Chart Beat Meet & Greet: Jana Kramer
Chart Beat Meet & Greet: Jana Kramer

Delaying her music career was "not an option," the "Why Ya Wanna" singer says

This year has already seen some of Jana Kramer's dreams come true. The former "One Tree Hill" star's debut single, "Why Ya Wanna," has become a fan favorite as of late -- climbing the Country Songs chart to reach No. 26 in its 13th week.

"It's still a little bit surreal," the singer-actress admits in an exclusive interview with Billboard.com. "I still think 'Wow, this is happening.' It's a dream."

She adds that she is very excited that her debut single is making such an impact with listeners. "I'm so proud of that song," she says. "It's something that I think everyone can relate to. It's a great song."

Kramer remembers where she was the first time she heard the song on the radio, although it was not the greatest day in the world for the Michigan-bred beauty.

"The very first time I heard it, I was so sick. I had bronchitis," she recalls. "I needed to go get medicine at the store, and all of a sudden, I heard my name on the car stereo receiver. I thought 'No way.' I turned it up, and sure enough, it was me. I started screaming with this little voice that I had. The coolest time was when I was with my mom back home in Detroit a few weeks after that. We had just finished doing a little shopping, and my song started coming on. We looked at each other and started screaming, then crying."

It has been quite the trek for Kramer. Music has always been her number one priority, but her acting talents caught the eye of producers, who cast her as Noelle Davenport in NBC's "Friday Night Lights." She has nothing but praise for her time on the show. "It was great. It was such a bummer that the writers' strike happened, and I couldn't finish filming. It was a really great experience."


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However, Kramer is best known to TV audiences for role as Alex on "One Tree Hill." Again, she was grateful for the exposure, and said "I did it for three years, and it helped me get the nerve to finally follow my dreams and what I really wanted to do with my music. I was supposed to be a part of it this last season, and I didn't know we were going to get picked back up. I had my radio tour, and they said 'Well, you're contracted for six years, so you have to do it. However, we'll give you an out if you want one. I took it, because the thought of [delaying] my music any longer was not an option."

Now, Kramer is busy on the road meeting radio programmers, as well as finishing up her debut album, set for release later this year. Of the road life, she says gleefully, "I love it. I'm kind of a gypsy, so I love living out of a suitcase and going from place to place meeting people. That was a lot of fun."

She tells Billboard that she loves the fact that her record has exceeded expectations. "In the very beginning, the Warner team said 'This is going to be a very hard experience. We're hoping for twenty-five adds out of the box. I thought 'Twenty-five adds, that's it? Come on.' They told me that was really good, especially for a female who was a new artist.' I told them I was going to double that number. They all laughed at me, and told me that was not going to happen. I told them because you just laughed at me, I was so determined and stubborn that I told them I would double that - and then some. That's what I did, so I was really happy."

In describing her music, she says "It's authentic, and it's real. It's country, and I think you can feel it."

Her debut project was produced by Nashville veteran Scott Hendricks. Kramer said she didn't have to think twice about utilizing his talents. "He's so unbelievable. When he asked to produce it, there was no doubt in my mind. I said yes."

The future looks bright for the singer, who will be making her debut on the Grand Ole Opry on April 13. "I'm so excited," she exclaims. "I can't wait. I'm going to go straight to the circle and stand there for a few seconds, take it in, and probably cry. Then, I'll sing my song."

And, by the sound of album cuts such as the melodic "What I Love About Your Love" and the traditional "When You're Lonely" - where she is reminiscent of Lee Ann Womack, it just might be the first of several opportunities to perform on that historic stage!