Ashton Montgomery loves to sing -- so much so that she hopes to pursue music as a career.
The Grovetown teen is well on her way, as she was named the Georgia Country and Gospel Music Association's 2008 Entertainer of the Year in November.
"I thought it was pretty cool," the 15-year-old said of the award. "I was, like, 'Wow!' "
Now she's headed to Pigeon Forge, Tenn., this week, where she'll perform alongside about 1,000 singers as part of the North American Country Music Association International's largest competition.
"I've been practicing for months," Ashton said, adding she'll be singing Jessica Simpson's Angels and I Will Not Be Moved by Natalie Grant on Monday night.
Ashton, a Harlem High School freshman, has been singing since she could talk. On the recommendation from a family friend, she started touring with the Georgia association in October.
The performances, as part of showcases of young performers around the Southeast, gives Ashton valuable experience she'll need to take on a music career.
"I'll be able to be comfortable on stages and not be, like, in one spot singing to a dot on the wall," said Ashton. "I will be able to have that connection with the audience, be able to get them into the songs and enjoy it as well."
Ashton is no stranger to the stage. She was a performing member of the Augusta Children's Chorale for four years until her busy touring and performing schedule pulled her away.
She's also taken two years of vocal training.
Ashton was a backstage "techie" during Men Over Buffalo , the play that earned Harlem High's drama department state honors in the fall. She was out of town performing with the group when she earned the entertainer of the year award.
Ashton also has been cast as the lead understudy in All Shook Up , the department's spring musical.
"I am very impressed with her," said Roy Lewis, Harlem High's drama instructor. "She's a very dedicated and hardworking young woman who is committed to what she is doing.We are so excited and so blessed to have her as part of our group."
Ashton's mother, Elaine, said her daughter has been singing since she was a child. She said her daughter's singing drew lots of attention and comments from people encouraging her to foster Ashton's ability.
"I thought it was pretty cool," Ashton said. "It was kind of inspirational what some people would say."
Ashton said she knew by about the fifth or sixth grade that she wanted a career in music.
Her real love is contemporary gospel music, which is what she'll be performing this week in Pigeon Forge.
Ashton's performance will be critiqued by judges from the entire continent, and she looks forward to the constructive criticism.
"I like critiquing, because I know what I can improve on," Ashton said. "I just take any chance I get as a learning experience and keep moving forward from that."
Ashton said she plans to continue performing through the GCGMA, including a March 31 performance at the Twisted Leprechaun in Atlanta and March 30 at the Wild Horse Saloon in Nashville, Tenn.
There are no plans for a record any time soon. But Ashton said she plans to keep singing with the voice God gave her.
"He's the main person I would thank for it," Ashton said. "I thank my family and I respect them for supporting me. But He's the main one I give all my respect to, because He's the one who blessed me with this ability."
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