07/02/2014 06:03 pm ET Updated Jul 02, 2014

Lucy Hale Talks 'PLL' Audition, Music And Getting Through Dark Times (EXCLUSIVE)

Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

Fans know Lucy Hale best as the star of the wildly addicting drama "Pretty Little Liars" with its almost cult-like following ("PLL" broke records as the most-tweeted TV series of 2013), but before she was the edgy Aria, the actress was an "American Juniors" finalist who's now returning to her musical roots.

In a refreshingly honest interview, the double-threat, who is the newest spokesperson for the "Let's Get Her to Camp" campaign,* talked to HuffPost Teen about her new country album, "Road Between," what's on her bucket list and how music helped pull her through some of her darkest times.

We've watched Aria really develop and mature throughout the years. As someone who was a teen herself not so long ago, how have you used your personal experiences to shape your character?

It’s pretty interesting because I’m a 25-year-old and we're still playing teenagers. We’re seniors in high school this year. So I constantly have to remind myself that I’m a lot younger than I am in real life. It was a little tricky for me going into the show because I was homeschooled for high school and I’m not experiencing the same things that these girls in the show are experiencing. I haven’t dealt with the death of a friend, or obviously being stalked by someone, but there are some things that I can relate to such as being loyal to a group of friends, having a great group of girlfriends and love and heartbreak. You sort of just draw from those experiences and then everything else you have to kind of make up.

Were you surprised when you figured out who "A" was?

Well, a little bit. But with the nature of our show, is "A" ever really "A"? I feel like we’ve found out a few times and then its changed, so I don’t think we’ll ever really know who the big "A" is until the very end of the show -- and we’ve still got a while to go. But to answer your question, I’m constantly shocked at what’s being played out. We’re always taking left turns and once I think I’ve figured something out they completely change it. Our writers are really smart and they always try to keep it really interesting.

It seems like the show is on all the time, all year round. You guys are always filming. What do you like to do when you have free time? How do you relax?

Usually my free time is really dedicated to the music, and traveling with that and promoting albums. At the end of the day, music is my hobby, so even if I’m not out promoting it I’m usually writing songs or practicing my guitar. A lot of my free time when I get it is spent hanging out with friends, going to dinner or going to the movies -- and sleeping! I’m not really getting a lot of that these days so I have to force myself to relax, which is a little hard but just sitting down and reading a book or taking a bath or going for a hike is kind of like getting a dose of normalcy, which is much needed. Without those little moments, it gets a little crazy.

Aria definitely has the most daring fashion sense of all the girls. Do you feel like you’ve been influenced by her style or have you brought any of your own personal style to the show?

No, I don’t think so. Although I definitely respect [Aria's] bold fashion choices, I’m always drawn to people that are really set apart from the group and are really eclectic and do their own thing. My style probably couldn’t be more different than hers. I will say that if anything, being that daring on the show has helped me to think outside the box in my own personal style, but we’re sort of on the opposite end of the spectrum.

Did you originally test for Aria during auditions or did you try out for a different character?

The whole auditioning process was new to me because I was actually given the script by the producers because I’d worked with them on a different show. So pretty much what they said is, "You can choose any character that you want. We just want you to be a part of the show." And that was new to me; that had never happened. I read the script and immediately was drawn to Aria. I saw a lot of myself in her, but was really intrigued and interested in Hanna. I really loved the different sides of Hanna. So I read for both of them, and obviously I’m more of an Aria than a Hanna so I went with that!

Congratulations on your new album, “Road Between." Did you always know that you wanted to make music?

In my mind I’ve always been a singer who acted, not an actor who sings. To the rest of the world, I’m the opposite. I’m an actor who’s doing music, but music has always been that thing for me. It’s been my biggest passion. I always knew I was gonna release an album. I just wanted to do it when the timing felt right and when I was in the right place and the right state of mind, when I really knew what I wanted to sing about.

When I got the opportunity to make an album, we recorded it. We’ve been working on it for a couple years and it just came out a couple weeks ago. It just feels really good because music fulfills something in me that nothing else in the world can. It’s really cool to finally get to share that with everyone.

Do you have a favorite track off the album?

They’re all very special to me, but I think a song called “Nervous Girls” has made the most impact on my life and I think that it just has such a beautiful message to send out to the people that I know are listening to my music. I think that it's something every female should hear. We all kind of struggle with different things, we all go through the same emotions and it’s kind of like my way of spreading girl empowerment. I think that the song is very uniting and it makes us feel like one in the same which is something that we always lose sight of.

As a successful actress who’s now incorporating music into her career, are there any role models in particular who you’ve looked up to for inspiration along the way?

I have different role models in each area -- and this might sound a little strange -- but if I were to model my career on how I would want it to be, it would be Tim McGraw. Obviously, he is a very well-established country singer and he does all this touring and has so many albums and has so much respect. Then he goes off and he does amazing movies and still has a wonderful family life. So I think that’s something that I want to try -- to balance the best of both worlds and still kind of have a normal life, too.

What was the experience like performing at the Grand Ole Opry? Where were you when you found out you were going to be singing?

I was on a plane when I found out. I actually saw that the Opry tweeted about it. I called up my team and was like, “Am I singing at the Opry?” They had literally just found out, too. So that was funny. But yeah, I just performed there a couple days ago and that was something that was on my bucket list so it still hasn’t really sunk in. It’s really surreal. I mean, it was just incredible -- all my family was there and everyone that had helped me get to that point was in the audience or backstage. I can honestly say that I really wouldn’t have changed anything. It was just a really, really special night. I’m really grateful for it.

What’s next on your bucket list?

I did a lot of things this year that I’d always wanted to do, so I want to tour and I think that’s really high up on my priority list. I want to do films,. I want to do a lot of characters that are different from my "PLL" character. And I really -- aside from career-related stuff -- I really want to travel and take time to go explore different cultures and different ways of life.

Earlier this year, you had tweeted your support for your co-star Troian, when she spoke up about past eating disorder and self-harm issues in Seventeen magazine. What is something that you might want to tell teen girls who are struggling with body image?

I think if it's to the point where it’s dangerous, the biggest and most important thing you can do is go ask for help. I think that we often forget that. It’s almost like we’re weak when we ask for help, but really, that's the strongest thing you can do. Because sometimes it's okay to admit when you can’t handle things on your own. I think that’s something that I learned is that it’s okay to ask for help. So A.) Do that, when you’re at a point where there’s no looking back, and B.) I think that a lot of self-respect and loving yourself comes from growing up and really surrounding yourself with like-minded people.

It's hard growing up this day and age -- girls are so hard on each other. I think that you have to find people that only better you and that took me a long time to really figure out. You kind of are who you walk with and I think it’s best to be with people who bring out the best in you. But also, focus on things you like about yourself and do stuff that you love. I know for me, without music I don’t know what I would have done. It’s something that really helped me get through some of the darkest times in my life. So I think you need to focus on things that make you happy and that’s what helped for me.

That’s great advice. If you could go back in time and tell your teen-self one thing, what would it be?

I’d pretty much just say, don’t sweat the small stuff. At the time, we think that everything is just so detrimental. "It's the end of the world" and "I’ll never get over this person" or "I’ll never get through this day" or "Oh my God, my hair looks terrible." There’s so many different things and I think that that’s another thing you gain when you get older -- you see the bigger picture. At least I have. I quit focusing on the minuscule things and it’s actually made me happier. Like I can see the bigger picture and I can get through bad days now because I know I’m gonna get over the hump. I think it just goes back to telling myself "don’t sweat the small stuff" and continue to focus on what you love.

[Editor's note: Lucy Hale is partnering with Nestlé Crunch and Girl Scouts of the USA to send hundreds of girls to summer camp with the "Let's Get Her to Camp" campaign.*]



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