TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (WIAT) — Few may remember, or have heard about, the time when Taylor Swift came to Tuscaloosa County to attend her senior prom nearly 15 years ago.
While the country-pop sensation is now known as one of the best-selling musicians working today, the 2008-era Taylor Swift was just beginning to win hearts with her second studio album “Fearless.”
However, Swift’s climb to fame came at a cost– the typical high school experience. To streamline her career to stardom, Swift was homeschooled for most of her later high school years. Prior to her academic switch, she attended Hendersonville High School in Tennessee, but the school would be holding its prom while Swift headlined for Rascal Flatts.
After speaking with her management team about her desire to attend a high school prom, they contacted MTV to make her dream a reality…tv show.
‘Once Upon a Prom’
Before becoming Alabama Secretary of State, John Merrill was the spokesperson for Tuscaloosa County School System the same time Swift came to Tuscaloosa County. Merrill recalled the details that went into planning Swift’s prom night, which would be held at Hillcrest High School with the theme being “A Night in the Spotlight.”
“Taylor had a couple of hits at that time and she was very well known by young people especially,” Merrill said. “She was a budding superstar at that particular time in her entertaining career. So [her team] said they wanted to have her go to a prom and experience having her own.”
When it came to finding Swift a prom date, Merrill said MTV decided the fairest competition would be for each candidate to submit an essay describing why he would be the perfect pick. The essays were then given to Swift’s team to evaluate.
The key requirement– the boys could not already have dates– was ignored by some according to Merrill.
“There were some boys that had dates that actually went ahead and wrote the letters hoping that they could go with Taylor,” Merrill said. “And that was kind of…interesting, as things progressed.”
After reading through the various essays, including one submitted by twin brothers willing to both accompany Swift for the night, the perfect date was chosen: senior Whit Wright.
“Whit had just come to school that fall. His daddy was a football coach and he just had transferred,” Merrill said. “And I think she liked his story about how he was new to the school and he didn’t have anybody to really date so Taylor would be a good date for him.”
Swift, alongside her best friend Abigail Anderson, made the trip to Tuscaloosa to experience everything from cruising down the Black Warrior River on the Bama Belle to enjoying the dance alongside the student body.
‘A Night To Remember’
Looking back almost 15 years later, Merrill said it’s stunning Hillcrest was able to host a singer who the American Music Awards would one day define as the “Artist of the Decade.”
“She was a major recording artist because she was with a major label and had a couple of hit records but she’s a mega superstar now,” Merrill said. “When you think back on it, it’s just phenomenal to think that somebody with that level of fame came to [a local] high school.”
Merrill still remembers Swift’s positive interactions with everyone she encountered, from students to local fans.
“I just remember her being real down to earth, kind and genuine and very open to meeting all the people that came because some students wanted to bring others to meet her,” Merrill recalled. “So family members came to have their picture made or talk to her because, you know, she’s a celebrity, ‘course it’d be a lot bigger deal today because she’s more of a megastar.”
Merrill said he knew the community would remember that night “Forever & Always.”
“Everybody always said Hillcrest got everything anyway and now, Taylor Swift comes to the school,” Merrill chuckled, “So that was even more of like a validation of, yeah, I guess Hillcrest does get everything — they even get Taylor Swift too.”
Whit Wright did not respond to several requests for comment on this story at deadline.