Colorado Mesa University student Emily Kingston is well on her way to becoming a county music star.
When Collin Raye visited Kingston's hometown of Gypsum last July, Pam Schultz told the famous singer's manager, Dave Fowler, about her. Fowler listened to Emily's CD and liked what he heard. He invited the 19-year-old to Nashville and she recorded three of her original songs in a professional studio Dec. 15.
"It took one day to record the whole thing," said Kingston. "The band took about 30 minutes to learn each song. They listened to the song once and composed the rest of the instrumentals. It was amazing to hear my music come to life!"
Kingston only learned to play guitar last year and has written more than 20 original songs since March.
"The guy who did the mixing for my songs was Toby Keith's mixer," Kingston said. "Fowler told me he said my music was really good."
Now 20, Kingston is finishing an associate degree in kinesiology at CMU.
"I'm graduating soon and I'm thinking of moving to Nashville to pursue a music career next year," she said.
In the meantime, the demos she recorded will be used to promote her in the music business.
"Music is in her, she was born to do it," said Kingston's mom, Mallie Kingston. "She started singing with the radio when she was 3 years old. She knew all the words and could remember a song after hearing it twice. She has this huge country voice and we were like, 'We're from California - where did that come from?'"
The family moved to Gypsum when Emily was 3.
"We listened to country music as long as I can remember," Emily said.
She started competing in Gypsum's karaoke talent shows when she was 8.
"I have known Emily for a long time and have heard her sing from the time she was in high school," Schultz said. "She sang in all the events around - Gypsum Daze talent shows since day one and the Eagle County Fair contests. As she got older, her voice just got better and better. She had the stage presence, the voice and the courage to get up in front of people to sing."
Besides local talent shows, she has advanced in the preliminary auditions for national TV competitions "X Factor" and "American Idol." She didn't make it onto the big shows but she met a key influence along the way.
Local musician James Williams was a regional "X Factor" judge in Grand Junction and ended up teaching Kingston to play guitar.
"There was something about her," he said. "She had a good personality and an awesome voice. She won regionals and I talked her into coming in to prepare her voice for Dallas. I told her, 'If you could play guitar and write your own songs, it will complement your singing.'"
Kingston quickly learned the basics.
"She took to songwriting like water," Williams said. "It's been neat to watch her progress."
Emily said her fingers hurt from the guitar strings at first but Williams encouraged her to work through the initial pain.
"Now I play all the time, whenever I need a study break," Emily said. "Guitar is not that hard. I'm no Santana but I can carry a tune."
"It doesn't take me long to write a song," Emily said. "If I find a quote I enjoy, I'll write it down and make up a theme from that."
She describes her style as country pop.
"A lot of my songs are about wanting a relationship or being in a relationship," she said. "I've only had one serious relationship in my life. It's good to have heartbreak because it writes a good song. It also helps to write songs because it helps get my feelings out."
She lists a string of big-name country music divas when she talks about her influences but that list also includes her older sister.
"I'm the youngest of five," she said. "My family isn't that musical but my 27-year-old sister writes songs, too. She used to sing me to sleep when I was little. She's a great singer and I think I kind of picked it up from her."
The Nashville trip didn't come easy. Aside from travel expenses, it cost $500 to record each song. Schultz is also a member of Gypsum Town Council and she got the town to donate some money for that in November.
"My family also donated a lot," Emily said. "I'm so grateful for all the help."
The Kingstons had been to Nashville before when Emily tried out for "American Idol" two years ago, but the recent visit was different.
"In the contests, you had one chance to sing for a couple people," said Mallie Kingston. "On this trip, we had more time to meet people - it's a very friendly place. People told us there's only two degrees of separation there, meaning almost everyone knew someone in the music business."
Emily said she knows challenges surely await but she's committed to chasing her dream.
"I know there will be hard times but this is what I want to do," she said.
Her mom said she never gives up.
"She's so diligent and has always pursued this," Mallie Kingston said.
Williams said Emily still hits him up for advice now and then, and he enjoys working with her every chance he gets.
"She tried to give me credit for success in Nashville and I told her it was her hard work that did it," he said. "She is very sweet, humble and deserving of this."