Special to the Citizen
“I’m gonna shine like the top of the Chrysler building!” a confident 10 year old shouts with attitude and conviction. McKenna’s first appearance on stage as the bold character Molly in the Augusta Players’ production of Annie secured her dream of being a lifelong entertainer. Since that time, McKenna has been known in her small town of North Augusta, South Carolina as the “little girl with the big voice.” Only five feet tall, McKenna attracts people with her warm, familiar voice and her passion on stage. She has the unique ability to draw people in with her genuine performances and timeless look.
While McKenna has performed on stage her entire life, 2009 became a beautiful year for her. She began writing lyrics as an emotional outlet, and they soon turned into a demo and a dream. “I keep a notebook in my purse. I am always ready for a song. You never know, a trip to Starbucks could be the next best told story in country music history.” Her lyrics challenge listeners to find reason within themselves. “I write about what I know, about what I see. I think people want to hear stories they identify with. They want to escape life, and sometimes they need solutions. That’s what I seek to do.”
In March of 2010, she opened for Tracy Lawrence at the Country Club Dance Hall and Saloon in Augusta. “Walking off the stage that night was a feeling I had never felt before. Oddly, the emotion sent assurance through my bones that this is where I find purpose—this is where my passion is.” Soon after, in May of 2010, McKenna opened for Eric Church, Easton Corbin, and Randy Houser at A Day in the Country, hosted by local radio station New Country Kicks 99. “It was so exciting to sing my music in front of thousands. It’s my dream, and I’m chiseling it away one step at a time.”
Later that year, she left her career as a high school English teacher to begin the pursuit. It wasn’t an easy decision, but was one that was inevitable. “I used to hope that my words would make some kind of impact on my students—that something I said would propel them to change or follow their dreams. But what I’ve come to realize is possibly the greatest impact I can make on them is actually doing what I said so passionately to them.” Once McKenna began to pursue a career as an artist, something unexpected happened. Two of her three young boys were diagnosed with a rare esophageal disease which required them to drastically change their lives and undergo surgical procedures every eight weeks. Because family always comes first and the health of her children was unstable, she took a few years off to learn about this new disease and how it would affect their everyday life. In 2014, her children were finally stable, and McKenna realized it was time to balance her home life and pursuit of her music career. She started singing again, and in a short time, opened for Montgomery Gentry, David Nail, Scotty McCreery, and Cassadee Pope. She began traveling to Nashville to write and to eventually record a heartfelt six song EP. The trying times from years past ended up inspiring tracks like “Good Man Down” and the title track to her debut EP, “Ever After.”
“I am so thankful for the opportunities God has given me and for how He has brought me back to my dream. I tear up every time I hold my EP in my hands. It represents so much more than just a collection of songs. It’s a comeback story. It’s a story of hope. Dreams that won’t fade are meant to be pursued. I am so grateful to be living out my dream!” Songwriters on the record include two-time Grammy award winning writer and producer Chris Stevens; Lance Carpenter-who co-wrote breakout country artist Kelsea Ballerini’s first number one hit “Love Me Like You Mean It”; Matt Utterback, Hunter Hayes’ bass player; Nashville singer-songwriter Nathan Picard; Augusta natives Jim Perkins and Phillip Lee; and her husband Andrew Hydrick. The record, produced and mixed by Paul Kimsal, was recorded in Nashville, TN at Playground Studios and Sound Stage Studios. McKenna first released the title track “Ever After” as a single on iTunes in October 2015, and on the day of its release, it topped the country charts at number 45. “I’ll never forget that day. It was confirmation that my songs were touching lives, and it drove me to continue working hard for my fans and myself!”
She made her national radio debut in February 2016 when the Kidd Kraddick Morning Show used her single “Road Trippin’” as the theme song for their Rasberry Roadtrip Tour. “It was an incredible opportunity for me, and I’m so grateful they used my song!”McKenna will make her debut in Music City this coming Spring, playing her first show in Nashville, Tenn. in March 2016. She is supported by her high school sweetheart and husband of 10 years, Andrew, as well as her three beautiful boys (McCall, Sawyer, and Beckham). “I couldn’t do this without the four most important people in my life behind me. They are my number one support and help drive me towards my God-given dream of being a writer and an artist.”