When Kelsea Ballerini was making plans to record her new song "Half of My Hometown," she only had one duet partner in mind: Kenny Chesney. Getting the superstar to agree was a daunting task -- after all, it's been over 10 years since he signed on to guest on an outside song -- but for Ballerini, it had to be Chesney.

To understand why it was so important to the "Homecoming Queen?" singer that Chesney, specifically, be her partner on the song, you have to think back to a couple of years earlier, long before Ballerini and her co-writers wrote "Half of My Hometown." In a new interview with Taste of Country Nights, Ballerini recalls a show she played at New York City's Playstation Theater.

A few weeks before the show, Chesney happened to be in New York, and he noticed her name on a scrolling billboard outside the Times Square venue. "[He] took a photo of it, got my number and sent it to me, and said, 'I'm so proud of you, hometown girl,'" she recalls.

Both Chesney and Ballerini hail from Knoxville, Tenn., and that made him an especially poignant duet partner for "Half of My Hometown." The song reflects on how Ballerini's relationship with her hometown has changed and deepened as she's gotten older, and how about half of the people she knew growing up stayed in East Tennessee, while the other half left.

“One of the big things of this album is me kind of getting my head up for air over this last year and kind of realizing that I’ve kind of been dealing with a tug-of-war of really loving traveling, and really loving the opportunity that that allows me to have,” the singer tells Taste of Country, “but starting to really understand the value of home and hometown, and starting to put roots down and invest more in friendships.”

The stakes were high, and Ballerini knew that she wanted Chesney, and only Chesney, to record the song with her. So, she sent it to him, as a text message, as soon as she finished recording her vocal part -- at about two o'clock in the morning.

"Bold!" she admits. However, Chesney didn't leave her hanging in suspense for long: "Next day, he wrote back, and he was like, 'I love this song. It made me emotional listening to it,'" Ballerini remembers. "Because, you know, I think we have really similar upbringings."

Chesney is one of two collaborators on Ballerini's upcoming self-titled project: The other is pop star Halsey, whom Ballerini says was an equally essential duet partner. "They were my people I really wanted to help me tell this story," she relates.

Kelsea is due out on March 20. It features previously shares songs such as "Club," "L.A." and "Hole in the Bottle," in addition to the first single.

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