Samantha Landrum looks like any pretty blond young woman with a bright smile and a sense of warmth. She had a sport (tennis), an activity (show choir) and a place (Laurel, Mississippi) that she calls home. But for Samantha Landrum, who found herself competing against Johnny Bulford, who’s gone on to write Lee Brice’s “A Woman Like You” in the Colgate Country Showdown Regionals at Nashville’s Wild Horse Saloon before she could drive, the need to sing overtook everything.
“When I was 13, my Dad took me to see Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood. I told them on the way home, ‘Pull the car OVER!’ I’d wanted to sing my whole life, but that night, I knew... I said, ‘Whatever it takes... whatever I need to do... I want to do this!’ “I’d been singing around the family business since I was little. They knew that much, but I don’t think they realized how serious I was ‘til then. Since that moment, my parents have really laid it on the line for me... They’ve made the sacrifices for me to do this.” Dreaming big – or more importantly, outside the lines -- runs in the family.
The “family business” is as unique as Samantha herself. The Landrum Homestead & Village is a recreation of a late 1800s settlement, with over 70 buildings on 30 acres. Visited by people from all around the world and is a favorite destination for school field trips, it is – to invoke Kevin Costner’s “Field of Dreams” – a case of “If you build it, they will come.”
“It started out as just one building that my Grandfather built to show us, how our ancestors lived” Landrum explains. “He built it with his own hands. Over time, it just kept growing. He just wanted to make this place for us – and everyone else. “I grew up literally 100 feet from it. Every day, I was with him around the homestead, feeding the animals, mowing the grass... Anything to be outside. I started singing there, too, just to entertain the people. It wasn’t so much about show business, but making the people feel welcome and appreciated.” That same sense of welcome defines Landrum’s music. From the first notes of the title track of Hometown, her warmth shines through the 18-year old’s creamy soprano. It is a song that celebrates all the things that matter to her, but at the same time, it’s an invitation to join her there – and to show her the beauty of your hometown, too.
“There’s no better song to describe my life,” she says. “Where I come from, everybody cares about everybody, knows everybody’s business. Family, friends, just everyone... If your dog gets loose, everybody knows he’s yours; they’ll bring him back, because that’s how it is. You do what you can to help, because that’s how it is of where I’m from.
“It’s funny: I had 'Hometown' for two years before I recorded it. I got chills the first time I heard it, and I hung onto it. People kept thinking I’d find something I’d like more, but I knew! To me, the songs that are the best are the ones that really are who you are.” Though a young lady who talks to her Grandmother every night – “and she prays with me...” – Samantha isn’t afraid to live life or take on the world. Joking “I just love people, being around them, talking to them... hearing whatever they have to say. With the Homestead, I meet people from all over the world, and it never stops being interesting.” That carefree fearlessness is what led a small town girl to tell her Show Choir Director after her sophomore year that she wouldn’t be returning. Her need to sing was too big, and her will to get after it won out.
“I’ve always felt older than my friends... Even though in Show Choir, I was singing and dancing, traveling and having fun with them. I didn’t do drama, never did the party scene. That just wasn’t me.
“I knew I was different, that I needed more. When I told him, he was so nice. He told me he hated that I was leaving, but he knew that I was on my way.” Her way included getting serious about songwriting at 15, inspired in part by losing to Bulford who “got extra points for having original material,” and in part from recognizing how music spoke to her own life. Though she wasn’t quite sure how it was done, she brought her usual sense of focus and drive: immersing herself with songwriters, musicians and people who could teach her what she needed to know.
She also lost her dear friend Corey. It still resonates inside the tender-hearted blond. “Music has always hit me... from a very young age,” she explains. “When I started writing, that helped me understand what I was feeling – and to express things that are hard to say. After all, there are things you can’t say, but you can put in a song. In the process, you really figure (what you’re feeling) out.”
Though she didn’t write “Just Another Day,” she recognized the emotional core the second she heard it. “I lost my best friend a couple years ago, and I heard it just after it happened. I listened to ‘Just Another Day’ a bunch of times every day, and it really helped me.
“When Corey died, music was what really got me through. It helps people in ways nothing else can, just reaches inside your soul and makes you feel what you need to. Then it kind of makes you feel better.” From the pain of losing a friend too young to the backoff issued to the one who done you wrong, there’s no emotion Samantha’s afraid to embrace. One listen to the sassy “One Stone” shows this is one sweet-to-the-core girl you don’t want to do wrong.
“It’s all the same,” she says with a laugh. “Once you go through that first bad break-up, man, woman, boy, girl... You wise up. You learn. If you aren’t gonna do right by me, there’s no point sticking around.” Not that music’s ever let Miss Landrum down. It’s been her constant companion since she can remember listening – and singing – and it’s the one thing she knows she can’t quit. She’s also knows no fear of what it might bring.
“My brothers, Nathan and Justin, were the 2005 World Champs in paintball. We went to Orlando for the finals – and it was crazy! But I saw at a young age that crazy dreams can come true! Who’d expect that?! And it’s an amazing thing to watch happen... “So I believe in dreams. I believe in God first, my family second, and allow everyone and everything to fall into place.
“Over the years, it always has... There’ve always been good people who believed in my dream, and folks back home who never forget.
"For a girl like me, that’s all you really need to make it come true.”