A little bit of southern twang

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JMU senior Alexis Keene has been making it big in the country music world

STORY | MIKE DOLZER

PHOTO | MADDIE EAGEN & ALEXANDRA DeANGELIS

Alexis Keene is leading a double life.

At JMU, she’s a senior communication studies major. But she’s also an exceedingly accomplished country musician with a stage name and massive fan following. Despite her made-for-TV life, she still remembers where she came from.

“Everyone in middle school could always hear my singing in choir because myvoice had a [southern] twang,” she says. “That’s when I knew that I had my own voice and I wanted to pursue [singing].”

When she got her first guitar in freshman year of high school, she decided to become an artist. To become an artist, she knew that she needed a platform — but even artists have parents.

“I wanted to post my first YouTube video of me singing ‘I’m Only Me When I’m With You’ by Taylor Swift, but my mom wouldn’t let me use my real name on the Internet,” she says. “I used [my nickname] “Lexie,” and then “Hayden,” which is my middle name. That’s how Lexie Hayden started.”

Once that was taken care of, Keene’s stardom rose rapidly. Her music is available on iTunes, Pandora and a host of other sources. Even more impressive, the Lexie Hayden YouTube channel has almost 2.5 million views and more than 10,000 subscribers. She was able to turn that following into larger accomplishments. In 2013 and 2014, she played on Jiiffy Lube Live’s VIP stage in Bristow, Virginia, a smaller side stage adjacent to the massive main pavilion.

This past summer, she performed before superstar Miranda Lambert, and the previous summer she pre-opened for “The Voice’s” Blake Shelton. Before her back-to-back Jiffy Lube Live stints, she played at the 2012 South by Southwest Festival (SXSW) in Austin, Texas.

“It was a Washington D.C.-based showcase at SXSW, so I got to miss three days of school and they were the best days of my life,” Keene says. She says she gained a lot of momentum at SXSW, and she continues to succeed in ways that she never even thought were possible.

Over the summer she lived in Nashville and sang on “The Bobby Bones Show.”

“That was one of the biggest things to ever happen to me in my entire life,” she says. “I was an intern at the show, and someone told Bobby that I could sing, so one day he told me to sing on-air and I did. All my friends and family were driving to work and when they turned on their radio I was singing — it was incredible.”

Her ascension to fame didn’t end there.

“I got to open for Bobby Bones’s parody band at a concert some time later,” she says. “Bobby’s band that night was playing with [famous country singers] Craig Campbell and Gary Allan.”

Bones let her sing on air frequently after that, and one time, she was even allowed to sing an original song, “Set Me Free.” Aside from performing, songwriting is her other passion.

Her 2013 song “Rainin’ on a Wednesday” exemplifies her writing style as well as her voice. The lyrics have an innocent yet romantic vibe similar to Taylor Swift’s earlier work. Her voice itself is noticeably accentuated by the signature twang that made her stand out all those years ago:

“It’s 1 a.m. and you’re not dreamin’
I’m in bed but I’m not sleepin’
When you get into your car
Only thing you see is headlights
As they lead you to my porch light”

Keene knows just how to stand out in an extremely competitive industry.

“You just have to contact people and be persistent,” she says.

She also always has a slew of new projects in the pipeline. She has a new album coming out in early 2015 — a follow-up to her four-track EP “Feels Like Home” — with some music produced by Austin Bello from the pop punk band Forever the Sickest Kids. The album will have “Rainin’ on a Wednesday” on it, the unreleased “Set Me Free,” and three brand new original songs.

Keene plans on moving to Nashville after graduation to immerse herself in the country music scene. While continuing to perform and write songs, she also hopes to land a job as a writer for Country Music Television, for a radio station in Nashville or anything that involves writing about country music.

Keene, who’s trying to balance college, career and her dreams, has a nugget of wisdom to share with others who have big aspirations.

“Put yourself out there and go where your work takes you, don’t ever think things are too far out of reach.”

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