SEBRING - When Caitlin Sinness bagged the Jr. Heartland Idol last year, she thought the best thing had happened that day, not realizing she was just getting started.
At that singing contest was a friend of Playback Records producer Jack Gale, who was impressed with Caitlin's singing ability and stage presence.
Soon after the February 2013 win, mom, Candy Sinness, got a call asking if her daughter would like to audition.
Sinness thought it was a joke, figuring people don't get "discovered" that easily but have to pound the pavement a bit.
Gale was impressed not just with Caitlin's voice and her personality, but her ability to understand the songs she's singing even though she is very young.
"She's amazing," he said. "She really has the dedication and the passion. All she has to do is to keep singing."
When Gale told Caitlin she was going to get her own country/pop album, "I just kept crying," she remembered.
Last year, she cut the CD, "I'm Up," in a recording studio in Nashville, becoming Playback Records' youngest star. Her first song was played on the radio in October, a once-a-kind birthday present for the girl who had just turned 12 that month.
Her song "Up," has been played on more than 100 radio stations, and in November 2013, her album was named Album of the Week by the BBC's "The American Connection Country Music Show.
"I don't like it, I love it," the beaming Sebring High School sixth-grader said.
For the 12-year-old, the promising start was not just a vindication of her talent but that she could succeed despite medical problems.
Caitlin may have had her share of doctors' appointments and health problems that have limited her from doing some things, such as playing sports, but this has not stopped this peppy girl from dreaming -- and dreaming big.
"My goal is to sing at the Grand Ole Opry," she said without batting an eyelid. "I want to become famous worldwide before I'm 14."
She has started to perform at many community events, and this summer is going on tour to Tennessee, North Dakota and Minnesota and will co-host a radio show for a week in Nashville.
Grandmother Sharon Sinness, who is one of her managers, is very encouraged so far.
"It's a tough business to get into," she said. "She's got a very good start."
Caitlin has loved to sing as long as she can remember.
"There's a lot of singers in my family," smiled Sharon Sinness.
When Caitlin was 4, her mother entered her into her first "Little Miss Sparkle Pageant," she said on her web site, caitlincountry.com.
"I got on stage with my little pink cowgirl outfit with my guitar and knew then that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I won first place and received this trophy that was just as tall as me. I loved it because it was fun and I made the people smile and clap for me."
In August, mom, grand-mom and the little star went to Nashville to meet up with Gale and his partner Jim Pierce at the studio to record "I'm Up."
She was given 20 songs and picked 10.
The songs were written by well-known writers, who wanted to write songs for her when they heard she was only 11, said grandfather Lon Sinness.
Most of the songs are about boys; some about her life.
"I could really express myself and tell a story through all of them. It has been such a learning experience that I will never forget."
The family learned there is more to recording songs than they thought.
They had gruelling 10-hour days, and Caitlin spent two days recording the songs, including learning a new one at the last minute.
Caitlin has penned some songs of her own but likes to perform Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift numbers.
She does have any formal voice lessons but practises three times a week, and her older brother is her sound man.
In her free time, Caitlin likes to go four-wheeling and riding horses; has a bird, three dogs and a cat; and likes to draw and collect coins and rocks.
Her faith keeps her strong through all the ups and downs, she said.
She also hopes her journey will be an inspiration to others who may have limiting conditions, like herself, to never give up.
"I was really inspired by Carrie Underwood and I pray that some day I may inspire someone," she said.
Her mother, Candy Sinness, who is one of her managers, acknowledged that things have been a whirlwind but she's ready for the long haul.
She's not surprised at her daughter's achievements despite her age.
"It's her spirit, her want," she said.
Pallavi Agarwal | Highlands Today
Published: April 7, 2014