Rissi Palmer is a passionate voice for country artists of color and those who have been marginalized in mainstream country music. In an effort to spotlight Black, Latinx and indigenous country artists, on Sunday's (Jan. 17) episode of her Color Me Country Apple Music radio show, she'll be unveiling her Class of 2021: five stars fans should know.

"Color Me Country has introduced me to a world of really fantastic and worthy talent -- so much so that I decided to do my own Class of 2021," Palmer says. "I’ve been listening, watching, and found so many that I liked that they wouldn’t all fit in one show (what a great problem to have), so this is the first of two episodes dedicated to the 'new new.'"

During the episode (premiering at 7PM ET), Palmer and her five artist to watch picks will chat about their career beginnings and struggles, their projects for the year and their hopes for the future. Ahead of its premiere, Palmer is sharing her list of future stars, and some of their conversations, with The Boot's readers.

Who Is She? An actress and former American Idol hopeful who once starred in her own Whitney Houston tribute show.

"[It's] so much bigger than just me, and it's so much bigger than just music -- it's about creating change in the industry and allowing people to see, and showing people that, 'Hey, we can be successful too. I don't know why you're putting a limit on us because we're here and we're working hard and we're talented, and we love the genre just as much as you guys. This is not a gimmick, this is real life and this is what we want to do,'" says Amber of creating space for people of color -- especially women of color -- in country music.

"We've definitely talked about race a lot, because obviously it's a huge topic of conversation," Amber adds, "but I just want people to know that, at the end of the day, I am just a girl. I am a singer, I am a songwriter, I am an artist, and I'm performer. And at the end of the day, I just want people to like my music, I want them to like me as a person, and I want them to respect all of the stuff that I've done in order to get here."

Who Is She? A country girl raised on Shania Twain and the Chicks who's embracing her roots after working in R&B and pop.

"When I decided to do this for real and really want to pursue a career as an artist, I had to start writing and listening to my body and my intuition. And the R&B and the pop took a backseat to the sounds that I heard growing up," recalls Camille. "And every time I would go to write a song, it would come out country, and then I'd scrap it and I'd be like, 'Oh no, it has to be more mainstream!' And then one day I was like, 'You know what? I can't do this. If I'm going to write, it's got to be from what comes inside of me, and the stories that I have, and the purpose of why I want to make music.'

"I want to make people feel less alone. I want to sing for underdogs, I want to sing for blue-collar and no-collar folks. That's what's special to me," she continues. "And country music, and that storytelling and the simplicity, and just literally having something to say, is the only place that I can start. All these other genres have been so important to me developing my sound, and I'll always play, and I will always experiment ... but country is my home ...

"I see a career where I would have the freedom to create music that always moved me and moved others. I would see myself as a person who had enough space to carry people with me. I want to be an artist where I can represent my community and bring them along," Camille adds. "And I know everything is changing right now in the music business and -- the way I see the future going -- I want to be a part of the group who can and does lift people up behind them, and have the flexibility and have the choice to do that. I want to be a bringer of new blood and new life and all of those things."

Who Is She? A Brazzaville, Congo, native raised in Washington State who released her debut EP, Retro, featuring the single "Congratulations," in 2020.

"When I wrote it, it very much came from a vulnerable place. It was very honest, and it was one of those songs that kind of just wrote itself and you finish it within the hour," McCormick shares. "With social media, it's so easy to see what people in your life are up to, and especially people that maybe aren't in your life anymore. And so it really came from that place: It came from watching somebody's life evolve that had previously been in my life. And it was kind of just like, 'If I could call you, I would say congratulations' ...

"And what I appreciate about the song now is, I look at it with a different perspective of, that doesn't have to be a sad thing. It can be just meaning the best for someone, even though you went along different paths," she adds. "And I think something that came from more of a heartbreak has now evolved into just peace, and that's what I really love about it."

Who Is She? A Missouri-born mama with a non-music industry career who, in 2017, began pursuing a career as a recording artist.

"[The] younger African-American females that want to sing country music, I hope that they don’t give up. I hope that they continue to thrive with what they’re doing," Shipley reflects. "They’re not being heard like we want them to be heard. But we just have to continue and continue.

"If anything, I just want people to know: Don’t give up in anything you do," she adds. "It’s that old cliche, but it’s true."

Who Is She? A Tampa, Fla., native now in Nashville who grew up singing in church, in beach bars and at weddings, and discovered her own unique voice as a songwriter in college.

"[My song "Southern Curls" is] the acknowledgement that -- 'not all Southern girls are met with open doors' is the first line of that chorus -- and what it's like for those Southern girls who don't see themselves as what beauty is, what 'Southern beauty' is, what we think about" William shares. "That's kind of what the song's about."

Palmer debuted with "Country Girl" in 2007, making her the first Black female country singer to chart a single on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart in 20 years. She released her most personal material to date on 2019's Revival album, which explores themes of racial tensions, self-acceptance and more. 

Color Me Country features her in-depth conversations with some of country music's most underrepresented voices. Palmer also recently launched the Color Me Country Artist Grant Fund, which is designed to support artists of color in the country music community; already, the fund has raised more than $10,000 and disbursed 11 grants.

Apple Music

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