Lauren Alaina was in a funk. But, it was more than that. The pandemic trapped Alaina at home. For the first time in her adult life, she couldn’t go on tour. She was depressed.
“I’m in an extremely extroverted person, and I recharge with others,” Alaina, 26, tells PEOPLE. “So to be in my home alone in the middle of a worldwide pandemic and crisis, I really felt bad. There’s nothing wrong with struggling. It’s just how you overcome the struggle that’s important.”
For Alaina, overcoming her struggle was two-fold — therapy and creativity.
Alaina starred in the Hallmark movie Roadhouse Romance that will premiere Sept. 11 on the network. She wrote her book Getting Good at Being You: Learning to Love Who God Made You to Be, which is available for pre-order now and will be in stores Nov. 23. And, she wrote and recorded her new album Sitting Pretty on Top of the World, which was released Friday.
“I am not the kind of person that can just sit and be still,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to do a book. I’ve always wanted to do acting. And obviously, I wanted to get my third album out. I tried to take advantage of the time I had.”
Sitting Pretty on Top of the World is the peak of Alaina’s authenticity and vulnerability. Expertly crafted with some of country music’s most accomplished songwriters, the album showcases the woman — and artist — the American Idol sweetheart has become. Alaina co-wrote 14 of the album’s 15 songs then sequenced them to reflect her growth and healing.
“The truth is happiness is a choice and an active decision to focus on the good things,” she says. “It’s all about perspective, and you have to shift your perspective. I had been on this journey of self-discovery, and this whole album is about loving yourself and being brave.”
Her journey to mental health inspired the album’s title track “On Top of the World.” Alaina was afraid the idea wasn’t universal enough for everyone to embrace, so she wrote it as if the song was about a relationship.
“That song really represents this whole album for me because I was putting my brave face on and smiling through a lot of pain,” Alaina admits. “I think that’s what we’ve all done. Mental health has been such a hot topic over the last year and a half. I think it’s really important for us to talk about it and embrace it and work through it.”
The album opens with “It Was Me,” which she believes is the best song she’s ever written. In the song, which she wrote with Hillary Lindsey, Alaina tells a former love interest, “it wasn’t you I didn’t love, it was me.”
“I think to know and love someone fully, you have to know and love yourself fully,” she said.
The Georgia native teamed with Grammy-winning singer and fellow Georgia girl Trisha Yearwood, Danish pop star Lukas Graham and country music’s good-time cowboy Jon Pardi for collaborations on the album. Pardi and Alaina released the feisty made-for-country-radio “Getting Over Him” to rave reviews.
“It’s about how someone can just be the guy that helped you get over the last guy,” Alaina said. “If you need somebody at the bar to say you’re pretty to make you feel pretty again, that’s what that song is.”
Because the bulk of the album came together in the pandemic, she wrote nine of the 15 songs over Zoom. Alaina jumped online with famed female writing trio Hillary Lindsay, Liz Rose and Lori McKenna, and the quartet wrote three songs on the album. The singer smiled broadly and giggled when she talked about working with the women.
“I think I’ve earned the right for them to believe in me, but it just excites me to no end to be on FaceTime with Lori McKenna and have her complimenting my ability to write songs,” Alaina says.
Rose was Taylor Swift‘s powerhouse songwriting partner early in her career. Lindsey is responsible for many of Carrie Underwood‘s hits, and McKenna is the only writer on Tim McGraw‘s Song of the Year “Humble and Kind.” Together, the women wrote Little Big Town‘s “Girl Crush,” among others.
“Same Story, Different Saturday Night,” “I’m Not Sad Anymore” and “Written in the Bar” are all songs Alaina penned with the Love Junkies.
“It’s about someone stringing you along,” Alaina says of “I’m Not Sad Anymore.” “They let enough time go by, and then they want to call. It’s like, ‘Yuck, go away.’ This is my ‘go away’ song.”
Alaina ended the album with “Change My Mind” because she wanted to end the collection on a hopeful note.
“I am really proud of the woman I am right now,” she says. “Even though a lot of these songs are about a relationship with a person there, they ultimately represent healing for me. I think that’s what makes them so proud of them.”