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Hometown Hero

A story in Country Weekly turns a Nebraska teenager into a local celebrity. . . and opens new doors.


As if it wasn’t thrilling enough for Lincoln, Neb., resident Tia Reynolds to meet James Otto face to face, our “Stars Up Close” feature on Tia’s encounter helped trigger another wave of excitement for the teenager and her mom, Judy. After CW readers in the Lincoln area saw the Nov.3 issue that contained the story, they began treating Tia like a celebrity herself, according to her mom. Neighbors—and then, strangers—showed up at the door to meet Tia and have her autograph their copies of the magazine.

The positive attention shown to Tia, whose social life has been impaired by her Down syndrome, has continued to help the teen increase her self-confidence—a process that her meeting with James Otto initially set into motion. Most notably, Tia and her mom were interviewed by the morning team on Lincoln country station KZKX as a result of the publicity she and her hometown received in Country Weekly. Since Tia can’t talk, she used her computer-assisted speaking device in order to be understood on the air. “This is a first!” says her mom, who explained that Tia had not used the device in public because she was never comfortable with it.

“So many people have come over to tell her how good she did (on the radio),” Judy writes. “Tonight, we went to a restaurant and she used her computer to order. She said the radio (interview) made her feel it was OK to use it around other people. (This has) opened up her world so much.”

To hear the radio interview, click the play button on the following media player:

Below is the entirety of the original article.

“She Was in Shock”

We all know the effect James Otto is having on women these days. But for 15-year-old Tia Reynolds, who has Down syndrome, the towering singer has inspired more than romantic stirrings. Mom Judy tells CW that while Tia doesn’t speak (she uses sign language), she will sing along with the radio, in “sounds instead of words.” As Judy explains, “she laughs and ‘sings’ louder” when she hears James’ music.

Tia, who’s seen James in concert several times, was thrilled to hear that he was coming to her Lincoln, Neb., hometown. That is, until she was told it was at a bar, which meant the teenager couldn’t get in. To console Tia, her mom promised to take a photo of her in front of James’ bus on the day of the show. But when Tia excitedly ran toward the bus, waving, it wasn’t long before James himself stepped out to visit and pose for photos.

“She covered her mouth and just froze,” Judy recalls. “She was in shock. When we left, she was looking at the picture in the camera and didn’t say anything for a few blocks. Then, she started crying and signed ‘friend’ and pointed to the camera.” Judy says that Tia has more confidence now. “Her friend circle is limited, so being able to put James in that . . . wow.”

Country Schoolhouse

For Tia Reynolds, meeting James Otto wasn’t just a dream-come-true—it was also an educational experience. Tia is home schooled by her mom, who uses country music as motivation. “We study about where the stars are from and where their tour dates are taking them,” Judy explains. “You would not believe what we have learned from Country Weekly.” These days, Tia’s hunger for learning is more focused. “Meeting James Otto,” Judy says, “helped her see that James is a real person—and a nice one at that— and that the other singers she likes are real also. Now, she will ask questions about different singers, like where they live, or if they have kids. Association,” concludes Judy, “is how Tia learns, and country music is her love. Put the two together, and I have a child who can’t wait for school to start every day.”


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