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Sunny Sweeney Calls ACM Best New Female Vocalist Nomination ‘Validation’

Sunny Sweeney
Jon-Paul Photography

Admittedly, it’s cliche — b ut Sunny Sweeney really is happy just to be nominated for the ACM Best New Female Vocalist award. Even pregnant women don’t know a glow like the one that trailed the ‘From a Table Away’ singer for weeks after she learned the good news. “I would wake up in the middle of the night,” she tells Taste of Country, “and basically shove Jeff (husband Jeff Hellmer) and be like ‘Oh my God! Are you kidding me?’”

Sweeney calls the nomination — which she’s campaigning to win with one of the funniest platforms in ACM history — “validation.” But you won’t find a chip on her shoulder. Follow her on Facebook and you’ll quickly learn she’s not wrapped up in herself. No one will call Sunny Sweeney a diva.

“There’s a bar that I played here (in Austin, Texas) for three years every Sunday called the Poodle Dog,” she reveals during a telephone interview. “It literally is a cinderblock building with a poodle dog painted on the outside of it. I had to lug my own gear in, we got $50, passed the tip jar and free beer. That was the perk. I loved that gig. I still look back on that gig.”

Recently, Sweeney found herself waxing nostalgia in the parking lot of the Poodle Dog, when the manager she knew for all of those years walked outside and over to her car.

“Well, Miss Sweeney, how you doin’?” he called out. Sweeney impersonates him with a charming, almost cartoon-like East Texas twang. “Out loud I go, ‘Oh my God you remember me?’ And he goes, ‘Remember you? Hell, I follow you. I’m always looking at you on the internet, I’m so proud of you. I’m like a dad.”

This gesture — this sign that even after leaving for Music City, scoring a Top 10 hit and recording one of the most critically praised albums of 2011, Sweeney could still be welcomed back by ordinary folks in a dive bar with no stage — floored her. As she tells this story, it’s easy to tell she’s sincere in saying, “If I win the ACM, I will cry like a baby.”

But that’s thinking too far ahead. As of this week, she hasn’t thought about April 7, because she’s focused on Feb. 4 — the day fans can no longer vote for her (or fellow nominees Jana Kramer and Kacey Musgraves) at VoteACM.com. If the award goes to the woman with the cleverest campaign, then Sweeney should start clearing shelf space in her Texas home. Parody campaign videos that encourage fans to vote are common, but few produce more laughs than her ‘Click in the Box,’ inspired by the raunchy ‘Saturday Night Live’ digital short starring Justin Timberlake and Andy Samberg.

It was her husband’s idea. She filmed it with two friends — one who’s noticeably pregnant — using a Flip camera over three hours on a cloudy Nashville afternoon. The scenes with the rose and the feather required a few takes.

“That is Joanna, the pregnant backup dancer,” Sweeney shares. “And you know the funniest part is, at first I was laughing so hard and she — this rose it was obnoxious. The stem was about three feet long. And she had the end of the stem and she was kinda having a hard time controlling it cause it was kinda heavy. And she would jab it into my face the first couple of times. And I was dying laughing. We were both laughing so hard.”

The campaign hasn’t ended there. Silly pictures are appearing on Sweeney’s Facebook page at a tremendous pace. “That’s just me and my husband being stupid, making those things up,” se spills.

What she’ll wear, what she’ll perform if she wins … Sweeney hasn’t thought about it. For now, she’s enjoying this moment that stamps 10 years of hard work with a big gold star. 2013 will bring new music — perhaps even her first love song, written one month after her November 2011 marriage. There’s still a well of pain from her past that she can draw from should she need to, and she says she’s pretty good at personalizing other people’s heartbreak and misery. It’s what made ‘Concrete’ such a satisfying listen, but it’s only part of what makes the men and women at the Poodle Dog so proud.

Next: Can You Guess Whose Tattoos These Are?

Watch Sunny Sweeney’s ‘Click in the Box’ Video

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