When Randy Travis Finds Your TikTok Cover … Alexandra Kay Reveals the Real-World Benefits
Singer Alexandra Kay knows the signs. Typically, if one of her coffee cover videos on TikTok is starting to gain a wider audience, it's because someone important found it and amplified it. A few people tag her, and then a lot of people begin tagging her on the social media platform.
It took a little while before her cover of Randy Travis' "Deeper Than the Holler" started to go viral. In fact, over a month passed before it lit up. She remembers it well: She was driving the four-and-a-half hour drive home from Nashville to southern Illinois when, at about 1AM, she started getting tagged from all over.
“I clicked on it and saw it was Randy Travis," she begins, every bit as expressive as she is on social media, "and I literally, I just sat in silence for like 10 minutes, like, ‘Is this for real?’”
Travis did a "duet." For the uninitiated, that's what's it's called when one creator watches, and often sings along with, another creator's song video. His video was published on March 31 and is now at 11 million views. Those views, dismissed as dispensable by critics of artists that rely on social media to break a career, came with very tangible benefits for Kay.
Kay has an interesting, very 2020 kind of resume. She first went viral with a cover of "Jolene" by Dolly Parton that her team says has been viewed over 60 million times. She was then a part of a 2018 Netflix reality show called Westside in 2018, which led to a partnership with Warner Bros.
One of her previous record labels stopped her from releasing songs including "I Kinda Don't" and "All the Cowboys," both with over one million Spotify streams to date. So she's independent again, which was a terrifying prospect at the start of the pandemic.
"Then we hit Facebook Live and it literally kept me alive," she says.
She doubled down on existing social media, leaned into TikTok and began applying her background in musical theater to make each clip a true performance, albeit one that looks 100 percent spontaneous. That "slide" she's known for to start her coffee covers is a mix of reality and planning.
"I was trying to make the beginning of the videos a little less awkward, because sometimes I would be like (gesticulates as someone pouring coffee), 'And now I'm going to start singing and pour now.' And so I was like, how can I make you be like, 'Stop!' Because on TikTok everyone is like, flip, flip, flip ... if you don't get their attention they're on to the next thing."
A clear bottle filled with clear liquid grabbed Travis' attention. Kay revealed that she purposely uses a bottle of coffee flavoring that looks like Tito's Vodka because it drives engagement. When he points and laughs, the Country Music Hall of Famer looks to have thought the same thing.
“I think he did, and I think he loved that by the look on his face,” she says, laughing.
Since the video back-and-forth went viral, Kay says Travis' team has reached out to thank her for helping him get to one million followers on TikTok, a show of gratitude that blew her mind. Connections and followers led to more opportunities and ultimately more song downloads and streams, plus chances to tour.
For now, she's tight-lipped on her plans for 2021, but she has plans and ideas on how to ensure she can live off of her content. A partnership with Reborn Coffee is one undeniable tangible benefit. She says she had plenty of offers, and along with her team, she chooses what makes the most sense, managing quality and quantity along the way.
And she is managing. With over 20 million TikTok likes, close to two million followers and regular performances with fellow viral star (and Sony Music Nashville artist) Andrew Jannakos, Kay has developed a very clear demographic that she'll study. It's fairly easy to be known as just a TikTok girl, but that's a trap. So now, she'll produce a week's worth of content in a single day and be intentional about deployment and engagement. Viral videos are rare. Accidental viral videos are ghosts.
“At the end of the day, what I am is an artist who is good at marketing herself," she says. "I don’t like to call myself an influencer, but sometimes I do influencer things. But at the end of the day, it’s about the music.”
A mellow love song called "We Wouldn't Be Us" is her newest release, one that shows off her understanding of melody and songcraft, but also her East Tennessee vibrato. You hear the Dolly Parton comparisons in most of what she sings, but it's all packaged with very modern production. It's intentional, and intentionally aimed at the fans who support her on social media.
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