What's your musical background?
I have a bachelor of science in music education and I sing jazz, blues, classic, folk music—everything really.
What song did you choose?
"Baby I'm Burning"—that's one of her pop-country hits from 1978. I wanted something that would easily become bluesy. I almost sang "More Where That Came From." It's upbeat, a kind of 80s Dolly, and was hit on the disco charts.
To become a finalist, you had to send a tape. Anyone help with that?
Yes, Emily Mathis played keys for me; we play a lot together and she played with me at the competition.
Do you ever sing other Dolly songs in performance?
"Hard Candy Christmas"—I love that song.
Were there any similar acts among the 26 finalists?
I don't think any body else sounded like us. We have a more jazzy, bluesy sound, and interpreted the song in direction nobody would have assumed. Most of the others sang like a Dolly play along—her same version—but we were being judged on your interpretation.
Was anyone in the crowd expecting your take on the music?
My parents came from South Carolina and her parents came from Pennsylvania. I also had a friend in the 13-and-under contest, though I didn't know it. I work through Talent Trek and there's a mother and daughter named Lisa and Samantha Hatmaker. It seemed like everyone else in the competition sang "Coat of Many Colors," but when I went to talk to them, Samantha was singing my same song. Both of us, "Baby I'm Burning," that's so crazy!
Is performing before judges nerve-wracking?
Not for me. I don't even remember looking at them. I just look at the crowd. I don't believe in nerves.
What's the prize?
I got $500, a half day in Sound Wave recording studio in Nashville, and an autographed guitar from Dolly Parton.
Do you play guitar?
I do. But I don't like playing guitar, it hurts my hand. I gave my guitar to Emily and I've been playing ukulele. In fact, I'm playing the Bob Dylan tribute at World's Fair Park next month, and I'm trying to put together a ukulele group—a ukulele chorus.