published Sunday, May 13th, 2012

Video: Lauren Alaina and her mother have become road warriors

Lauren Alaina Suddeth, 17,  spends time with her mother Kristy Suddeth at their Rossville, Ga., residence.
Lauren Alaina Suddeth, 17, spends time with her mother Kristy Suddeth at their Rossville, Ga., residence.
Photo by Dan Henry.
  • Lauren Alaina talks about Mother's Day with her mom
    "American Idol" runner-up Lauren Alaina sat down at her Rossville, Ga., home to talk about some of the lessons she's learned from her mother, Kristy Suddeth.

The mother/daughter comparison in Lauren Alaina's debut single, "Like My Mother Does," was much more than a great gimmick for a video treatment.

It's an accurate reflection of the bond between the "American Idol" runner-up and her mom, Kristy Suddeth.

"The first time she heard it, she cried -- bad," Lauren teased her mom, imitating heaving sobs.

Producers selected from 13 hours of Suddeth family home movies to show how the mom helped shape her daughter's career and instill a love for her home and family.

"That video shows how a child learns from their parent because you see Lauren looking at me and trying to be me. It was really an eye-opener to me. It shows what a big impact as parents we have on our child. It reminds me of my mom," Suddeth said.

Mom and daughter are funny, personable, have the same mannerisms when they laugh and share a deep faith in God. (Suddeth tweets Bible verses to her 1,800 Twitter followers.)

This mom has put her own life on hold for almost two years to travel and support her daughter's blossoming country music career. She lived out of a suitcase more than 300 days last year. She travels as Lauren's chaperone, approves wardrobing to protect her daughter's wholesome image and handles Lauren's finances.

"Everywhere I go, she goes," Lauren said. The singer said even after she turns 18 this year, she still wants her mom by her side on the road.

"I'm very involved, but it's nice to just be the mother, too," Suddeth said. "She doesn't look at me as a business partner; she looks at me as mom. If there is a problem, I can handle it."

Dixie Fuller, talent and production coordinator for Friends of the Festival, said he has had many dealings with Suddeth, including negotiations to book Lauren for next month's Riverbend Festival. (She will appear on June 16.)

"Kristy is so accommodating and so much fun to work with. But the neat thing about working with Kristy is that she is so hands-on. She brought fresh ideas to the table, but she was supportive of anything we had to do," he said.

"She would get my vote for mother of the year. ... She's with Lauren 24/7. It's kind of overwhelming when you hit the road like that, watching out for your daughter and still learning as you go. It's not the glamour of being in the big time; it's work," Fuller said.

Life before "Idol"

Suddeth said she married at 17, while a senior in high school.

"My dad had to sign for me," she recalled.

She said she met her husband, JJ Suddeth, an employee of BASF, through her best friend, who had a crush on him. They waited until he returned from Desert Storm to marry. They have been together 23 years, married 20 of them.

Suddeth is a devout Christian who freely shares her testimony of God's blessings in her life; in particular, the births of her two children following complications with both deliveries. She explains that Tyler, now 19, was born without a heartbeat; Lauren was two months premature.

"Even though I was raised in church, was saved at 9, it wasn't until I was 19 that I surrendered my whole life to God. Tyler was a miracle. I knew God had spared Tyler's life, and it totally changed my life," she said.

She said although Lauren could sing complete lyrics, on-pitch, to Dixie Chicks songs at age 3, the couple still didn't realize the extent of her talent until Lauren started competing in children's talent shows.

Fuller chuckles while recalling he paid Lauren her first check for $100, the prize for winning a talent show in Dalton, Ga. He even kept a copy for himself, believing that one day that little girl would be a big star.

By the time Lauren was a preteen, her parents were booking and chauffeuring her to gigs at local venues, which continued until her 'Idol' audition in July 2010.

Jason Phibbs, owner of Acoustic Cafe in Ringgold, Ga., recalls his first meeting with Suddeth.

"When she came in here for the first time, she didn't know me, but she was all about how great her daughter was. Not because it was her daughter but because she truly believed in her talent. She really wanted me to hear her sing. You could tell she was fighting for her daughter's success," Phibbs said.

"Anytime you wanted to do any booking, you had to talk to mama about it and get her approval," he said.

Road warriors

From the moment "Idol's Top 40 were announced until Lauren's homecoming in May 2011, Suddeth was at her daughter's side in California.

"Everything she went through, I did also. I sat in a closet-sized room that couldn't have held more than six people while she rehearsed. I went to photo shoots, video shoots, everything she did. It was like I was on TV but yet I wasn't," Suddeth said.

Adding to the stress of separation from her husband and son was the fact she was missing Tyler's senior year at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School.

Did she worry about resentment toward his sister's success?

"It's always a concern. Tyler came to California quite a few times, so we kept him involved. I talked to him every day. I came home the weekend of his prom, but that was the weekend of the tornado, and it was canceled.

"Lauren got a lot of attention before 'Idol,' and he's always been supportive. He knows if it was the other way around, I'd do it for him, too."

Suddeth, Judy McCreery (Scotty's mom) and Cynthia Megia (Thia's mom) shared one bedroom in the 'Idol' mansion and one bath. The singers' schedule started early, so the three women rotated the 5 a.m. bathroom shift. Sometimes their day didn't end until 1 a.m.

"We lived in a suitcase the whole time. We didn't even unpack until we got to the final three. Even then I thought, 'I hope I didn't just jinx us,' " Suddeth joked.

After 'Idol,' the Suddeths were off to New York City for TV appearances, then to Nashville for the CMA Fan Fest then back to California to prepare for the 'Idol' tour. Soon after that concluded in September, Lauren joined Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan's tour.

"We were home a total of maybe three weeks in 2011. Now I average being home four days a month, and that's not consecutive days," Suddeth said.

Industry crash course

"On 'Idol,' once you get to the Top 40, you sign a contract. It's either you sign or you go home. We had a group lawyer who represented the whole Top 40. We were able to negotiate and change some things but, still, 'Idol' was paying for that lawyer," she explained.

"Once Lauren made it to the Top 3, I hired my own entertainment lawyer. My husband and I interviewed several lawyers and chose one ourselves. At that point, you're not negotiating with 'Idol'; we're negotiating for Lauren's career."

Suddeth said the couple set up a trust for Lauren's earnings.

"I put 25 percent up off the top, and no one can touch it until Lauren is of age. I have a business manager that I chose. I'm the president of Lauren's company. Everything goes through me, but I have someone who handles our taxes, and he does all the budgeting."

Lauren's parents also screened all musicians auditioning for her band.

"We didn't want anyone who used alcohol or drugs. There were standards that had to be met because they would be around our daughter every day.

"I believe 'You are who you hang with,' and I didn't want that corruption around my child. Nashville's a small area, and everybody talks. I inquired of other artists who they used."

The new normal

Now mom and daughter travel with an entourage of nine: tour manager, two sound guys, band leader, lead guitarist, drummer, keyboard, bass player and bus driver.

"The guys in the band are like our family," Suddeth said, and Lauren agreed. "We drive at night, arrive at the arena where we stay all day. We still fly a lot because we do a lot of radio shows between concerts."

Suddeth said that she and Lauren meet with a stylist before going out on the road, but mom has the last word on what's appropriate.

"I say too short, too low or no. When Lauren went to a Christmas show, she was given a dress that was very revealing."

The mother said Lauren wouldn't wear it until the bodice was pulled together -- and by showtime it was.

Suddeth recalls that on one noncompetition song picked by the "Idol" producers, Lauren balked over the use of the word "hell" and told them she didn't cuss.

"The producers claimed it wasn't a bad word, but she said where she came from it was. They came to me and said I needed to talk to my daughter," said Suddeth, with a wry grin.

"I said I raised my daughter not to cuss, so I'm not going to tell her to sing that. They weren't happy that Lauren bucked the system."

But by showtime, the song had become a duet with Haley Reinhart, and Reinhart sang the offending word.

"I'm amazed at the things I never had to think about before. I've learned I can't please the world, but I have my standards as a mother, so when my kid walks out on that stage, I'm not embarrassed, and neither is she."

Star power

As her daughter's career soars, Suddeth has accompanied her everywhere from the Grand Ole Opry to the White House.

Last weekend Lauren opened for Alan Jackson, before rejoining the Sugarland tour as opener. Mom and daughter have mingled with politicians, country, rock, movie and TV celebrities.

Lauren is quick to name Carrie Underwood as the star who impresses her. But who had that wow factor with mom?

"Steven Tyler. You have that rock-star image in your head, but when you meet him you think 'He's just like us.' He's so nice, kind, very respectful. The first time I met him, he didn't know who I was, but he opened the door and held it for me. As time went on, I talked to him a lot."

Suddeth said that nearly 6,000 pieces of fan mail (a little over a month's worth) are waiting at their home for responses. Mom scans all of them before passing them along to her daughter.

"We try to answer all of them personally. Lauren says every one of them is important."

Suddeth said she suggested signing some for Lauren, her daughter's answer was "That's fake."

Mom jokes that the release of "Like My Mother Does" has been both a blessing and a frustration. While the hit launched Lauren's career, whenever Suddeth becomes angry, Lauren just smiles and starts to sweetly sing her "Like My Mother Does."

about Susan Pierce...

Susan Palmer Pierce is a reporter and columnist in the Life department. She began her journalism career as a summer employee 1972 for the News Free Press, typing bridal announcements and photo captions. She became a full-time employee in 1980, working her way up to feature writer, then special sections editor, then Lifestyle editor in 1995 until the merge of the NFP and Times in 1999. She was honored with the 2007 Chattanooga Woman of ...

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