Kelsea Ballerini hails from Mascot, Tenn. (population: 2,400), less than 200 miles from Nashville, but it seems like she has come a lot further in her 22 years. The singer-songwriter (she wrote or co-wrote every track on her debut album, 2015's The First Time) is the first female solo country artist to hit No. 1 on Billboard's Country Airplay chart with a debut single ("Love Me Like You Mean It") since Carrie Underwood in 2009, and only the 11th in history to manage the feat. But even with her stratospheric ascent in 2015 -- she ranks the year a "250" on a scale from 1 to 10 -- Ballerini says she struggles to be taken seriously as a female artist, especially in the time of "Tomato-gate." (In May, an industry consultant described women as merely the "tomatoes" in country radio's proverbial salad.) But the adversity is just fuel for the fire, she says: "I still have a lot to prove, which is a good thing."
Women In Music
Billboard Women in Music 'Rising Star' Kelsea Ballerini: 'A Women Era Is Starting' in Country