It was December of 2017 when Dillon Carmichael first noticed her. Standing in a packed crowd at a show in his home state of Kentucky, the girl with the pretty blonde hair and the dimples that seemed to radiate when she smiled soon got undivided attention from the country music artist who couldn't keep from staring.
"I even went over to my guitar player that night and was telling him about how beautiful I thought she was, right there in the middle of the show," Carmichael, 27, tells PEOPLE. "I thought there was an angel standing there."
And now, that angel is going to be his wife.
On Saturday, as part of a photoshoot that was supposed to celebrate the couple's two-year anniversary of dating, Carmichael proposed to his girlfriend Shayla Whitson. And before the country music artist could even formally ask her to be his wife, Whitson, 24, had already replied with the one word he had been waiting for.
"As soon as I got down on one knee, she said yes," Carmichael says of the proposal that took place on the picturesque grounds of Whitewood Hollow, an event space just outside of Nashville owned by fellow country music artist Drake White and his wife Alex. "I was so nervous that I pretty much blacked out! I don't remember anything after that."
In the pictures exclusively shared with PEOPLE and taken by Zac Phillips Photography, the couple can be seen beaming over the momentous occasion in both of their lives. But make no mistake — Carmichael's been waiting to ask this particular question to this particular girl for a long, long time.
"I had told my band I was going to marry her before we were even dating because I just knew it," Carmichael remembers of his now-fiancée, who attended University of Kentucky, majoring in hospitality management. "I would even tell her, 'I'm going to marry you one day,' before we started dating, which is kind of an absurd thing to say. But now that it's actually happening, I guess it's not that absurd."
He laughs, but it's certain that Carmichael has long known that Whitson was the one for him. Even when they were just friends, she always seemed to be on his mind. In fact, Carmichael would notoriously include Whitson's name on every single guest list for every single show he has done over the years.
"Whether she could make it to a show or not, she knew her name was on my guest list," says Carmichael, whose new happy-go-lucky single "Hot Beer" was produced by Jon Pardi and written by beloved Nashville songwriters Ashley Gorley, Hunter Phelps, Ben Johnson and Hardy. "If she showed up at a show, she was getting in. She always had a special place in my heart, even though we didn't know each other really well at the beginning. It was an aura and a vibe that we have always had together. It's always been something really special since the moment we met."
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And while their first meeting was far from easy — "I was too shy to talk to her, so she came up and talked to me first" — Carmichael says he's confident that the timing of their entire relationship has been nothing short of perfect. But as the time he was going to pop the big question drew nearer, things didn't always go as smoothly.
"I took a trip to Kentucky without her to ask for the blessing of her mother and father," says Carmichael, whose lyric video for his song "I Do for You" featured Watson. "I really had to sneak around with that, and I think she knew something weird was happening. She had her doubts as to what I was up to."
But all of those doubts have now disappeared, and the couple are focused on their shared future, along with a possible wedding date.
"We will be shooting for a one-year or two-year engagement," Carmichael explains. "That will give us time to accomplish some of the goals we have before we get married. We're not in a hurry. We have made a commitment to each other and now we can just take our time."
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