The surf was a cool blue and the clouds were minimal, but even in the Bahamas, Brittany Aldean could feel the shade.
Just hours after she and husband Jason boarded a private jet in early 2018 for their first vacation since becoming parents to son Memphis months earlier, she was already fending off insults from some of her one million-plus Instagram followers. "Everyone is different," wrote one fan, "but I'd be taking the baby with and just bring someone extra along."
But Brittany wasn't looking for extra opinions. Calling the beach getaway "much needed," she wrote, "Vacations are ok for new parents to take. Sometimes after being pregnant for almost a year, cooped up in a house for weeks at a time, you need a little sunshine and adult time." And should you not agree with her take, she had one simple request: "Do me a favor and unfollow me. You will NOT be missed."
After all, the pair has had enough animosity for a lifetime.
For better or worse, the quadruple-platinum country singer's love story with the 32-year-old lifestyle blogger has all the makings for a great country tune. There's a little drama (the ACM Awards Male Vocalist of the Year was first photographed kissing the American Idol alum in September 2012, while still wed to first wife Jessica Ussery), a dash of heartbreak (after trying for seven months to fix his union with Ussery, Jason filed for divorce) and, finally, that much-coveted happy ending.
When Brittany and Jason, marking his 43rd birthday today, wed on a Mexico beach in 2015, Brittany told Us Weekly, "We've been through so much, and we always wanted this to be the outcome. That we get to spend the rest of our lives together is really, really breathtaking."
Growing up in small-ish Macon, Georgia, Jason always had a grand vision. The son of federal workers Barry and Debbie (they divorced when he was three), he was a baseball star at distinguished private school Windsor Academy, but he had dreams of doing more than hitting it out of the park.
Starting at age 14, Jason would take the stage at the local VFW hall where his mom played bingo, doing covers of hits by Alabama, Merle Haggard, Tracy Lawrence and Guns N' Roses. By the time he graduated high school, he eschewed a junior scholarship offer to play college ball, in favor of driving a Pepsi truck by day and working the festival circuit and Macon's top club, Whiskey River, by night. "When the Braves didn't draft me," he's explained, "I decided to dive into music full time."
His first big splash came in 1998, when producer Michael Knox discovered the 21-year-old performing at a Macon talent show. "I had been looking for five years for an arena-country guy—we hadn't had one since Garth Brooks—who could take a heavy-metal kind of approach and really blow it out," Knox told Billboard. "But he had to be a real country boy for it to work. And I knew he could pull that off."
As he wed high school sweetheart Ussery and they welcomed their two daughters—Keeley, now 17, and Kendyl, now 12—Jason struggled to forge a career in music. He was dropped from Capitol Nashville, then lost a gig as a staff songwriter. "My wife was so encouraging, but I was ready to head back home with my tail between my legs," he has said.
It wasn't until his 2008 single "She's Country" topped the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart "that I realized, 'All right, I may not have to go back to working at Pepsi," Aldean told Billboard.
But while his career soared, his relationship floundered. "You know, obviously there was things going on in my marriage at the time where it just wasn't really happy," he explained in a 2013 interview for In the Spotlight With Robin Roberts: Countdown to the CMA Awards. "And you go out and you kind of let your guard down a little bit and things happen."
Things in this case, refers to a drunken makeout session with Charlotte Bobcats cheerleader Brittany at West Hollywood bar The Den On Sunset.
When images from the September 2012 incident—captured by cell phone cameras—hit the Internet, a contrite Jason immediately went into damage control. Taking to Facebook, he issued a firm apology, explaining why he ended up "embarrassing my family and myself." His story: While in L.A. for his My Kinda Party tour, "I had too much to drink, let the party get out of hand and acted inappropriately."
But he swore he didn't completely betray the woman he once called his "best friend." After the illicit kiss, "I left alone," he swore, "caught the bus to our next show and that's the end of the story."
And it almost was. At first, the "Burn It Down" singer seemed truly committed to gaining back his wife's trust. "We're workin' through it," he told E! News a month after the incident. "We're tryin' to move on, that's the biggest thing."
And Ussery, who joined him on the red carpet at the November 1 CMA Awards, seemed open to moving forward. In a sit-down with CBS This Morning Jason explained that they'd been through "a lot of things" in their nearly two decades together. "I would say go ask any couple that's been married for 30, 40, 50 years," the country superstar noted, suggesting that everyone has their struggles. Agreed his wife, "I would love to hear their story."
But for all their explaining, the duo's story ended with Jason filing for divorce in April 2013, explaining in a statement that Ussery "will always be important to me because she is the mother of my children, and I know that we will both always make our daughters our No. 1 priority."
Within a year, though, Brittany was ranking quite high herself.
The pair went public with their renewed romance at the 2014 CMT Awards in June. And by July, he was Instagramming photos of them together and growing impatient with his fans' disapproval.
He captioned an August photo with a rant detailing that he was "so sick" of people judging their romance. "I have made mistakes but I am a better person because of it," he wrote, "and wouldn't change a thing. I'm happier than I have ever been." It's a sentiment he echoed to Billboard the following month, telling detractors, "It has been two years of this s--t—get over it, already!"
After all, their union isn't going anywhere. Some six months after he proposed in September 2014, the couple tied the knot. (In a happy endings for all twist, Ussery remarried later that same year.)
The Oceanside affair at Mexico's Mahékal resort saw Jason's dad and best man, Barry Williams, give Brittany a hearty welcome to the family—"He summed it up by saying that if we ever split up, he's keeping Brittany and getting rid of me," Jason told Us Weekly—and their officiant, Willie Robertson, dispense some crucial marital advice.
"He was comparing marriage to building a house," Jason said of the Duck Dynasty star, a longtime pal and hunting buddy, "and saying what we do from here on out determines whether it's going to be a well-built home or one that could crumble. He said it's up to us to decide where we want our relationship to go."
For a while, Brittany told Us Weekly, their focus was simply "experiencing the ride." But soon the pair was eager for a new path. "In the next couple of years, probably, we definitely want to have kids," the "Night Train" singer told People in 2015, adding his daughters were eager to have a sibling. "They want a brother, so we'll see what we can do about that."
It's a promise they made good on. In May 2017, the couple, alongside Keeley and Kendyl, the pair revealed they were expecting a baby boy. And after much debate—"Names that I liked, she didn't like and names she liked, I didn't like," Jason told Field & Stream—they decided to name him Memphis, a nod to music legend Elvis Presley's beloved city. "I've always been a big Elvis fan," Jason explained to Country Countdown USA of the choice. "I just wanted him to have a name that wasn't common."
And just like the little guy's moniker, Brittany's pregnancy was far from ordinary. Two months before she was to welcome the 9-pound, 5-ounce bundle, she joined her guy at the October 2017 Las Vegas' Route 91 Harvest Festival.
She was sitting with friends in a tent when gunfire broke out during his performance. "As you can imagine, my first instinct was to run to him and his was the same," she wrote in an emotional Instagram post. "As we laid behind equipment onstage with some of our road family, bullets flying past…all I could think was, 'I never even got to hold my baby.' We all made sure the others knew we loved them and then ran for cover where we stayed for the next couple hours."
The experience made Memphis' December 1 arrival all the more special, notes Jason. After the tragedy that left 58 people dead, "It definitely took me a little time to wrap my head around it and I needed some down time to kind of step away from it for a little bit and get home," he explained in a January 26 interview with SiriusXM's The Highway.
There, he was able to fully immerse himself in his baby boy's arrival: "Within a couple months I saw the worst thing you could possibly experience and then I saw the best thing you could possibly experience, with him being born."
Now, the new parents' world is a mix of experiences both exhilarating (University of Alabama alum Brittany and longtime Georgia fan Jason enjoyed the 2018 College Football Playoff National Championship game from the sideline) and mundane. Their first post-baby outing outside of their Nashville-area estate was to Target, the spot Brittany calls "our second home." And on Jan. 25 she posted about a diaper changing experiencing that saw Memphis pee "all over us."
The mess did little to dissuade them from the wonders of child-rearing—"How could u be mad at this face," she wrote on Instagram—and daughter Navy Rome joined the clan last February, giving the busy parents two under age three.
With the younger siblings set to tag along for parts of Aldean's We Back Tour this year, "We will have a two-year-old and a one-year-old in the bus this summer," he told E! News last month. "The kids go a little stir crazy on the bus so I kind of leave that up to my wife as to how much or how little she wants to come out with the babies. The bus was built with them in mind and it's ready to go whenever they want to come out."
But their children are just about the only people the pair are willing to bend over backward for.
"At this point, people are going to think whatever they think about me. And I'm not going to spend my time trying to convince them, 'No, I'm not like that,'" Jason told Rolling Stone Country in 2016. "I know who I am, and the people closest to me do, and a lot of things that have happened over the years have been unfortunate and not planned, but it is what it is."
That's not to say, he doesn't have some regrets. "I'm not going to sit here and say that could I do it over gain, would I do everything exactly the same? Probably not. I would change some things and the way I handled some of it," he told the mag. "But I'm not going to say I'd change the outcome—because I wouldn't."
(Originally published April 3, 2018, at 5 a.m. PT)