CATEGORY: Tippah County

AUTHOR: SUMMER

HED: Ripley youth 'unchains' vocal skills at Mid-South Fair competition

By Jane Clark Summers

Daily Journal Corinth Bureau

RIPLEY - Ashley Thompson has a talent for beating the odds.

Rising to the top of 15,000 competitors at the 45th annual Youth Talent Contest at the Mid-South Fair in Memphis last month, Thompson is shooting to become that one-in-a-million success who makes it as a recording artist.

The 16-year-old Ripley youth hopes to realize her dream in January when she auditions at CBS studios.

The grand prize winner's package included the Hollywood audition, $3,000 in cash and a trophy. Thompson also won $150 for advancing through the Mid-South semifinal and grand final talent preliminaries.

Youths from seven states competed in preliminaries before the 15,000 entrants were narrowed to 500 finalists for the weeklong Youth Talent Contest sponsored by WREC-TV and The Commercial Appeal.

Thompson belted out her own jazzed-up version of country singer LeAnn Rimes' rendition of "Unchained Melody" to capture the top honor among the 18 grand finalists.

The daughter of Kathy and Steve Thompson of Ripley is a junior at Ripley High School. A voice student for six years, Thompson has studied under Glenda Wheeler of Booneville and Cindy Coven of Germantown, Tenn.

During the summer, Thompson showcased her talent five days a week in the country and gospel show at Libertyland. She continues to perform at the Memphis theme park on weekends. Her last show there will be on Oct. 25.

"I really want to be a vocal artist," said Thompson, who has the looks and personality to match her vibrant voice. She enjoys singing, and listening to, all kinds of music, including pop, jazz, contemporary Christian and country.

Having sung since the age of 8, Thompson has gained self-confidence and a love of the spotlight.

She doesn't mind being called on to sing for impromptu occasions. In fact, she carries a tape with her at all times just in case someone asks.

Her dream of becoming a recording star is not without work. In the beginning years, she practiced three to four hours a day. Her family endured.

"We listened," Steve Thompson said. "We had to or leave."

It is very enjoyable to listen to her now, he said. The practice sessions are down to an hour-and-a-half to two hours daily.

While her mother and father critique her daily, they are avid supporters.

"Ashley has given up a lot of things that kids take for granted to be able to sing," Kathy Thompson said.

After one year as a cheerleader in the eighth grade, Ashley made the decision to quit to preserve her voice.

"She has had to make decisions early" to plan for her future singing career, her mother said.

"Our goal is to get her in a studio to let her do some recordings," her father said. "I know she has the voice to succeed in the industry but there is so much good talent out there. It is almost like a chosen few that (find success) is their destiny."

Ashley will perform Nov. 5 on "Kay Bain's Mornin' Show" on Channel 9.

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