At the beginning of last year, Universal Music Group chairman Luke Lewis was presented with some demos by record producer Brent Rowan. It’s a story that’s been retold many times, but not often by Lewis himself.
“He brought three or four demos in on different artists one day, and one of them was this girl and he didn’t say who it was,” Lewis told Pollstar. “It was obviously really good, and I was sort of leaning on him to tell me who it was. He said, ‘She’s sitting right down the hall in your office.'”
The girl on the demo was Lewis’ own assistant, who had been working for him for more than a year.
After Roberts graduated from Belmont University with a music business degree, she started working as a receptionist at Universal Music Group. She kept her music career to herself because, after all, things could get uncomfortable if your boss has to turn you down.
“I was flabbergasted,” Lewis said, “and also really, really happy. She was a really wonderful assistant, she’s got a great work ethic and she’s pleasant. Everybody liked her, she was professional, all the things you hope for in an assistant and an artist.”
He signed her that day. The staff, though, didn’t learn about it for two more months. They found out during a retreat in July 2003 that their co-worker was also one of their clients.
Roberts stayed on at UMG for six months, training Lewis’ current assistant. In fact, Lewis figured out during the interview when Roberts worked for him by quizzing his current help. (“You’ve been here more than a year? God, I really do like you! Just kidding.”)
It was the kind of friendly ribbing that Roberts probably got when she was at the desk. The singer was tickled when she heard about it.
“That’s so funny! I love him!” she told Pollstar. “He always says things like that which will surprise you.”
Roberts is nothing if not effervescent or, as Lewis said, joyous. The 25-year-old is obviously a good sport, too; she let Country Music Television to do a documentary on her, allowing the cameras to film her without makeup as she got up in the morning to go to work. But, she wanted to show her fans what it’s like to be a newly signed artist, no matter what.
The CMT reality show debuted last May and was a catalyst for her album’s successful debut, although radio is still a little slow coming to the party. In the meantime, Roberts has been doing lots of fly dates and is heading out for a tour with Rascal Flatts in October.
“I’m so excited about that. I love the idea of having a show every single night,” she said.
And, she’s getting to play the Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon between performances by Josh Groban and Celine Dion.
“How awesome is that?! I’m so excited. Gaw-lee!” she effused. She was packing clothes for a West Coast tour at the time.
Certainly, Roberts’ experience at Universal put her at an advantage, interacting with the business folks day in and day out. She already knew of Ron Baird, Shania Twain’s agent, by working with Lewis.
“Yeah, I knew the business – that’s what I went to school for, and then you learn a lot interning there after two years, Roberts said. “I pretty much want to say I still learn every single day, but I had a pretty good background even before I got signed.”
Lewis concurred, “She definitely knew (about Baird). When she was ready to go, she had a pretty keen sense of what was going on. Everything you sort of worry about with an artist, I’ve never worried about with her. She just took it upon herself to take care of business on her own.”
Lewis stressed that this unique story could not be possible if it wasn’t for the fact that Roberts’ album is so strong, and most reviews have agreed with the record exec.
The singer was introduced to Baird and signed to Creative Artists Agency. When the agent retired, Roberts began working with CAA’s Darin Murphy. Lewis also introduced her to former Atlantic Group’s Executive VP/GM Ron Shapiro, who became her manager.
“I fell in love with Ron’s work ethic and just his nature,” Roberts said. “You have to like your manager as a person, and he just works so hard every single day for me. [Lewis] made the introduction, but I made the decision myself and I think I made a great decision. He’s awesome.”