When Cassadee Pope introduced herself to America — at least the segment that watches reality singing competitions — two years ago on NBC's "The Voice," she sang Natalie Imbruglia's hit, "Torn," to a huge ovation.
In a sense, Pope, who ended up winning the show's third season, was also saying goodbye to the old her. From 2008 to 2011, Pope was the lead singer of Hey Monday, a pop-punk band that toured with Fall Out Boy and Towson-bred All Time Low but is now on an indefinite hiatus as Pope pursues a solo country career. (On Saturday, she opens for Tim McGraw at Jiffy Lube Live.)
The 24-year-old from Florida said she has never felt more comfortable as an artist than she does now.
"I always felt in my band and in the pop-rock format that I wasn't weird enough, that I wasn't standing out enough," Pope said on the phone from Nashville last week. "Wearing things to get people's attention — I didn't want to do any of that. I didn't want to compromise myself. I always felt pressure to, but in this format, I don't at all."
Country, a genre known for its gatekeepers and tradition, seems to have embraced the former Warped Tour performer. Last week, Pope was in Nashville for the CMT Music Awards, where she won the Breakthrough Video of the Year for "Wasting All These Tears." Her coach on "The Voice," Blake Shelton, presented Pope with the award, which also reminded the country community that Pope had a credible A-list star in her corner.
When asked about "The Voice" experience now, Pope said she misses the behind-the-scene crew most. She also did not hesitate to say what she misses least.
"I don't miss the stress," she said. "I want to sell music, and I want radio to play my songs. All of that pressure is there, but it's not so dramatic."
Pope does drama in other ways. "I Wish I Could Break Your Heart," the latest single from her debut solo album (last October's "Frame by Frame"), features the lyrics, "Boy, I'd lead you on, light the fuse, drop the bomb / Just so I'd be the first to leave." Pope said the universal appeal of the song's lyrics is something she wants in all of her music.
"It's talking about wanting to break somebody's heart, but in the same breath, it's saying, 'I don't think I could because I love you too much,'" she said. "It's such a frustrating feeling that I know everybody has had in some point in time. That's what I want in all my music."
Pope's career in country is just getting started, but she's been a fan since she first performed a Martina McBride song at age 4. She admits not everyone in country welcomed her and her pop-punk past with open arms at first.
"Certain people were more of the arms-crossed kind of radio people that weren't sure about me," Pope said about last year's promotional radio tour, a rite of passage for new artists hoping to impress program directors. "Usually, toward the end of the visit, they were on board. ... I was just pretty open and honest about my past and where I come from. It seems like they connected with that."
Although Pope is most focused on her solo career in country, she is not ashamed of her more-aggressive past. She even left the door open for a Hey Monday reunion somewhere far down the line.
"I definitely see it happening eventually," Pope said. "I can't imagine it happening anytime soon, just because I still want to accomplish so much solo. But I wouldn't say 'never.'"
Cassadee Pope performs Saturday at Jiffy Lube Live, 7800 Cellar Door Drive, Bristow, Va. Tim McGraw will headline. Doors open at 6 p.m. Tickets are $30.25-$70.25. Call 703-754-6400 or go to thejiffylubelive.com.