Artists To Watch In 2023: Bailey Zimmerman, Megan Moroney, Drake Milligan, Hailey Whitters, Noah Thompson & More

Music Mayhem Artists To Watch in 2023

The pool of talented country music artists has grown with every passing year.

And 2022 was no different. This year welcomed an overflow of budding new singers, gifted storytellers and viral music sensations. Indeed, the surplus of rising stars has proven that the future of country music is in good hands. But, some artists are rising to the occasion quicker than others.

As swaths of aspiring singer/songwriters continue to seek out Nashville’s bustling music scene in hopes to write a hit song, land a major recording contract and grow their fan base, here are 20 artists who are destined to take 2023 by storm.

*The below 20 Artists To Watch in Music Mayhem‘s 2023 list is in no particular order.*

Ian Munsick

Hailing from Wyoming, Ian Munsick is the first artist to be featured on the Artist To Watch list for 2023. The western country meets pop singer/songwriter brings a trailblazing rocky mountain sound to the country music landscape with his sentimental lyrics, rustic appeal, and rich tenor vocals.

Munsick grew up working on a ranch and honed his skills early on, playing in The Munsick Boys alongside his two brothers and his father – an avid fiddler. He later found his way to Nashville, where he quickly earned attention from some of Music City’s top music executives.

In 2020, Munsick signed a major label recording contract with Warner Music Nashville. He subsequently signed a publishing deal with Universal Music Group. From there, Munsick released his debut album, Coyote Cry, and got on the tours of Cody Johnson and Morgan Wallen.

Munsick’s most recent releases, “Horses & Weed,” “Long Live Cowgirls” with Johnson, and “More Than Me,” sets him up for a busy 2023. The artist, who completed a successful run of his headlining 2022 Westwood Tour, will hit the road for his 15-city Long Live Cowgirls tour, featuring support from Ashland Craft. Munsick is also planning the release of his sophomore album due out next year!

Bailey Zimmerman

Bailey Zimmerman has already enjoyed an impressive 2022, which means he is predicted to make an even bigger mark in 2023. At just 22 years old, the rising artist has already landed on the all-genre Billboard Hot 100 not once but three times for standout tracks, “Fall in Love,” “Rock and a Hard Place,” and “Where It Ends.”

The past 12 months also saw Zimmerman hit another milestone. He sold out all the dates of his headlining tour. He also made his Grand Ole Opry debut, and his major-label debut 2022 Leave The Light On EP became the most-streamed all-genre debut of the year and the biggest streaming country debut to date.

If that’s not enough, some of the biggest artists in country music have noticed his talent.

“It’s cool to see a little small-town kid, you know, kind of, like myself, come and start making some noise in the town and all around the country. I’m proud of him and looking forward to seeing what he does,” Morgan Wallen previously said of Zimmerman while guest-hosting Country Countdown USA.

Zimmerman, who brings listeners an authentic combination of country storytelling and arena rock with his hard-to-miss raspy vocals, first fell in love with country music while on long-haul drives with his father. The Louisville, IL, native, who once had a job building gas pipelines, built his fan base through TikTok, where he introduced fans to his song, “Never Comin’ Home.”

2023 will find Zimmerman taking the road as a supporting act on Wallen’s massive One Night At A Time World Tour. The Warner Music Nashville/Elektra Records signee is also preparing for the release of his forthcoming debut album, which is destined to launch the fast-rising country star into superstardom.

Randall King

Randall King brings back the glory days of ‘90s country music while adding in a modern twist as one of the most promising neo-traditionalists of today. A clear sign that he isn’t slowing down, King recently dropped a digital version of his Honky Tonk BS EP following his major label 11-track album, Shot Glass.

The latter of the two projects finds King serving up songs like the title track, “Around Forever,” “Hey Cowgirl,” and “You In A Honky Tonk,” which topped TikTok’s country playlist. Shot Glass, produced by Bart Butler and Ryan Gore, follows King’s 2018 self-titled album and 2016 Another Bullet EP.

Hailing from West Texas, King, who has earned over 120 million career streams, has been on the top of the radars of Red Dirt fans for years. Now, he is proving his time as a road warrior has paid off.

Having played over 150 shows since his start in country music, the Warner Music Nashville artist, who has opened for artists like Cody Johnson and Tracy Lawrence, is bound to take 2023 by storm.

Corey Kent

Cory Kent knew he was destined for the world of entertainment and country music at an early age, and he is finally seeing his career take shape.

After going viral with his catchy version of “Wild As Her,” Kent found a home at Sony Music Nashville’s RCA imprint. The popular “Wild As Her” cover provided Kent with a full-circle moment when it was covered on Season 22’s The Voice – a moment that proved just how far he’s come along since his stint on the same show back in 2015.

“Wild As Her” also landed Kent in the Billboard Hot 100, marking his first entry on the chart. The tune has also been certified Gold by the RIAA before it hit the Top 40 at Country Radio.

All of that, of course, wouldn’t have happened had it not been for Kent’s hard work and dedication. Starting his country music journey at the tender age of 11, Kent toured as the frontman of a Western Swing Band, opening for the likes of Roy Clark and The Oak Ridge Boys. After a stint of his own on The Voice, he released projects like 2020’s From The West and 2021’s, 21.

More recently, Kent celebrated a career dream. He sold out his headlining show at the Cain’s Ballroom two weeks in advance. Next year Kent will be even busier as he heads out as a supporting act on Parker McCollum’s headlining 2023 Spring Tour.

BRELAND

BRELAND is not new to country music, but 2023 is shaping up to be a big one for him as he closes out 2022 on a high note.

The past 12 months have seen the “For What It’s Worth” singer take the Top 21 position on Billboard’s Country Songs chart with “Praise the Lord” – his gospel-leaning duet with Thomas Rhett. In the fall, BRELAND released his debut album, Cross Country, featuring his title track – another collaboration, this time, with Mickey Guyton.

BRELAND, who has landed several duets with names like Chase Rice, Lauren Alaina, Nelly, Blanco Brown, Dierks Bentley, HARDY, Keith Urban, and more, also earned his first-ever CMA nomination at the 2022 CMA Awards for Musical Event of the Year for “Beers on Me,” his collaboration with Bentley.

Next year is bound to see BRELAND reach even more milestones in the country genre as he is slated to hit stages with names like Shania Twain and Walker Hayes.

Born and raised in New Jersey, BRELAND, who earned a degree in business and marketing at Georgetown University, first navigated the music scene in Atlanta before making his way to Nashville. He first rose to fame in 2019 with his rap-influenced song, “My Truck,” which went viral on TikTok.

Hailey Whitters

33-year-old Hailey Whitters’ mainstream-level appeal and youthful vocals has turned heads for years as she has honed her craft in Music City for over a decade. The country spitfire from Iowa has already landed major gigs, having toured with Maren Morris in 2019. A standout in songwriting circles and a signee of Big Loud Record’s imprint, Songs & Daughters, Whitters previously penned songs for artists like Little Big Town and Alan Jackson.

In the Spring of 2022, Whitters hit even more benchmarks. She released her third album, Raised. The project became her first full-length collection to land in the Top 10 on the Billboard Heatseekers Albums chart.

In addition to the success of her album, Whitters’ single, “Everything She Ain’t,” was her first radio promoted single. The song landed Whitters in the Top 40 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart and reached No. 29 on the Hot Country Songs chart. 

In February of 2023, fans can look for more of Whitters’ as she embarks on her Raised Tour ’23 headlining tour, supporting her current album, which Rolling Stone recently named one of the Best Country Albums of 2022. Whitters is also scheduled to take the road next year as an opener of Shania Twain’s Queen of Me tour.

Jackson Dean

Jackson Dean had a standout 2022 with his free-wheeling debut single, “Don’t Come Lookin.’” The tune not only landed features on Netflix’s Ice Road and the ultra-popular drama series Yellowstone but was also covered by pop powerhouse Kelly Clarkson as part of her ‘Kellyoke’ segment on her award-winning daytime talk show, The Kelly Clarkson Show.

“Don’t Come Lookin” served as Dean’s breakout hit. The song, which topped the country radio charts, broke records for Dean, 22, as he became the youngest male artist in Country Aircheck and Radio & Records’ history to top the charts with a first single.

Dean’s history-making song, which averages 5 million weekly streams, can be found on his Greenbroke album. The full-length album, which dropped in March of 2022, paves the way for a bright future ahead for Dean, who wrapped up the year playing shows on Hardy’s Wall To Wall tour.

In 2023, Dean will join Carly Pearce on Blake Shelton’s Back to the Honky Tonk tour.

HunterGirl

HunterGirl, whose full name is Hunter Wolkonowski, may be familiar to folks as she got her start on Season 20 of American Idol.

Quickly becoming a fan-favorite on the reality TV singing competition, the Tennessee native, who earned a platinum ticket on the show, introduced herself, telling viewers she used music therapy to transform veterans’ personal stories into songs.

HunterGirl’s pure heart of gold and clear authenticity scored her the runner-up spot on American Idol, and landed her a record deal with 19 Recordings/BMG. Following her stint on national television, HunterGirl continued to release songs, including her debut single “Red Bird” as well as her latest, “Hometown Out Of Me,” which serves as a “Thank You” letter to her hometown. 

She also recently wrapped a joint co-headlining tour with Idol winner Noah Thompson.

With her solid songwriting skills and outstanding vocal talent, there’s no question HunterGirl’s star will continue to rise in 2023.

Noah Thompson

Noah Thompson won over America’s hearts during his journey on Season 20’s American Idol. The country singer and loving father from Louisa, Kentucky, held a job as a contractor before his buddy, Arthur, sent his audition tape in on his behalf.

Thompson, although green, went on to claim victory on the show with his takes on songs like Rihanna’s “Stay,” Chris Stapleton’s “Starting Over” and Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” – a song also recorded by The Chicks and The Smashing Pumpkins, among others.

After Idol, Thompson, 20 signed a recording contract, dropped “One Day Tonight,” re-released a recorded country version of “Stay,” and then debuted the follow-up, “Make You Rich.” The music video for “Make You Rich” highlights Thompson’s backstory and role as a dad, as it features his son Walker. Thompson was also nominated for a People’s Choice Award for The 2022 Competition Contestant of the Year.

It was also recently reported that Thompson is considering a move to Nashville in 2023, which means his dreams of becoming one of the biggest stars in country music are here to stay.

Chapel Hart

Chapel Hart is the trio that’s been missing in country music. The group, made up of sisters Danica Hart and Devynn Hart, and their cousin Trea Swindle, turned heads in 2022 during America’s Got Talent. On the show, where they placed fifth, the trio, with infectious family harmonies, blew judges away with their original song, “You Can Have Him, Jolene,” a response to Dolly Parton’s timeless “Jolene” hit.

After their success on AGT, Chapel Hart made their official Grand Ole Opry debut following an invitation from Darius Rucker. The debut was a success as the trio earned a standing ovation during the first of several Opry visits. They also contributed vocals on Rucker’s 2022 “Ol’ Church Hymn” single.

Newly named as a member of CMT’s Listen Up Class of 2023, an initiative that highlights and supports some of the brightest rising stars in country music, Chapel Hart promises more in the coming months. They also have shows scheduled through the summer of 2023.

Dalton Dover

Dalton Dover has been building his audience for years, but his fan base grew substantually when he competed on Team Blake during Season 16 of NBC’s The Voice.

Dover didn’t win his season, but he did continue to make his mark via social media utilizing TikTok to reach listeners with his #CatchMeOffGuard series, which saw him posting cover songs. Dover also completed a residency at former coach Blake Shelton’s famous bar Ole Red in Nashville, where earlier this year Shelton surprised him with an invitation to make his Opry debut.

After receiving an invitation from Shelton, Dover marked a milestone in 2022 when he made his official Grand Ole Opry debut. 2022 also saw Dover signing a deal with Universal Music Group (UMG) Nashville, sharing the stage with the likes of Luke Combs, and announcing his debut single, “Giving Up On That.”

Dover, who recently wrapped up shows as part of Priscilla Block’s headlining Back To The Block Party Tour, has already begun filling up his calendar of shows for 2023. Fans can find him opening for Chase Rice’s on the Way Down Yonder Tour in April.

Megan Moroney

Megan Moroney may have already been gaining attention with the release of her 2022 debut EP Pistol Made Of Roses. But, when she took to TikTok with “Tennessee Orange,” her whole life changed.

The viral song, which tells the story of a girl falling for someone who is a fan of a rival football team, had social media a buzz. Fans started speculating whether or not the “mystery man” in the song was a real-life relationship between Moroney and another country star when artists like Morgan Wallen and Connor Smith began commenting below her posts.

Produced by Sugarland’s Kristian Bush, “Tennessee Orange” ended up raking in millions of streams and secured the Georgia-born artist a spot on the Billboard Hot 100 list. The country radio single also landed Moroney a record deal with Sony Music Nashville/Columbia Records.

In April 2023, Moroney will embark on her first-ever headlining Pistol Made Of Roses tour.

Drake Milligan

Drake Milligan dazzled audiences on Season 17 of America’s Got Talent. His confidence, charm, and early rock ‘n’ roll swagger sent him all the way to the third-place spot.

The country singer/songwriter, who was dubbed “The new Elvis of Country” by judge Howie Mandell, wasted no time after completing his run on the show. Just one day after competing on AGT, he released his 14-track album, Dallas/Fort Worth.

The project out via Stoney Creek Records includes tracks like “Sounds Like Something I’d Do,” “Kiss Goodbye All Night,” and Milligan’s duet with the Time Jumpers and Vince Gill called “Goin’ Down Swingin.’”

Heading into 2023, Milligan has been named as part of the upcoming CMT’s Listen Up Class, an initiative that highlights and supports some of the “brightest rising stars in country music. Milligan also has shows lined up for 2023, including a slot overseas as part of the C2C Country to Country music festival.

Laci Kaye Booth

Laci Kaye Booth first rose to prominence on Season 17’s American Idol with her angelic-like vocals on covers of songs by stars like Miranda Lambert and Brett Young. Her experience on the show led to Nashville, where she quickly found a label home with Big Machine Label Group (BMLG).

While at the label, Booth released a handful of songs and a debut project. But, 2023 finds the singer/songwriter entering a new phase of her career. She is now marketing herself as an independent artist.

Booth’s first independent offering came with the release of “Damn Good in a Dive Bar,” which she wrote alongside Melissa Peirce and Ben West. The song paves the way for a bright future ahead for Booth and gives fans the first taste of the “dreamy country” sound she has been looking for throughout her journey.

Booth, of course, has more music planned for 2023. So stay tuned!

Nate Smith

Nate Smith knows the power of music. After losing everything in one of the deadliest wildfires in the history of his hometown of Paradise, Calif., Smith turned to what he knew best – music. Although he had already given it a shot in Nashville years prior, picking up the guitar again is what got him through one of the darkest times of his life.

Through misfortune, Smith wrote a song called “One Of These Days.” That song gave him his second chance at a career in country music as it became a beaken of country music hope for so many people throughout his community. In 2020, Smith’s follow up “Wildfire” song went viral on TikTok, setting him up to score a record deal with Sony Music Nashville.

Fast forward to 2022, and Smith’s inspirational mission and velvet thunder vocals has taken him to new heights. His current single, “Whiskey On You” was certified Gold and rose to the Top 10 and Top 11 spots on Billboard’s US Country Airplay and US Hot Country Songs charts, respectively. The tune also created a viral trend on TikTok that caused even more buzz around his name throughout the past year.

“Whiskey On You” has garnered over 125 million total on-demand streams to date. Fans can look for more music from Smith in 2023 as he is preparing a full-length release.

Chase Matthew

Chase Matthew’s country music journey certainly came with a few hurdles, which included a rejection from Nashville School of Arts at age 15. But, as an independent artist, he managed to rack up over 360 million global streams.

Matthews’ first RIAA Gold-certified single came with the release of “County Line.” That success paved the way for his 2022 debut album, Born For This, and a headlining tour of the same name.

Matthew’s single and album led to a partnership with Warner Music Nashville, and “She Loves Jesus” marked his first single under the new label. More recently, Matthew’s steamy and romantic track “Love You Again,” which he wrote alongside Taylor Phillips and Casey Brown, sparked a “#BlackDressTrend” trend on TikTok, amassing millions of views.

This past year has, undoubtedly, set Matthew up to be one of the hottest rising country artists for 2023. Following a tour as an opener for Matt Stell, next month Matthews will hit the road for his headlining Love You Again tour, a name inspired by his current single.

Jay Allen

Jay Allen first made waves when he released “Blank Stares” – a personal ballad inspired by his late mother’s unfortunate experience with Alzheimer’s. A performance of the song showing Allen dancing with his mom on stage in Iowa went viral on social media, shedding light on the topic of Alzheimer’s while also putting the country artist’s career in the spotlight.

In 2022, Allen, who helped raise millions of dollars to fight Alzheimer’s disease, shared his story as a contestant on Season 22 of The Voice. He first competed on Team Gwen Stefani before switching to Team Blake Shelton.

Although Allen didn’t win his season of the reality TV competition series, he followed his stint on the show with shows that included a stop at Shelton’s Oklahoma bar, Ole Red. Allen, who recently married fellow country artist Kylie Morgan, also promised to continue being an advocate for the Alzheimer’s Association.

On Dec. 2, Allen released a song called “No Present Like the Time.” The tune is set to hit country radio in 2023.

Ben Burgess

Ben Burgess may not be a household name just yet, but what some people may not know is he already has credits on some of the biggest hits in country music. Yep, that’s right. Burgess is actually one of the writers behind Morgan Wallen’s breakthrough smash, “Whiskey Glasses.” He has also written for a wide range of artists from the Jonas Brothers to Little Wayne to Dierks Bentley.

Songwriting hasn’t been Burgess’ only talent. He’s also a performer in his own right, having navigated the early years of his music career in Texas and California before setting his sights on Nashville.

After formulating a rugged country sound that sets him apart from other artists, Burgess introduces himself to a bigger audience with the release of Tears the Size of Texas. The 10-track album features a mixture of murder ballads and classic cowboy songs.

Following a run on Koe Wetzel’s tour, Burgess will join Larry Fleet on his 2023 headlining Larry Fleet Live tour.

Kylie Morgan

Aside from tying the knot with Season 22’s The Voice contestant, Jay Allen, Universal Music Artist (UMG) Kylie Morgan has spent the year working hard on her music.

Over the past 12 months, Morgan has dropped several tracks. In July, she released her EP, P.S., which includes standout tracks like “Independent With You,” “Love Like We’re Drunk,” and the country radio single, “If He Wanted To He Would.” Morgan later went viral with her song “Bridesmaids.”

After previewing the tune she co-wrote with one of her real-life bridesmaids on TikTok, “Bridesmaids” quickly racked up over 8 million views and earned well over 1 million likes. Morgan followed up her success with another EP titled, Songs to Say I Do. The 5-track project, inspired by her nuptials, includes “Bridesmaids” as well as “Fireworks,” “Good Hands,” “Always Been You,” and “That’s My Man.”

The fall of 2022 also saw Morgan opening dates for Tyler Rich’s Thinkin’ We’re In Love Tour. Morgan has previously opened for artists including Dan + Shay, Little Big Town, Maren Morris, Kip Moore, Jason Derulo, Gavin DeGraw, Brett Eldredge, and Billy Currington.

MacKenzie Porter

MacKenzie Porter has already found success as a country singer in her native Canada, having earned a string of No. 1 hits and countless nominations at Canadian Country Music Awards shows.

Now, the singer/songwriter and actress is gaining traction in America with her incredible talent, infectious pop-country style, bubbly persona, and a recent smash hit to boot. Porter earned her first US No. 1 hit on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart in 2021 with “Thinking ‘Bout You,” a duet with Dustin Lynch. Porter ended the year at the No. 1 spot on Mediabase’s 2022 year-end country chart.

And 2022 was another standout year for Porter as she shared stages with acts like Walker Hayes, Chris Lane, and Jordan Davis. Her “Thinking ‘Bout You” collaboration also scored the Big Loud Artist a nomination at the 2022 American Music Awards in the Favorite Country Song category.

Fans can look for more music from Porter soon as she plans out the details for a full album release.

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