The Real McCoy

Annalyse McCoy chased her dreams from small-town Kentucky to the Big Apple.

By Lizzie Kibler | Photography by Kris Rogers Photography | Published Feb. 8, 2019
Annalyse McCoy

Actress and musician Annalyse McCoy can say she’s been a lot of things in her time on earth, from rooftop landscaper in New York City to international performer. She’s appeared in national commercials and sang on the Opry City Stage. And the eastern Kentucky native’s lineage delivers another claim to fame, too—McCoy is, in fact, a “real” McCoy.

“I’m a direct descendant from the McCoys who fought with the Hatfields,” she says. “We actually have a book in the house where I grew up called ‘The McCoys: Their Story.’ The genealogy goes back to my grandparents.”

But, mostly, it’s the singing and acting that have defined McCoy over her lifetime, beginning in the church choir in her hometown of Inez, Kentucky, and, later, performing in plays at Jenny Wiley State Park. The small-town upbringing provided a solid base for developing skills in a supportive environment, and performances at the state park introduced her to people from other parts of the state and country.  

“I had this enormous support as an artist,” says McCoy. “I knew that small-town feel, and it was good getting to know people outside who would come in to do these shows.” Exposure to varying perspectives allowed her to develop her own sense of identity and aspirations. “It really helped me as a budding artist.”

While her career would eventually land her in New York, McCoy first ventured a little less north to Northern Kentucky University, where she attended school on a full-ride theater scholarship. 

“I really wanted to go in state, and NKU had the best reputation,” she says. “NKU was the best theater school in the state, honestly.”

After graduation, she considered Nashville, where she could pursue music, and L.A. for its access to acting opportunities. But in the end it was New York City—the nexus of the theater world with a vibrant music scene—that offered everything she was looking for. “There is no place like New York,” she says.


Which is not to say it was an easy transition—settling into the city that never sleeps was quite an adjustment for the young woman from small-town Kentucky. “I grew up in a town of 500 people and moved to New York where there’s 500 people on my block, probably,”  says McCoy. “It was quite a process to get used to. In New York, you have to find your own rhythm.” But her determination drove her to push ahead, knowing that she had to hit the ground running if wanted to make it. “Sometimes you just have to show up,” she says. 

McCoy went to every audition she could find, networked with people in the creative community and worked side hustles to pay the bills. She landed several voice-over gigs and created music for corporate presentations. And she worked as a rooftop landscaper, which, in a place like New York City, is one tall feat. 

Campus shot Photo by Emily McAleesejergins

“We got the best views of the city,” says McCoy. “In the midst of all these huge skyscrapers. A musician friend of ours got us into it, and we met other musicians that way.” As the side jobs piled up, the number of people in her circle grew until she found herself in a large network of working creatives. The work she secured expanded as well—she even landed the lead role in a commercial for carmaker GMC  (her resume now boasts the ability to drive a stick shift). 

And New York turned out to be a surprising fit for her Kentucky-bred songwriting, too. Nashville usually gets top billing for Americana and country, but McCoy points out there’s a growing community of rootsy musicians in the Big Apple, too.  “It’s small, but it’s definitely mighty,” she says. “People don’t realize how much people in New York do love country music. Because, you know, the city has those great stories.”

McCoy fronted the roots rock band 2/3 Goat for a number of years and now plays mandolin and sings with her husband, Ryan Dunn, in the duo Annalyse & Ryan. The pair recently toured Europe, where McCoy notes the most-requested song was John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” For a woman raised in a city with a three-digit population, there was a special joy in singing about country roads while traveling the world. 

She knows there are students sitting where she once sat, wishing for the creative success McCoy’s found, and her advice to them is simple: Never give up on yourself, and always be nice to people. “I think there are a lot of talented people out there, but you also have to be someone people want to work with,” she says. “That doesn’t always necessarily have to do with talent.”