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Y'all In The Family

Most young singers dream of appearing on the Grand Ole Opry. Well, Elizabeth Cook has already done it 100 times!

"Now it feels like a family, like part of the fabric of what I do," she says. "One of my reasons for wanting success is so I can make the Opry proud."

She might be doing that very soon. Elizabeth's song "Stupid Things" is on the radio, and her twang-laden CD Hey Y'all - named for her trademark Opry greeting - was just released.

Much of the album's mostly self-written material comes from Elizabeth's own life. For example, the closing song is "Ocala," which happens to be the name of the Florida town near where she grew up. Elizabeth was raised in a very musical household - her parents met while in a band together. "They actually played their own wedding reception," she chuckles.

It wasn't long before Elizabeth herself caught the musical bug. "They started teaching me songs, and I would join in," she says. "Then I started playing gigs with them."

She kept singing through high school, then attended Georgia Southern University, where she double-majored in accounting and computer information systems. "I was still interested in music," she says, "but I wanted to have a normal life."

Fatefully, after graduation in 1996 Elizabeth landed an accounting job - in Nashville.

"I was an auditor," she says. "I knew just enough to be dangerous!" After 18 months, she was fed up with numbers and ready to leave her job.

She got her chance when a music-business exec heard her rehearsing to sing at a friend's wedding. Before you know it, she was singing around town and getting attention from Nashville's big record labels - and the Opry.

"I had no illusions that I was going to come out on the Opry with my country voice and my thrift-store cocktail dress and change the world," she says. "I just thought, 'Let me be part of the show and get asked back.' "

That she was! Opry audiences adored her, and the program's execs kept inviting her to return. And now that she's a recurring guest star on one of country's greatest institutions, Elizabeth has her eye on changing its future.

"I want to have an effect on country music," she says.

"I want to be part of country's evolution, and I want to help steer it in a good direction."

-- Chris Neal FAST FACTS Name: Elizabeth Cook Hometown: Wildwood, Fla. Influences: Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Jessi Colter Marital Status: Engaged to musician Tim Carroll Catch Elizabeth on GAC's Top 20 Country Countdown "New Artist Spotlight," starting Sept. 6.