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K Michelle on Performing With ‘Brother’ Jelly Roll at 2023 CMA Awards

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K Michelle is ready for her country closeup. The R&B artist and reality star (she appeared in several seasons of Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta) is leaning into her Southern roots with a new album, a new name and a CMA Awards collaboration with the night’s Best New Artist winner Jelly Roll.

Under the alias Puddin, the Memphis native has released her first country song, “Tennessee.” It’s the debut single from her forthcoming country album — a move that feels totally natural to the star.

“It’s part of who I am,” the singer, 41, exclusively told Us Weekly ahead of the 2023 CMA Awards on Wednesday, November 8. “It’s so crazy when I talk to people and they’re like, ‘How does this transition?’ There’s no transition, let’s be honest. This is who I am. This is how I was born. This is how I was raised.”

K Michelle (real name Kimberly Michelle Pate) made her Music City debut on country music’s largest stage on Wednesday night when she joined Jelly Roll for a stirring performance of The Judds’ “Love Can Build a Bridge.” It was a full-circle moment for the musician, who also performs the song alongside Jelly and the Fisk Jubilee Singers on the recently released album A Tribute to The Judds.

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“The first country that I got into was The Judds,” she said. “The first tape I ever got was The Judds and it was ‘Love Can Build a Bridge.’”

As for sharing the stage with Jelly Roll, that’s all in the musical family for K Michelle.

“That’s my outlaw brother. I understand him,” she shared. “We are unusual suspects in country music. I know his whole journey, his struggle. We’re open books. We prevail, we do what we want to do, but most importantly we love the music. The best thing is that we have a mutual respect for each other, and [this pairing] was a match made in heaven.”

The performance was a stunning tribute to musical matriarch Naomi Judd, who passed away in 2022. With a crowd that included Judd’s daughter and bandmate Wynonna in attendance, K Michelle joined Jelly Roll to belt her way through one of The Judds’ most memorable hits.

Taking the stage in feathers and rhinestones, it was easy to imagine the former R&B artist as every bit the country star. Her powerful ad-libs brought the crowd to its feet for a standing ovation before the performance had even ended. It was a moment filled with emotion for the performers and audience alike.

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“For me, country music has always been about storytelling and about the feel of it,” she said, adding, “I am so blessed and so excited to honor Naomi.”

For more from Nashville, check out Us Weekly’s VIP Guide to Music City.