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A Star Is Born

How the stars got that elusive big break.

In the Oct. 22 issue of Country Weekly you’ll discover the often surprising ways in which 10 of your favorite singers, including Alan Jackson, Tim McGraw and Garth Brooks, were discovered. Here are a few more stories of talented singers making their way to the limelight:

One way in which singers have consistently found an attentive audience is by singing the national anthem at sporting events—after all, it’s the one time the crowd has to shut up and listen. Reba McEntire had one impressed listener in particular when she sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the December 1974 National Finals Rodeo: country star Red Steagall. She later wowed him again at an industry gathering by belting out an a cappella rendition of the Dolly Parton hit “Joshua.” A few months later, Red invited her to come to Nashville and record a few songs.

LeAnn Rimes belted out the national anthem at a Dallas Cowboys football game at which local disc jockey Bill Mack was in attendance. He decided then and there that he’d found just the person to record “Blue,” a song he’d written almost 40 years earlier for Patsy Cline that she never recorded. The song became LeAnn’s breakthrough hit in 1996.

Pat built up enough of a regional following in his native Texas to be offered a prized slot on the bill at Willie Nelson’s annual Fourth of July Picnic show in 1997. The crowd was so vocal in its reaction to him that Willie—sitting on his tour bus at the time—reportedly thought a fight had broken out. “If that’s not true, I’d just as soon Willie not tell me!” Pat jokes. That kind of popularity led to Pat catching the attention of label execs in Nashville.

Barbara began singing at the Black Poodle club in the famed Printers Alley section of downtown Nashville. She was an immediate hit—so much so that she received three offers for a record deal in one night. Within a week she had signed a recording contract, and by 1970 she had a Top 10 hit with the David Houston duet “After Closing Time.”

Sarah opened a string of shows for Toby Keith, and fans began buzzing about the song that would eventually become her first single, “The One in the Middle.” She scored a meeting with Joe Galante, chairman of Sony BMG Nashville com. “I came in with a T-shirt on that said IF IT AIN’T FRIED, I AIN’T EATIN’ IT,” she recalls with a chuckle. “He called me two days later and said, ‘Sarah, would you be on our label?’ I said, ‘Oh my god, I could kiss you right on the lips right now!’”

The duo of David Tolliver and Chad Warrix began playing a weekly gig at Nashville club 3rd & Lindsley. Byron Gallimore, production and business partner to Tim McGraw, was a regular audience member at those shows, and suggested that Tim check them out. “Tim loved it and felt a passion for it just as Byron had,” marvels Chad. “About a year later, we found ourselves in the studio making a record with the two of those guys.” Halfway to Hazard’s self-titled debut hit stores Aug. 14.