NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Six years after being a finalist on "American Idol," country singer Lauren Alaina is finally feeling happy, healthy and celebrating hard-earned radio success. All it took was to be honest with her fans and herself.
The bubbly, enthusiastic singer with an impressive vocal range was a fan favorite on the reality TV show, being named runner-up in 2011 behind country singer Scotty McCreery. But behind-the-scenes, she was a teenager who was struggling with body image issues that escalated once she was in the public eye.
In middle school, she began noticing the difference between her body shape and other girls' when she joined the cheerleading team.
"I was taller and had an athletic build, where those girls were gymnasts and they were lean," Alaina said, who is now 22.
While "Idol" brought her a national audience and legions of fans, she couldn't avoid seeing the negative, trolling comments.
"I would see these people calling me 'fat' and calling me horrible names," said Alaina, who is from Georgia. "And this one page called me 'Miss Piggy,' and they only referred to me as 'Miss Piggy.' I was a 16-year-old girl. I did not know how to deal with that and I was already insecure about my weight."
Almost immediately after her season on "Idol" ended, Alaina released her debut album, "Wildflower." But those weren't her songs, and her label couldn't make any of the singles stick on country radio.
"I was really fearful that I was going to lose my record deal," Alaina said. "It's really scary as a female to not have that success early on in your career, 'cause you don't know how many chances you are going to get."
Meanwhile her personal life was adding more stress. Her father went into rehab for alcohol addiction and her parents divorced. Her eating disorder got so bad that it started affecting her vocal cords. Finally her mother staged an intervention with a doctor to try to force her to confront the truth and get professional help.
"I thought I had it all wrapped up and nobody knew," Alaina said. "I was so sick, like my hair was falling out."
Through it all, the singer had one song in her back pocket that she hoped would change her career, a tune called "Road Less Traveled," which she co-wrote in 2013 with Jesse Frasure and Meghan Trainor before Trainor's "All About That Bass" launched her pop career.
Four years later, the song hit the No. 1 spot on Billboard's country airplay chart (which tracks radio airplay). "Road Less Traveled," also the name of her sophomore album released in January, is a crafty blend of Alaina's powerful vocals, Frasure's beats and lyrics that speak volumes about being an individual and not letting criticism tear you down.
"It's funny because I think (Lauren and Meghan) were going through this huge change, looking back now," Frasure said. "I have kind of watched them both become these amazing independent women."
"Road Less Traveled" spent 34 weeks on Billboard's country airplay chart before becoming Alaina's first No. 1. At the June 7 CMT Music Awards in Nashville, Tennessee, the song's music video will compete for female video of the year and breakthrough video of the year. Alaina was also nominated for new female vocalist of the year at the Academy of Country Music Awards in April.
The rest of Alaina's album is chock full of honest, but uplifting truths, from "Same Day Different Bottle," about her father's alcoholism, to the next single, "Doin' Fine," in which she opens the song with the lyrics: "Daddy got sober, momma got his best friend."
"I took some of the hardest things about my life and wrote an empowering song with it," Alaina said. "It has made me want to always write from that place."
Follow Kristin M. Hall at Twitter.com/kmhall