Ashlie Amber Stands by Her Country Cred: 'I Didn't Grow Up on a Farm — but I Grew Up Listening to Shania' (Exclusive)

"I know all the songs. I sing all the songs. So why can't I love country music and be a part of country music just like anybody else?" the 'American Idol' alum asks

Ashlie Amber met the love of her life on Hinge.

"He had liked one of my photos, and then I saw his profile and I was like, 'Ooh, he's so cute,'" Amber, 36, remembers during a recent interview with PEOPLE about her success on the well-known dating app. "He had this great smile, and he was so beautiful."

And so, the American Idol alum did what most women would do.

“I actually ignored him for a week,” she admits with a laugh.

But when love is meant to be, it finds a way. And as the story goes, the country/pop artist went out for drinks with her friends one night, mustered up the liquid courage to message the mystery man, and the rest is history. And it’s this premise that finds itself at the cornerstone of Amber's debut single "Keep You Around."

"I'm very much in love with my partner, and [this song] reminded me of him and how we met," she says of "Keep You Around," which serves as the first taste of Amber's upcoming EP M.O.. "I was not looking for a relationship, but all of a sudden he was there."

The couple will celebrate their two-year anniversary later this year.

"My dad would have loved him," says Amber, whose father died when she was just 12 years old. "[My boyfriend is] so supportive and he's a true partner. He comes and supports all my shows, and he's the first to put my song on repeat. I do believe that my dad would be very happy with my choice."

<p>John Joseph</p> Ashlie Amber

John Joseph

Ashlie Amber

This love story is just another piece of the intriguing story of Amber, a former tomboy who grew up amongst the luscious landscapes of her home state of Colorado. "I had really thick eyebrows and I was chubby, and it was not a good look," recalls Amber with a slight laugh. "I was definitely an ugly duckling."

Growing up on a mix of Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey and Earth, Wind & Fire, Amber distinctly remembers coming into her own and embracing her for who she was at the core when she decided in 2011 to grow out her hair.

"I think I always stood out because I was a singer, but everyone notices the hair!" she admits, laughing. "I've always had a somewhat outgoing personality because of those things. But I really did not blossom until I got to my mid-20s and really accepted myself.”

And with that acceptance came music that truly exemplified her and all the things that are important to her. "I love positive music," says Amber, whose 2023 cover of Tim McGraw’s “Live Like You Were Dying” opened many a country ear. "All of my music tends to be more on the positive side. I'm a very optimistic person."

<p>Sara Lee Saleh</p> Ashlie Amber

Sara Lee Saleh

Ashlie Amber

These days, she finds herself quite optimistic about the state of country music for Black women such as herself.

"The reason why country music was able to stay such a niche genre is because of country radio," she says. "And don't get me wrong, country radio still plays a big part in country music, but what happened is DSPs [digital service providers] became a thing, and now you can never be played on the radio and still generate billions of streams. And so, the genre is changing. Now, we have access to not just the millions of country fans out there now, but also the billions of people out there that have access to whatever genre of music that they want."

And with Beyoncé entering the playing field with her new album Cowboy Carter, which features many rising Black country artists such as Brittney Spencer and Tiera Kennedy, the spotlight has increased.

"We are very thankful for her, and honestly, we needed her," Amber says. "We needed somebody who didn't have to apply by the good old boy rules of Nashville, and who doesn't need Nashville to have a No. 1 country hit. People that are listening to Beyoncé's country are now finding Tanner [Adell]'s country and Reyna [Roberts]' country and Sacha’s country. We are out here. We've been out here for years, trying to get the recognition that Beyoncé was able to get us practically overnight."

<p>Sara Lee Saleh</p> Ashlie Amber

Sara Lee Saleh

Ashlie Amber

It's an amazing thing to watch for Amber.

"I'm on a mission to celebrate all this different sub genres of country music," she concludes. "Maybe I didn't grow up on a farm, but I grew up listening to Shania Twain and Faith Hill and Garth Brooks. I know all the songs. I sing all the songs. So why can't I love country music and be a part of country music just like anybody else?"

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