it gets better and better.

To be actually nominated with someone who as a little girl, both Karen and I, revered and looked up to. In my bedroom, I sang duets with Gladys Knight. It’s incredible to be in a category with her. She is just precious, too. She is so genuine, kind and gracious. As beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside. That voice is just as beautiful as ever.

By the same token, there are so many inspired by you and Karen and what you’ve been able to do in Little Big Town. Your most recent music video and song “The Daughters” has gotten a lot of airplay. It has really resonated with people. How has it been to feel such a response for the lyrics and the empowering message you’re sending?

We really wanted to touch the hearts of people. Get into their real souls of people who raised little girls, so the tides can turn, and things can change, and little girls can grow up knowing that they can do anything they set their minds to. Just to not have the restrictions or expectations put on them that so many of us had.

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Growing up I was raised by amazing parents. They gave me the confidence to go live my dreams and do anything I wanted to do. So many young women just have restrictions put upon them and expectations that are often unfair. This song is to encourage us to raise girls who can reach beyond that and be strong and proud and gracious and just whatever they set their minds to.

I have two girls of my own. It’s a message to them. What’s wonderful about this generation that we’re raising is that they are kind of oblivious to the inequality toward women because it’s beginning to change. So, for them, they don’t see why they can’t be president one day or run a corporation, even play sports with men someday. They don’t see those barriers. That’s what is so incredible for girls of this generation. They’ve overcome those obstacles that have for so many generations been put in our way.

You mention gender equality. There have been those within country music who have been outspoken about women in the genre and getting a fair shake. Do you believe the tide is turning in this case?

I really hope so. I think there has begun an uprising amongst the artists in country music to be the cause of change. I think it’s time. If you look back at the history of country music, the foundation is so many women. From Patsy Cline to Loretta Lynn to Dolly Parton to Emmylou Harris and, as of late, we have Martina McBride and Faith Hill and Reba, for goodness sakes.

Where in the world would country music be without these women? The fact there are so many women not being played on the radio is really sad because they have so much to say. I believe a change is coming. We need country listeners to ask for it. We need them to call radio stations and ask for the women, so these stations understand that we as country music fans want to hear what women have to say.

What can you tell us about new music?

We are finishing a record as we speak. Over the next several months we’re going to release songs from that record. We’re going to feed it to the fans to give them a chance to get a taste of what it’s about. We don’t have a confirmed date when the full album will be released, but it’s coming.

Is the sound of the album what fans are accustomed to, or will it be somewhat different for your ninth outing?

What we love to do is try to make music that is certainly recognizable to the fans, but our goal with every record is to evolve. To branch out a little bit. It will certainly be a Little Big Town record that will also show some growth and evolution.

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You guys have been around for so long. You’re always on the road and doing things together. Is there anything you guys disagree about? Whether it’s what to have for dinner or what to watch on Netflix, there has to be something.

No. Not really. If we’re sending out a group text about where we want to eat for dinner and someone doesn’t answer, it’s hard to make a decision. Then we make a decision and that person is like, “I didn’t want Italian.” That’s the problem. When it comes to TV, the boys love sports. We let them have their sports. Karen likes the Housewives, and I love a good cooking show.

The guys are okay watching that?

They are. These days we have our own things to watch and can dictate what we want to watch, but in the old days we would all watch TV together. We’ve been together for so long that we’re just a family now.

2019 CMT Music Awards, Wednesday, June 5, Live 8/7c, CMT

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