While working at Mercury, Roberts sang on the side, hitting writer's nights at clubs, which she particularly liked. Roberts mainly did covers, although she threw in songs she wrote as well.
She was part of a college band, which recorded a demo, and would "get booked in little places and laundromats where nobody in the industry would come. We finally did get to play at one hockey game, but no one (in the music industry) ever saw it. It kind of helped me keep my life separate."
But she never mentioned a word to Lewis about her after hours activities or long-term goals.
"I was scared I would be fired because I was told (when picking) an internship at a record company or publishing company, don't tell them because they think you're there just to sing," says Roberts.
She also couldn't afford to get fired. "I had so many bills, and I still have so many bills. I had my school bills, loans and car, and I couldn't get fired. I had to work full time. I'd rather work full time at a label than a grocery store like I did for 2 1/2 years before moving. I didn't want to go back to that. I knew I was there to work for other artists. I was scared if I told someone that I was a singer, I'd get fired. I wanted Luke to respect me for my work ethic and like me for Julie and not just ease into his office."
The guitarist of Roberts' college band worked in the same office building where Rowan had his office, so the guitarist told Rowan he wanted him to listen to the demo with Roberts.
"He told him who it was," says Roberts. Rowan told the guitarist, "I've met her at Mercury in meetings, and she never told me she sang. He said, 'no, it's her.'"
"Then we talked about working together at night. He didn't really like the songs on the demo or the way the demo sounded, but it was what I could afford at the time," which was about two years ago.
Rowan worked with Roberts, who recorded more songs. He then met with Lewis and played him recordings of several singers, including Roberts.
Roberts particularly intrigued Lewis. "Who's that?" he asked Rowan.
"Your assistant - what assistant?"
When told it was Roberts, Lewis said, "'you got to be kidding me. I didn't know she was even a singer'," says Roberts, relating the story. "He was really shocked. Thank God he liked that (the demo)."
While Roberts knew that Rowan would present her tape to Lewis, she was "scared to death. I really believed in what we had been working on. We had worked really hard in the studio."
But she was still worried about the work/music issue. "I was scared to cross that line," she says. "Sometimes in life, you have to take a chance. I had worked there two or three years and not taken any chances."
The day job soon was over for Roberts because she had a career to concentrate on.
Mercury signed Roberts to a development deal at the end of 2002, which doesn't necessarily lead to a full record contract. With development deals, the record company puts up money for an artist to record several songs and see if there is something there.
In April 2003, Roberts and Rowan hit the studio. There was give and take about what to record, but Roberts says she and Rowan generally were in accord.
"Break Down Here" hit a biographical note for Roberts. The song deals with a woman leaving behind a bad relationship driving the highway in her jalopy.
"I heard it at a writer's night a long time actually before I got my development deal," she says. "I recorded that song because it reminded me a lot of my mom, who moved to Nashville (with me) three years ago. It was hard to do. She was starting over."
Mama Roberts was an accountant in South Carolina.
"She had a great job, but she needed a fresh start in her personal life," says Roberts of her mom, who was divorced. "She drives a really junky car, a '91 Escort. All the time, emotionally, physically, I was nervous that she would break down and not make it here."
"I have a '99 Accord, but it works better than a '91 Escort. She's going home in a few weeks and taking my car. That song was my mom's story."
Roberts also goes uptempo and bluesy on "No Way Out," with Delbert McClinton appropriately helping out.
"I liked it because so many country songs are people breaking up, divorce and leaving songs. This song is pretty different. No matter what, no matter how high the bills pile up, they're in love, and there's no way out. They're going to stick it out. There are not many songs liked that. I liked the positive spin on that."
Interestingly enough, Roberts never realized she had a bluesy side until she started reading reviews.
"I haven't really tried," she says of the style. Roberts thinks she was influenced by singing in nursing homes in South Carolina with a group of older, retired men. "One of the men sang kind of bluesy," she says. "I would mimic it. I never really tried."
"I guess it's just me hearing it when I was little. Maybe it's the way God made my voice. I never really really tried. I love Elvis. I love to hear Elvis sing. I've always driven to voices like that. Maybe that's it."
While seeming happy and confident about her album, Roberts, who has received attention for a Country Music Television show "In the Moment" chronicling her career, says she was anything but just prior to its release. "I was nervous the week before it came out. I was so so nervous. You never know how it's going to be accepted. It's my first album, and I wanted to be accepted. I feel like we really worked hard on it."
"I was honestly scared to death because you work so hard. You're laying it out there for everybody but I'm very proud of it, and I'm not nervous any more."
"I was so scared that it wasn't going to do good," says Roberts of the album that debuted in the top 10. "It's going great so far."