Kelsea Ballerini kicked off the 2023 CMT Music Awards with a dedication to the victims of the Nashville school shooting.
The country music star, 29, said, “On March 27, 2023, three nine-year-olds Evelyn Dieckhaus, William Kinney, and Hallie Scruggs along with Dr. Katherine Koonce, Cynthia Peak, Mike Hill walked into the Covenant school and didn’t walk out.”
Ballerini became emotional before adding, “The community of sorrow over this and the 130 mass shootings in the US this year alone stretches from coast to coast. I wanted to personally stand up here and share this moment because on August 21, 2008 I watched Ryan McDonald, my 15-year-old classmate at Central High School lose his life to a gun in our cafeteria.”
The CMT host concluded, “Tonight’s broadcast is dedicated to the ever growing list of families, friends, survivors, witnesses and responders whose lives continue to forever be changed by gun violence. I pray deeply that the closeness in the community that we feel through the next few hours of music can soon turn into action, like real action, that moves us forward together to create change for the safety of our kids and or loved ones.”
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Just before taking the stage at the country music award show, Ballerini and Chase Stokes, 30, made their red carpet debut, five months after her divorce from Morgan Evans.
The country music star stunned in a gray, corseted gown as she clung to the “Outer Banks” star.
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Stokes kept his look casual, keeping a blue button-up shirt open, exposing a white t-shirt and black pants.
Ballerini recently took to social media to defend her relationship with the actor, claiming it is not a PR stunt.
“Idk seems staged. Probably PR,” she wrote beneath a photo of her sitting on Stokes’ lap, which the actor had posted. She tacked on an upside-down smiley face emoji.
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After they were spotted out together on several occasions, Ballerini confirmed her relationship with Stokes in February while on the “Call Her Daddy” podcast.
The couple first sparked romance rumors when Stokes posted a carousel of photos to Instagram in January, with one featuring Ballerini.
The picture showed Ballerini and Stokes cuddled up in their seats at the SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California. Although their backs were to the camera, Stokes tagged the singer, so there was no confusion as to who he was sitting with. Ballerini commented on the post saying, “go vols” along with an emoji of a monkey covering its eyes.
The singer-songwriter finalized her divorce from her husband, Morgan Evans, in November.
On an episode of the “Tell Me About It With Jade Iovine” podcast in December, Ballerini defended her decision to separate.
The “Half of my Hometown” singer said she’s “really intuitive and in tune” with herself and knew that it was time to get divorced.
“For a while, you’re right, it was kind of like, ‘OK, this is just a new phase of a relationship,’ because relationships go through seasons, right? And it’s not always going to be rainbows and butterflies. That’s just not it,” Ballerini explained. “For a long time, I was like, ‘Oh this is just… the glitter wears off. That’s what happens.’ And then you get into a phase where you wait for it to come back. And then sometimes it doesn’t.”
“But at the end of the day, it is such a disservice and a dishonoring of yourself if you know something is not right and you stay,” she added.
Ballerini and Evans wed in 2017. After nearly five years of marriage, the two announced their separation in August on Instagram. Ballerini and Evans originally met in 2016 while hosting the CMC Music Awards in Australia.
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Shortly after Evans and Ballerini decided to divorce, he wrote the song “Over for You” to help him process his emotions and heartbreak. He ended up releasing the song after playing it for an audience in Australia.
“All my social media, and the conversations I started having with people turned from ‘Great show man’ or ‘Come back to Kentucky soon’ to stuff like, ‘Thank you for writing the song, it’s getting me through my divorce,’ or ‘Thanks for putting into words what I felt when I went through this seven years ago,’ stuff like that,” Evans explained to Fox News Digital.
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“When things started happening like that, I knew it was something I had to record properly and share, and that’s what we did. And I’m really proud of the song.”
Fox News Digital’s Lauryn Overhultz contributed to this report.