Before the days of Facebook and YouTube, Alexandra Kay resided in St. Louis. She was working as a waitress, living with her at-the-time boyfriend (now husband), and chasing a dream. Kay was looking for an in – any in – and while her heart was with country, she was desperate for anything in music that would get her into a studio and share her vision.
In the St. Louis music scene, one artist paved the way for others, and Kay found herself working in Nelly’s studio, Dirty Entertainment. While she had been writing country songs since the age of 14, she would use the lyrics for R&B tracks as a way to get her name out there and learn from some top-notch artists.
“That was just me seeing an opportunity to work my way up in a music scene, any music scene,” the 30-year-old singer told Pollstar. “And really, Nelly was the only person who had truly created a platform in music out of St. Louis. I met a couple of guys that were in hip-hop that were really working hard, grinding it out in the St. Louis music scene. And I was like, ‘I’ll sing on your tracks for free, no cost. Just tell me where to be.’ Once I started doing that, my name kind of got passed around.”
After leaving her first record deal in 2014, Kay realized that she needed to find a way to connect with people. With social media becoming an essential platform, she began uploading covers she sang of old songs she felt she hadn’t heard in a while to Facebook.
Alexandra Kay had been an early adapter to social media. The country singer had been one of the first to utilize the Facebook Live feature, using the platform to stream performances of covers. It was this that led her booking agent, Beth Keith of Sound Talent Group, to find her.
“She was going live and playing with her guitar, and I was scrolling on Facebook one day and a girl who I went to high school with shared her video and said, ‘This girl is going to be a star someday,’” Keith says. “And for whatever reason, that day I felt compelled to just stop and listen and really look into it. There was something about her voice and something about her demeanor that you could just tell she had a work ethic about her. I reached out and was like, ‘Hey, I think you’re incredible. Let’s get on a call.’ And she was up for it. I think within the week we set up a phone call and met each other for the first time.”
From there, Kay’s online influence exponentially grew. She now has 3 million followers on TikTok, 1.2 million followers on Facebook, 218K followers on Instagram, and more than 70K subscribers on YouTube, with her numbers growing by the thousands each day.
While touring clubs in 2021, she sold out shows in Chicago, Colombia, Mo., Dallas, Houston, Grand Rapids, Mich., and Sioux City, Iowa, and she is now gearing up to go on tour opening for Tim McGraw.
Kay’s cover of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” has been viewed more than 60 million times. Similarly, her cover of Tim McGraw’s “Don’t Take The Girl” from September has more than 12 million views and caught the eye of the song’s original singer. McGraw posted a reaction video to Kay’s cover on his own TikTok account, sharing he was impressed and stating that he loved her voice. Then, to take it a step further, McGraw personally called Kay and invited her to open for him on his upcoming tour.
“Alexandra, wow, what a beautiful voice she has and a great soul,” McGraw told Pollstar in an email. “She lights up the room when she comes in.”
With plans to hit the road starting on April 29, Kay will be joining Russell Dickerson and Brandon Davis while opening for McGraw. The power of social media helped McGraw discover Davis as well.
“They were doing great covers and some originals and I thought it was a great opportunity for them,” McGraw continued. “I also thought that they brought a lot of new energy and they’re both very positive people. Together with Russell Dickerson, who has had a bunch of No. 1s and brings such a fun show – I thought they would all fit our tour perfectly.”
The moment came full circle for Kay, who went viral for the first time in 2014 on Facebook with another McGraw cover.
Keith and McGraw are far from the only ones to catch onto Kay’s potential for stardom. Tim Borror, co-founder of Sound Talent Group, admires Kay’s power and how she’s able to relate to her audience through social media.
“It takes real star power to be able to make that connection and do it so organically,” Borror says. “And her work ethic is equal parts to that. She is a workhorse. She’s a total grinder. She gets up every day with the purpose of going to work and bringing more attention to what she’s doing. And those are my favorite things about her.”
Kay’s 2021 tour saw the country singer playing in clubs throughout North America. Reporting 17 dates to Pollstar’s Boxoffice, her summer outing sold 8,275 tickets and grossed $127,749. While TikTok managed to build a new platform for musicians and influencers, it takes a special kind of artist to be successful at both. Social media does not always indicate the power of hard ticket sales, but Kay is beginning to boom.
“She loves everything she’s doing,” Mike Ziemer of Third String Productions, who produced Kay’s Houston and Dallas shows, says. “There’s artists that get on TikTok because they’re told they need to be on TikTok. And then there’s artists that are on TikTok that accidentally blow up and it keeps going. You can just see that genuine care in what they’re doing. I think that best describes her.”
The “In Real Life Tour” that took place over the summer of 2021 saw Kay joined by her close friends, Cooper Alan and Thomas Mac.
It was the first time Kay was able to step out onto the stage after her series of viral posts on TikTok, and she began to sell out bigger and bigger rooms.
“We’re like, ‘Wow, we’re selling out 500-cap rooms now. And wow, now we’re selling 800- cap rooms out,’” Kay said. “And to see it from our side, it was very exciting because then we went from not making money to watching people believe in us, to giving us bigger advances to us going from a sprinter van to a bus.
“Like all these things that we did together not only as three independent artists who all built followings on the same platform, but three best friends. And then with such a strong female independent agent to completely blow it out and get these people to give us a chance.”
Over the course of the pandemic, a new generation of musicians began to find a following online.
While normal years would allow artists to step out onstage and find their footing, the live music shutdown put them onto stages with larger crowds without having the chance to figure out their approach.
Even veteran musicians have admitted to struggling with their first shows back, but Kay managed to take to the stage like a pro.
“There’s just something about her,” Ziemer says. “Her online presence translates into a stage presence. It’s just the songs themselves.”
Kay has appeared on “The Voice,” Netflix reality show “Westside” and signed and lost record deals. Through it all, she was adamant that she would stick with her own sound and keep true to her authentic self.
“It’s persistence,” Keith says. “It goes back to the things you believe in and why you do this in the first place. Like, ‘I know that this is the right move. I just need you to get on board thinking that this is the right move.’”
The persistence paid off, and not only is Kay going on tour with McGraw playing amphitheaters, but she’s also met and sang to country legend Randy Travis.
Their relationship started off the same way she met McGraw, where she was singing a cover while making her morning coffee, and caught the eye of the icon.
Now standing on the precipice of the next big step in her career, Kay is hard at work preparing for her upcoming outing.
“We’ve really been like nose to the grindstone for the last four months trying to get everything we need to make sure we’re properly set up,” Kay says of her preparations. “We are very, very fortunate that we started touring last year.”
Keith and Kay share the motto of: “What are we going to do to take over the world today?” refusing to let anything get them down and promising each other that success would come.
“It got to a point where we were just manifesting like, ‘Oh yeah, on the Tim tour you’re gonna wear that,’” Keith says. “And we were walking on the treadmill and we’re like, ‘Oh gosh, we’re gonna look great when you’re on the Tim tour.’”