Kelsea Ballerini Shares 9 Fun Facts About Her CMA Fest Co-Hosting Gig With Thomas Rhett

Thomas Rhett & Kelsea Ballerini hosts CMA Festival, 2017
John Shearer/WireImage

Thomas Rhett and Kelsea Ballerini speaks on stage for day 2 of the 2017 CMA Music Festival on June 9, 2017 in Nashville, Tenn.

The singer emceed this year's stadium show alongside Rhett, which is broadcasting in an ABC special tonight (Aug. 16) at 8 p.m. EST.

Kelsea Ballerini reached another pinnacle in her CMA Fest career this year, serving as co-host of the Nissan Stadium concerts that took place every night of the four-day festival in Nashville from June 8 to 11. But while this was her first time getting to host the event, it wasn't her first go at playing emcee. She hosted the ABC show Greatest Hits with Arsenio Hall last year and led the 2016 CMC Music Awards in Brisbane, which she fatefully co-hosted with her now-fianc√©, fellow country singer Morgan Evans.

Along with her own hosting experience, "Yeah Boy" singer also had a seasoned CMA Fest host as her right-hand man: Thomas Rhett, who held the same role at last year's fest alongside then-tourmate Brett Eldredge. And with their own established bond, Ballerini and Rhett -- who also toured together on Rhett's Home Team Tour earlier this year -- had no problem leading the nightly festivities. In fact, Ballerini was excited about the access it gave her.

"Hosting was fun because I feel like it gets you more involved in the overall show and overall week," she tells Billboard. "The reason I loved it most is because I got to stay and watch everything. I actually got to see my friends and watch as a fan."

Although her latest hosting gig has come and gone, Ballerini gets to relive her 2017 CMA Fest experience with a three-hour television special airing Wednesday (Aug. 16) at 8 p.m. ET on ABC. Before fans are able to tune into the major country event, Billboard wanted to give fans a little insight into Ballerini's hosting experience -- below, check out nine things she told us about CMA Fest and what it was like to be at the helm of it all.

She went from attending CMA Fest as a fan to co-hosting the TV special in just five years.

"I went from literally one year as a fan, the next year doing a tiny stage on Broadway with maybe 50 people. The next year, doing another stage on Broadway with maybe 4,000 people. The next year, doing the stadium, and then the next year doing the stadium and hosting. Within five years, it was completely 360."

Arsenio Hall gave her the best hosting advice.

"[Greatest Hits] was the first time I ever hosted something. He told me 'Don’t worry too much about the teleprompter. Just know the main point and then just say it. And if you say it wrong, it’s okay, that’s human.' It really helped me -- but oh yeah, me and Thomas Rhett messed up so many times!"

One of the funniest bloopers involved a dog. 

"We filmed this commercial for CMA Fest beforehand -- [Rhett] was supposed to be singing 'Star of the Show' to a dog and I was supposed to be really bored. But there’s an outtakes video where he literally sings one word and this dog runs away, he sings another word and this dog runs away. It was this giant joke of like 'Not even a dog will listen to my songs.'" (You can briefly see the moment in the promo video below.)

She and Thomas Rhett are really good friends in real life.

"When you’re really good friends with the person you’re co-hosting with, there’s a lightheartedness and an ease to it, which was nice. We had so much fun."

They really did have to put on the same outfits every day (because the four days were combined into one special).

"Four days of like, sweaty summer heat in the same outfit -- not cute. I didn’t keep it [laughs]. We were ready to, like, burn our clothes after that."

It wasn't just a big week for her because of CMA Fest.

"It was the week that I released 'Legends,' the first single from the second album, and it was my first really big performance of that song. And I feel like it’s such a fan-centric week in country music and I always want to be fan-focused, so it was really cool to kind of put those together for that week."

It was her first time seeing Luke Bryan in concert.

"I’d met him a ton, he’s the nicest, but I’d never seen him perform live before. So we got to introduce him, put him on stage and then I stood there and I was like, 'I’ve never actually seen you before!'"

She's still a fangirl at heart.

"It was really cool to bring Lady Antebellum on stage. I gave them the picture of us from the meet and greet from a few CMA Fests back [before they went on]. I feel like being a true blue superfan for a long time, it taught me how valuable it is to make sure you’re looking up on the top row, and that 15, 30 seconds that you get with an artist matters a lot. I think it makes me be really intentional about doing a meet and greet -- we added an extra meet-and-greet the last day of Fan Fair just so I could make sure I was really there and could meet as many people."

CMA Fest is one of the most gratifying events of the year.

"You get to tour to all these fairs and festivals all summer and they’re all amazing. But I feel like CMA Fest is the biggest one and it’s the one where all the fans that go to all the festivals all come together. And it’s really one of the most rewarding weeks of the year, because you feel rewarded in what you do. You see all the people that make your dreams happen in front of you, and you’re like, 'Right here, me and you. Thank you.'"


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