Tamworth local Loren Ryan will next year hand her Star Maker crown to one of ten "strong, determined and driven" finalists announced today in Tamworth ahead of the 44th Country Music Festival.
"It's been absolutely incredible for me, and I just can't wait to see who it's going to be next," Ms Ryan said of the competition that has launched the careers of superstars such as her idol Troy Cassar-Daley, Keith Urban and Beccy Cole.
Four of the chosen 10 up-and-coming country music singers from NSW, VIC, and QLD were with Ms Ryan in Tamworth on Wednesday, November 8, as part of the official announcement following a six-month nationwide talent search.
There, Jimbo Stokes from Scone, Gemma Beech from Singleton, Jake Whittaker from Qld, and Brisbane's Piper Rodrigues sang an impromptu cover of the 1971 hit 'Country Road Take Me Home' by John Denver.
Scone-based Mr Stokes grew up in Manilla and went to school in Tamworth where his mother Dr Bronwyn Stokes OAM ran a GP clinic on Darling Street before she died from ovarian cancer in 2016.
Mr Stokes' first song released in August last year titled Atlas was a tribute to his mother, saying it was a "play" on the Greek god who held the weight of the world on his shoulders.
"Mum had a lot on her shoulders," Mr Stokes said. "And it just felt like that was fitting, because she was a big believer in my music."
Ms Beech has been attending the country music festival from her hometown in Singleton since she was 15 years of age, after her parents first bought her a guitar.
"So the Toyota Star Maker has always been a massive bucket list thing for me. And now I find that I'm one of the top 10 finalists. It's just absolutely mind blowing," she said.
Mr Whittaker got hooked on country music, while growing up in Queensland, the moment he found a Zac Brown Band CD in a boat his parents bought years ago.
"It is a really nice platform and a huge opportunity for up and coming artists," Mr Whittaker said of Star Maker.
Ms Rodriguez takes her country music inspiration from a range of genres, and said her grandfather was a rock'n'roll blues musician in a band called Ray Brown and the Whispers.
"To be among the amazing group of artists that have just been announced is an absolute privilege," Brisbane-based Ms Rodriguez said. "I absolutely cannot wait to play."
Toyota Star Maker coordinator Cheryl Brown said the judges will have a tough time choosing from this year's "strong, determined and driven" group.
The genres are varied, we've got contemporary country, we've got folk country, we've got old country, country pop," Ms Brown said.
"And we're just so excited for everybody to hear them because we're already across some of the music, and it's really quite fantastic."
The Star Maker competition, sponsored by Toyota, for new singers into the country music industry, will be held on January 21, at Toyota Park as part of the Tamworth Country Music Festival, which runs from January 19, to January 28.
Each of the 10 finalists will perform two songs in front of the judges on the night, with the winner taking home a loot of prizes that includes a pair of the world's finest western boots and a Toyota vehicle.
Jimbo Stokes Scone
Felicity Dowd Bega
Jemma Beech Singleton
Nathan Lamont Wagga Wagga
Dakota East Elwood
Ethan Calway Warragul
Jay Santilli Officer South
Jake Whittaker Stockleigh
Piper Rodrigues Brisbane
Wade Forster Winton
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