EMU Student Advances to Semifinals of National Country Music Competition
YPSILANTI – “You’re No Good” was one of the songs Eastern Michigan University student Rachel Williams sang, but it didn’t reflect the thinking of the judges or viewers.
Williams beat out 200 contestants on her way to winning the “Nashville Star” talent search competition Dec. 6 in Grand Rapids, Mich. She next will compete in the semifinals January 2004 in Philadelphia, Pa.
“Nashville Star,” the country music equivalent of “American Idol,” features live country music performances by 12 finalists who are judged by industry professionals and the television viewing audience. But unlike “American Idol,” “Nashville Star” requires contestants to not only sing a song from an approved list, but to perform an original song they have written.
Williams performed her original songs “Kiss Me Like You’re Coming Back” and the up-tempo “Death-Defying Love” at Grand Rapids. During the three rounds of state competition judging, contestants were narrowed from 200 to 70 in the second round and then to 35 finalists.In the next round, she will compete against the 34 regional winners to become one of 12 finalists. Those 12 finalists will appear on USA Network’s “Nashville Star” in March 2004. The national winner will get a recording contract with Sony Music Nashville.
“It’s been exhausting. And when you win, it’s so emotional and exciting,” said Williams.
Williams, 18, was the youngest of the Grand Rapids contestants. She is a freshman who is considering a major in music education.
She has been singing since she was 3 years old when her grandfather took her to the state fair to see the Judds perform. “She was dancing all around and singing,” said her mother, Toni Williams. “Her grandfather then said, ‘She’s a country girl!’ A few years later, in a middle school talent show, we heard her rendition of “Hero” and realized she could sing.”
At 13, Williams received her first “trophy” for singing at the Belleville Strawberry Festival, said her mother. Williams asked the band at the festival if she could join them and sang Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” a cappella. A vendor presented her with a red scented candle and proclaimed it her first award for singing.
She also sang the National Anthem at Ford Field in Detroit, performed at “Memphis Smoke” in Royal Oak and will appear with the Forbes Brothers Dec. 21 at Mr. B’s in Troy.
Other groups Williams has opened for include Cledus T. Judd, Mark Chesnutt, Clay Walker, Emerson Drive, Trace Adkins, Ronnie Milsap and Tammy Cochran.
One of the most memorable highlights of her career, she said, was making her national television debut on The Queen Latifah Show where she won the Junior Vocalist title in 2001. That same year, Williams recorded her first demo in Nashville, Tenn., with Ron Harbin. “I wanted to do new things (after high school graduation). I auditioned for “Nashville Star” to gain more exposure since you get known on a national level without having to be Shania Twain or the Dixie Chicks,” she said. “I just want to sing.”
Williams lives in Belleville, Mich., with her parents, two sisters and a brother. She said she’ll be writing additional songs for the January competition and, like other students, trying to hold down a job to pay the bills. Her goals include signing with a major label such as RCA and touring with her favorite singer, Wynonna Judd. She assures her fans that no matter what happens in the future she will be on at least the first two TV episodes of “Nashville Star” in March.
Visit www.rachelwilliams.org for more information on Rachel Williams and her local appearances.
Eastern Michigan University is a public, comprehensive university that offers programs in the arts, sciences and professions. EMU prepares students with the intellectual skills and practical experiences to succeed in their career and lives, and to be better citizens.
Editor's Note: Looking for an expert source for a story? Check out EMU's Eastern Experts online at www.emich.edu/univcomm/easternexperts.