The "Old Town Road" singer, 61, finally confirmed to People magazine on Wednesday that he and the Australian singer/songwriter, 34, became engaged in August — four months after his wife of 28 years, Tish Cyrus, filed for divorce. Billy Ray and Firerose have a new song, "Time," out Wednesday, but perhaps more interesting than their musical collaboration is out they came together in the first place.
He told the outlet that 12 years ago, in 2010, while making Hannah Montana with his superstar daughter Miley Cyrus, he took his dog for a walk on the Tribune Studios (now: Sunset Bronson Studios) grounds in Hollywood.
"I loved doing that show," he recalled. "There's a couple old pine trees on the lot that look like Tennessee. Tex and I would go out there in the middle of the day and he'd take care of his business and we'd stretch and I'd think how much I missed Tennessee. On that given day, Firerose came out of the front door. There was almost a moment of, I don't know, recognition. I was like, 'This girl's a star.'"
Firerose, then 22, came over to say hi to the dog and Billy Ray, whom she recognized.
"She told me she'd had an audition and I said, 'Well, I'm sure you got the job,'" he recalled. However, Firerose, who doesn't remember what the audition was for, didn't. Billy Ray offered to take her inside and introduce her to producers.
"I just thought, well, the casting agents, the producers, the writers, they're all on the floor of where we do Hannah Montana. And I actually said to her, 'Don't ever take a strange man up on this offer, but, in this case, Tex will testify that you will be totally safe,'" said Billy Ray, who was 49 at the time. "I'm going to introduce you to a producer and you can kind of make yourself at home and watch us rehearse and you know, maybe it might lead to a role or just another contact at Disney.' And so, off me and her and Tex went back to the studio and I think she met a lot of the cast and met the producers, writers. And, in some ways, well, in a lot of ways, we became friends."
Billy Ray, who married Tish in 1993, said they stayed in touch. Firerose — her legal name (though reportedly born Johanna Rosie Hodges) — said, "Our friendship was so solid over the years."
In Tish's divorce filing, she said she and the "Achy Breaky Heart" singer lived apart for their final two years of marriage. Billy Ray told People that as they pandemic began, he and Firerose became songwriting partners.
"We began sharing music, and it just evolved," he said. Firerose said "Billy confided in me a lot of what was going on in his life," referring to the end of his marriage. "I was just the best friend I could possibly be, supporting him."
Billy Ray said he asked Firerose, "who had been such a light of positivity, such a best friend," if they could be more than friends. "It just evolved more into, as musical soulmates, to soulmates, happy, pure love that to me, I didn't know could exist." In early summer, Firerose moved to his Franklin, Tenn., farm, and he proposed in August — initially sans engagement ring.
"Billy looked at me and said, 'Do you, do you wanna marry me?'" she recalled. "And I was just like, 'Of course I do. I love you." She later picked out a diamond and designed her own ring. Billy Ray, who was married once before Tish, said their love is "forever."
Billy Ray also addressed rumors of estrangement with his children — in addition to 29-year-old Miley, he's dad to Brandi, 35, Trace, 33, Braison, 28, and Noah, 22 with Tish as well as Christopher Cody, 30, with ex-girlfriend Kristin Luckey.
"Everyone knew that that relationship was over a long time ago," Billy Ray, who became a grandfather last year, said of his marriage to Tish, which nearly ended two times previously. "Everybody's turning the page. It's been a lot, but everyone knew that it was time for a change."
Billy Ray and Firerose, appeared together on Live with Kelly and Ryan in 2021 to promote their song "New Day" and she talked about meeting him a decade earlier.
"Billy Ray's been a phenomenal supporter of my music ever since then," she told Ryan Seacrest at the time.