Carolyn Dawn Johnson

The day after winning the Academy of Country Music’s best new female vocalist award at Los Angeles’ Universal Amphitheatre, Carolyn Dawn Johnson was up and doing press by 9 a.m.

“I had a 7:45 pick-up to go have this breakfast with some business folks,” Johnson told POLLSTAR a few hours after checking out of her Los Angeles hotel May 23rd. “It was hilarious because I had to cut off my night.”

Johnson said she was in her room just after midnight and called to wake her parents to celebrate the big win.

“They were out for their anniversary when it first happened,” she said. “So, we had a good chat for a while and then I just got cozy and went to bed.”

She also had to deal with a dress emergency earlier that day. The outfit, brought out to California by her management, turned out to have the sleeve sewn onto the wrong arm and the dress itself was poorly fitted.

“I just happened to be savvy enough to try it on,” she said, having spent the day doing CMT press. “We had to get the sweet little lady from housekeeping to help us take it apart and re-sew it. We didn’t have any options besides what we brought. I had a panic attack for a few moments.”

Eventually, some chains were sewn onto the sleeve, a design Johnson created from necessity.

None of this rock star stuff, partying ’til the break of midnight and self-designed evening gowns, surprised her agent, CAA’s Rod Essig. He called POLLSTAR from L.A. that day and confirmed Johnson’s genuineness.

“I’m telling you: I love Carolyn,” he said. “She’s one of the unique people. She’s really real; she’s not two different people.

This is what you get onstage or offstage. I think the most fun thing is she’s living her dream.”

Johnson felt the same way for Essig; it’s a love fest.

“There’s just something about him,” she said. “He’s the whole reason why I had to be with that company, just because of him. They’re all wonderful, but Rod’s definitely a special person. … Agents are agents, but I don’t feel like he’s just an agent. I feel like he genuinely believes. And, he’s definitely got me some good gigs here.”

Included were supporting tour slots for Kenny Chesney and Alan Jackson along with the Girls’ Night Out tour.

Essig said the Nashville office of CAA was obviously having a big day and getting ready for a big week. Not only did his client Johnson get good exposure the evening before, but so did fellow CAA client and Johnson’s former employer, Phil Vassar, who won new male vocalist. Yet another CAA up-and-comer, Trick Pony, won new vocal group.

Carolyn Dawn Johnson

Essig said a package was already in the works for the fall that features Johnson, Vassar and buzz band Pinmonkey, set for theatres or small arenas.

“We’re really excited,” he said, and wouldn’t you know it, he sounded excited. “That whole next level keeps growing and coming up. We all want to build some new headliners.”

The award certainly put Johnson one step toward that direction. Prior to the singer getting the brass, Essig said, “As a rule, I heard, ‘Oh yeah, she’s that Canadian girl,’ or something. Her imaging was really helped last night.”

Around 1996, Johnson was a waitress at Vassar’s Hard Day’s Night club. During the previous three years, she would commute 3,000 miles from Vancouver to Nashville until she was able to obtain a work visa. While waitressing, she’d join in on the late-night jams at the club and grabbed her share of attention from industry types.

During Christmastime ’96, Johnson went to the Printer’s Alley club where she normally jammed with some friends. On this occasion, her buddies coaxed her onstage even though she was in her waitress clothes because “there’s somebody here who needs to see you.”

That was her future manager, Scott Siman, who also manages Tim McGraw, among others.

A few meetings later, Johnson said Siman told her, “‘I believe in you and it’s going to take time. I’m not talking days and months; I’m talking years.'”

Johnson, who began her path to Nashville with a songwriting video sent to her house in Canada, has written cuts for Kathy Mattea, Pam Tillis and Linda Davis. More notably, Chely Wright’s chart-topper “Single White Female” was penned by Johnson, as well as Jo Dee Messina’s “Down Time.”

In April, she won a Juno, Canada’s equivalent to the Grammys, for best country artist.

At the ACMs, Johnson’s name was called by Jamie O’Neal, a fellow traveler on the Girls’ Night Out, which also included Reba McEntire, Martina McBride and Sara Evans.

“I was glad (O’Neal) did because when I got up there, I was so nervous and feeling overwhelmed,” Johnson said. “Just getting a chance to have a hug and be calm for one second before I had to talk was a good thing for me because I was trying to get it together.”

The singer/songwriter got it together enough to remember to thank the performers of Girls’ Night Out, as well as the fans, her agency and management.

“You know who I didn’t thank?” Johnson asked. “My producer, Paul Worley. My publisher, Universal Music and EMI. Gosh. Country radio, CMT.

My co-writers. I forgot way too many people.

“I refused to bring a list with me just in case I won and sure enough, my little plan of ‘If I won I’d remember everybody’ didn’t seem to work. … It’s like you wanna win for them, you know? You don’t want to lose because everybody’s kind of in it together and we’ve all been working so hard.”