“I got a standing ovation, which is really rare at the Grand Ole Opry; I remember it like it was in slow motion,” she gushes. “I finished my song, and I saw some of the people in the front stand up, and then I saw it spread toward the back, like a ripple, until the whole room was on their feet. And my hand came up to cover my mouth, like, oh my gosh! I just couldn’t believe it.”
The song that brought the audience to their feet was pianist and songwriter Jim Brickman’s “Welcome Home.” Meade, who has loved to sing since she was a little girl, was chosen to provide the vocals for the song because of her personal connection to the lyrics. “‘Welcome Home’ is for the troops who are returning to the US from Iraq and Afghanistan, or even just coming home for the holidays,” explains Meade. “And on my show, we do a ‘Salute to Troops’ every hour, where someone will call in and tell us about a soldier they would like to salute. So, [country artist and producer Victoria Shaw] thought I would be the perfect person for the song, since it goes along with what I do every day.”
Of course, performing at the Grand Ole Opry—a perk that came along with Meade’s collaboration with Brickman—was anything but an everyday experience. Even though she has had some pretty exciting musical opportunities in the past (her newscasting career has led to sharing the stage with Kenny Chesney, John Rich of the country group Big and Rich, Richard Marx, and John Foster), Meade had butterflies in the days leading up to her Opry debut.
“There’s performing, and then there are the iconic places that you think about and dream about, and the Grand Ole Opry’s Ryman Auditorium is one of the biggies,” Meade says. “Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, and all the people from the golden era of country performed there, and I felt that history well up in me. I knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Still, Meade says that her butterflies were more for excitement than nerves. Ironically, singing in front of an audience has always been more comfortable for her than speaking in front of an audience. “When I was young, my knees would knock just at the thought of public speaking,” she recalls, explaining that she developed a drive to conquer the thing that she feared, and even to excel at it. Singing, on the other hand, came much more naturally.
“I remember the first time—the exact day—that I was introduced to the idea of stage fright. I was going to sing at the sixth grade graduation … The Beatles‘ ‘In My Life,’” she says, breaking into song for a moment. “Someone asked, ‘Are you nervous?’ and the concept hit me: Oh, I’m supposed to be nervous?”
“I was the minister’s kid, so singing was part of every week at church. I didn’t think anything of it,” continues Meade, who grew up in New London, Ohio, and also played piano, flute, oboe, and French horn.
Her musical talent and ease on stage came in handy when she began competing in beauty pageants as a teenager. Singing for the talent portion of the competitions, Meade was crowned Miss Ohio in 1992 and was in the top 10 running for the title of Miss America. It was that competition that spurred her love of country music. “Someone recommended that I sing ‘I Feel Lucky’ by Mary Chapin Carpenter, so I bought her album Come On Come On, and fell in love with her alto voice, her writing, and the whole genre,” she says. “I was like, ‘I love this stuff!’”
Eighteen years later, Meade has achieved something that is a milestone accomplishment for any professional country singer, let alone an amateur one: an appearance on the Grand Ole Opry stage. “I almost felt like that performance took on wings of its own, and I was just along for the ride,” she says. “I’m completely grateful for the opportunity. It’s pretty big for someone who’s a news anchor!”
On the Record
This year, Meade will add another important accomplishment to her singing résumé, as she continues to pursue her musical side. She will release a full-length studio album, produced by Victoria Shaw, who is also a hit songwriter in the country music world and co-producer of the popular group Lady Antebellum.
Meade had a hand in writing six of the 13 songs on her album, which she says was something she “absolutely loved” doing. “The process was really cathartic in a way,” she explains. “We worked in a group of three people, so I might come to the table with an idea or something heavy on my heart. Then another person might go, ‘Well I’ve got this riff, so let’s work with this.’ And then the next person might go, ‘Well, how about these chords?’ It was a real collaborative effort.”
Though Meade does plenty of writing in her day-to-day life, she says that writing lyrics gave her the chance to test her creativity. “It’s a completely different style from news writing, and it was nice to stretch my legs that way, so to speak,” she reflects. But she didn’t stray too far from the Robin that her television fans know and love.
“These songs are not going to be anything that someone who watches my news show would listen to and think, ‘What?! That doesn’t seem like Robin!’” she says. “In other words, I’m not going to be singing about dancing on top of a bar or something, because that’s just not me and it’s not how people know me.” The songs are honest reflections of Meade’s own experiences, like the track “Rain,” which was inspired by her determination to keep a positive outlook even when reporting some not-so-positive news.
Our interview took place on a Friday in November, on the very day that Meade put her final touches on the album. She had taken the morning off from her show and spent the day in a Nashville recording studio rather than the HLN newsroom in Atlanta, Georgia. In fact, all of her vacation days over the past year have been used to fly to Nashville and put in work on the album. In between recording sessions, much of her free time was used for practicing.
“I have a piano at home and a microphone set up. I’ll turn up the speakers and jam and sing. Luckily, we have about four acres of land. Otherwise, I’m sure the neighbors would think, she’s cuckoo!” she exclaims. As it is, her husband, Tim Yeager, and their two German shepherds, Rocco and Lexa, are the only ones in the audience to make that call.
With her album due out sometime this year, Meade’s music audience is sure to grow, as her weekday morning viewers become listeners, too. “It’s funny how reporting has brought me back to music. It’s almost like going full circle,” she muses. “Now I get to do the news that I love, and I get to show my creative side. It’s the best of both worlds!”
Meredith Laing admires Robin’s confidence on stage; she’s a professional violinist, but still gets a little nervous when it comes to performing!
To read our full January-February 2011 issue click here!