This 17-Year-Old Is Making Us Rethink Our Screen Time

Photographed by Isabella Alesci.
You know Lennon Stella. Even if you don’t think you know Lennon Stella, you know Lennon Stella. She’s one-half of the sister duo who made the YouTube-famous cover of Robyn’s “Call Your Girlfriend” in 2012, using nothing but empty tubs of butter and perfect pitch. It wasn't long before she and her sister Maisy were performing on Good Morning America, and by fall, they were playing Connie Britton’s musically gifted daughters on the show Nashville.

Now 17, Lennon (who, yes, is named after John) is no longer making music with empty food containers, not that we’d object if she were. She’s an actress in the middle of filming the new season of Nashville, which premieres January 5 on its new home CMT, and a singer-songwriter who’s performed everywhere from the Grand Ole Opry to the CMAs to the White House. It’s a lot of stage time for someone who wasn’t looking for it, particularly when it comes to acting.

"Acting was always Maisy’s thing," she told me on a sunny, fall-perfect day in Nashville where she now lives with her parents and sister. It was Maisy who persuaded their parents, Brad and Marylynne Stella, to let her audition for TV shows and commercials, which was how the then 8-year-old came before the producers of Nashville. But when they saw a video of the sisters singing together, they wanted Lennon, too.
Photographed by Isabella Alesci.
It was out of nowhere for 12-year-old Lennon. “When they asked me to audition, I was just like what?” she says. “I think I had every reaction possible in a matter of five minutes: I went from crying to laughing to just peeing my pants and screaming. I never imagined myself acting.”

Television really is about the last place you'd expect Lennon to turn up when you consider she didn't watch it for the first decade of life. In fact, she didn't have cable or internet during those years because she spent most of it on a farm in rural Canada, a location so remote that neither were available. It was only when the Stellas moved to Nashville in 2009 that they got internet, and they didn't get TV until 2012 when Lennon and Maisy were, you know, on it.
Photographed by Isabella Alesci.
Not having a screen to stare at freed up a lot of time, giving Lennon an entire childhood to fill with music. At age 5, she found an instant connection with her first guitar and then went on to learn the piano, ukulele, and just enough drums to play for fun. It helps that her parents are musicians, too, and have one non-negotiable house rule: Anyone can sing whenever they want, and nobody can tell them to stop.
Photographed by Isabella Alesci.
"It's for real," Lennon tells me, adding that breaking the rule would probably result in a week of being grounded. "I think it's because my mom was shushed a lot when she was growing up, and when you're young, you're experimenting and trying different things with your voice. If someone tells you to be quiet, it makes you feel insecure."

This creative bubble allowed Lennon to grow up unself-consciously and largely without outside influence to become one of the only 17-year-olds to say things like, "Only recently did I develop an appreciation for the internet." But even as she updates her Instagram and Snapchat multiple times a day, she admits it's a struggle to keep up with other people's feeds and celebrity drama.

It's an interesting relationship with the spotlight for someone who was thrust into it as a tween. She began to be recognized after her and Maisy's YouTube videos started going viral, and now it's hard for her to remember a time when that wasn't the case. "It’s been happening to us for so long now that it’s not weird anymore," she says. "It’s honestly just an awesome feeling. It's flattering, and everyone's so kind. It's like I get to meet a bunch of new people every day."

Combine this with the fact that Nashville is a show that deals largely with fame, its trappings and rewards, and Lennon is heading into adulthood with a unique and informed perspective. Unlike her Nashville character, who we last see hurdling toward adulthood and a record deal faster than a judge can grant her emancipation, Lennon is wide awake to the fact that fame isn't the goal but the by-product of creative success.
Photographed by Isabella Alesci.
For now, the homeschooled 12th grader is happy that Nashville found a new home on CMT after ABC canceled it last spring and that she's getting the opportunity to take on more adult story lines (a serious relationship is coming). And while she loves her serendipitous acting career, music remains her first love and her best love. "An album is my dream — to make it, to have it, to tour. And as far as I know, it's happening in the near future."