Kellie Coffey

Years before Kellie Coffey landed the BNA record deal that launched her solo country career, the singer was already making a living as a professional entertainer in Los Angeles.

“I was a stripper. No, I’m kidding,” she chuckled to POLLSTAR before boarding a tour bus to finish up her summer tour. “I did a lot of work as a session singer out in Los Angeles, so I did a lot of work for film and TV.”

Those gigs included work for “Walker, Texas Ranger” and Disney theme parks, not bad for a former Vocal Performance major from Moore, Okla. But her dream was to pursue a solo career, and that dream would not be denied.

“I did a lot of demo work out there also,” she said. “It was really great because I had that background under me before I got to make my record. I felt really comfortable in the studio and was glad for that.”

A turning point in her quest came when she was singing backup for Melissa Manchester, who was then a client of Chris Burke at William Morris Agency. Burke attended a show at Poway Center for the Performing Arts near San Diego, and was obviously impressed.

“I know the date, because I’ll never forget that date,” he told POLLSTAR. “It was May 20, 2000. … I was out there just to see Melissa. And Melissa said to me, just kinda being funny, ‘Be good out there in the audience because you’re sitting next to our background singer’s husband.’ And I said, ‘OK, I’ll try to be quiet.'”

He and Coffey’s husband had what the agent described as a “typical husband/agent conversation” during which hubby asked if he could send Burke Kellie’s recently mixed demo.

“By the time the show ended, I said, ‘Make sure you get me that CD,'” Burke recalled. “It was only based on a couple of solos she had within the show, a line here, a line there. But you could tell she was not your average background singer.

“I got it a few days later and it was the first time I’d ever reacted to a CD like that, something I’d just gotten out of the blue. It was obviously special.”

Burke started pursuing Coffey “as an agent chases an artist” and they became close friends. After about a year and a half, around the time her deal with RCA/BNA Records closed, Coffey signed to WMA, with Rob Beckham in the Nashville office handling the day-to-day duties.

“It meant a lot to me that he believed in me before I even had the team around me,” Coffey said of Burke. “He’s definitely a big part of the reason I wanted to be at William Morris.”

Kellie Coffey

At around the same time, Coffey moved to Nashville full time and began meeting with management candidates. She sided with Mike Betterton and Clint Higham at Morris Management Group.

“I think it was just gut instinct,” Coffey said. “I know how that sounds, but I really made the decision because I thought they were excited about me, and young and hungry. … I felt like we could really have a good working relationship.

“And they haven’t done too bad with Mr. Kenny Chesney either.”

Chesney’s Margaritas and Senoritas tour with Montgomery Gentry provided Coffey with the biggest live audiences she’s ever had.

“I was on the first half (of the tour) from January to April. … It was unbelievable. I was so excited to be on the hottest tour going and performing to sold-out crowds every night. It was huge for me. I learned a lot and grew a lot as a performer,” she said.

Following the tour, Coffey’s star got some polishing from the Academy of Country Music, which awarded her with the top new female vocalist award. Months later, she said the win was still sinking in, but she likes what it means for her career.

“I think it solidifies that you’re going to be around

that people are watching you and that they expect great things from you,” she said. “I think, basically, you get the stamp of approval to go on and make some more great music.”

Coffey said she has already gone back into the studio to work on the followup to her BNA debut, When You Lie Next To Me, which will again see her joined by producer Dann Huff.

This time, she said, the team is looking for a slightly less-polished sound than her first album, which has as much in common with adult contemporary as it does country.

A single from the forthcoming album is expected to drop in late September. After the writing and recording for the record are done, she’ll again hit the road, including numerous radio stops.

“When my first single came out, I hit a lot of radio, and even on my second single as well,” she explained. “The radio guys have really supported me. That means everything.”