Young country singer is a hard act to follow

August 07, 1994|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Sun Staff Writer

If one Carroll County girl has her way, the name of Ashley Szymanski will someday be just as recognizable as those of Tanya Tucker, Reba McEntire and Trisha Yearwood.

"I love country music," said 11-year-old Ashley, who enchanted the opening night crowd at the 4-H/FFA Fair Farm Queen contest with her rendition of Mary-Chapin Carpenter's "Lucky."

"It's my favorite type of music."

With a toss of her long, curly brown hair Monday night, Ashley belted out Ms. Carpenter's ode to fortuity while the audience cheered louder and louder.

It was only her third public performance.

"I was going to turn around and ask the [Farm Queen contestants] if they felt lucky," said Ashley, a member of the 4-H Performing Arts Club. "I just thought it went with the whole thing."

The young alto, a seventh-grader at East Middle School in Westminster, was singing before she could speak, said her mother, Lois.

Never once has the Szymanski family doubted that its youngest member would have a performing career, she said.

"We've always said that in some way, shape or form, Ashley would be on a stage," Ms. Szymanski said. "She loves to put on a show in front of people, and she's never had a case of nerves."

Comedy was Ashley's first love, her mother said, a talent that shows as she animatedly tells a story from school or demonstrates how she dazzled fair-goers into buying raffle tickets that benefit 4-H projects.

"I just went up to the men in overalls and said, 'See, you could win a side of beef,' " Ashley said, imitating the man she asked to buy tickets. "Or I'd point out the rabbits [on the ticket] to their little kids."

"She could sell freezers to an Eskimo," her mother said.

But as more people recognized her singing talent, Ashley decided she would like to follow the road to Nashville.

"I just kept listening to country music," she said. "My mom played it all the time."

When Ashley was 8, her mother persuaded her to sing "Paper Roses" for her grandmother, the girl said.

"After that, everyone wanted me to sing for family reunions, anniversaries and things like that," she said. But she didn't get any public exposure until she joined the Performing Arts Club about a month ago.

"I wanted to be in the fair so badly, but things kept happening" that kept her from going to rehearsals, she said. "Everybody's got a talent, but we [club members] are just the people who want to show it."

Finally, she was able to attend and impressed the leaders, Ron and Debbie Zepp, with her talent. Since joining the club, she has appeared with the group for two community performances.

"I hear her singing all day long, so I guess I didn't know how really good she is," said Ms. Szymanski, adding that people kept congratulating Ashley on Monday's performance.

"Ron and Debbie Zepp told me, 'You don't know what you have here. She's got a natural talent.' "

Ashley's fourth public performance came Tuesday night, after she persuaded the band Free Wheelin' to let her sing Trisha Yearwood's "What I Like About You."

Before the guitarist had announced her name, the crowd began to whistle and cheer, and a small group of admirers chanted "Ashley, Ashley."

"Do we really want to follow that?" the lead singer asked after Ashley brought the house down again. "That little lady's going to be looking for a manager."

Ashley has plenty of candidates. Two of her friends from 4-H have volunteered to take on the role, but first her 13-year-old sister, Shannon, would have to give up the position.

"Shannon always puts her makeup on and encourages her to sing," Ms. Szymanski said. "Of course, after she's sung a song over and over again, Shannon usually wants her to quit."

But that's the way she practices, said Ashley, who acknowledges that she has never had a singing lesson.

"I listen to a tape over and over until I get it," she said. "I throw a fit if I can't get it right.

"I'm a perfectionist. I want it exactly the way the artist sings it."

Her idol, an inspiration born from years of hearing her mother's country music collection, is Loretta Lynn.

"I love her, even though she's past my time," Ashley said. "After I saw [the film] 'Coal Miner's Daughter,' I thought it was so cool that all of that stuff was true."

Ms. Lynn's signature piece, for which the movie was named, is now a part of Ashley's repertoire and she is often asked to perform it.

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