For the past 15 years, Eureka native Kaela VanBemmel has been singing in front of crowds. Given that she’s just 25, that’s some considerable experience for the up-and-coming country singer, and she’s hoping the crowds only get bigger.
VanBemmel is the West Montana’s champion in the Texaco Country Showdown music competition, having won the state-level contest held at the Montana State Fair in Great Falls. The national contest pits country acts against one another starting at the local level, and each winner moves up to a bigger competition.
The eventual winner gets $100,000 and the title of “Best New Act in Country Music,” which garners considerable exposure in the music world.
With the western state title under her belt, VanBemmel is now headed to her next contest: the regional competition in Florence, Ore., on Nov. 9. And despite showing she’s got the talent and the drive to win a state competition, VanBemmel is not going to rest on her laurels.
What do the next few months have in store for this Eureka singer?
“Practice, practice, practice, oh God, practice,” VanBemmel said in an interview during her brief downtime between commitments at the Lincoln County Fair.
VanBemmel and her mom, Holly, have participated in the Country Showdown several times. Both have had their share of success and disappointments, but this year is the first time VanBemmel has made it this far. Her mother, she said, couldn’t have been more supportive.
“This year just happened to be my lucky year and so I’m sticking with it,” VanBemmel said.
Holly VanBemmel is the reason Kaela has singing in her blood. As a professional singer, Holly nurtured her daughter’s talent and introduced her to the world of singing on stage.
And what could have been an experiment in stage fright for a 10-year-old girl proved that VanBemmel had the right disposition for the craft – she felt right at home on stage in front of hundreds of people.
“When you’re comfortable with something, you’re comfortable with it,” she said.
She and her mom perform together, most notably as the opening act for country star Trace Adkins when he sang at the Majestic Valley Arena north of Kalispell. It’s been a natural relationship between mother and daughter, VanBemmel said, and it’s the only musical training she’s received.
While VanBemmel would enjoy a professional music career, she said she’s realistic about what it takes to eventually reach that goal. It’s not an easy road for anyone, she said, and she knew she needed to be able to support herself in the meantime.
With that in mind, VanBemmel pursued and received her emergency medical technician (EMT) certification through Flathead Valley Community College, and works as a program specialist at Chrysalis School Montana, a therapeutic boarding school in Eureka.
“You have to have a job that supports your underlying life to where you can do the things with music you want to. It’s expensive to get where you need to go,” VanBemmel said. “It’s called ‘paving the road to success’ and it’s a pain in the butt. I love it.”
Working hard for your money and success is a familiar storyline in many country songs, and VanBemmel said she’s influenced by traditional country and western singers more than the current pop culture offerings.
Music fits in with her chosen profession, VanBemmel said, because it too has healing power.
She also writes music, and performed a song she co-wrote with her mother and her grandfather called “This Love’s Going Down,” during her winning set in Great Falls.
VanBemmel is staying mum about her upcoming set list, but one thing she’s willing to mention is that she’ll be wearing the lucky charms her little sister gave her – a Smokey the Bear pin and a U.S. Marines sticker – as well as a third charm for the regional competition.
Because at the end of the day, singing and music are about family and communication, she said.
“It’s something I love to do,” VanBemmel said. “It’s another way of expressing myself. If people aren’t listening, I’ll sing them a song and let them know what I’m thinking.”
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