published Friday, August 24th, 2012

Phillips: Teen's country stardom dream to be granted Saturday

It's hypothetical time, readers. If you could wish for anything, what would it be?

In the spirit of Wish-Making 101 as put forth by Robin Williams in Disney's "Aladdin," we'll go ahead and put the kibosh on raising the dead, making someone fall in love with you or wishing for more wishes.

Williams is a hairy killjoy, I know, but even with those rules, the door is still pretty much wide open.

Personally, I'd wish to own a house and pub in Ireland, where I could while away the time playing music in perfect happiness forever.

Fifteen-year-old Michelle Stratton's wish is a little more down to earth, but then again, she soon will have hers granted.

Michelle has cystic fibrosis, which causes a buildup of mucus in the lungs, but she loves to sing and said she has wanted to be a country star for as long as she can remember.

Make-A-Wish of East Tennessee is doing its dead-level best to grant that wish by putting Michelle front and center at a free concert Saturday at Roland Hayes Concert Hall in the UTC Fine Arts Center, 752 Vine St.

The Make-A-Wish people said this is the first wish for a concert they have received in their district, but faced with the chance to ask for anything, Michelle said getting behind the mike was a no-brainer.

"Most people want to go somewhere or see a star, but this is my wish, and my wish has always been to be a country star, so it was like, 'Let's make it happen,' " she said.

Michelle will be backed by local indie rock group Amber Fults & The Ambivalent Lovers as she performs a 10-song set composed primarily of Miranda Lambert covers. Fults and her band will open with a 30-minute set.

The concert will be Michelle's first opportunity to play with a band, but she said the experience has been great so far.

"They're a great band," she said. "I love them so much. It was hard at first, but they were so helpful."

For her part, Fults said she and the band leapt at the opportunity to help Michelle have her moment in the sun.

As a group that -- in her words -- "rocks pretty hard ... ish," Fults said they were concerned initially that the selections would be out of their comfort zone. Fortunately, Lambert's music is closer to rock than a lot of country artists'.

"Every song she picked was super rocking," Fults said. "It was like, 'Oh my gosh. These are perfect for us.'

"We were all really surprised because we all thought it would be Taylor Swift. She picked some gutsy songs, which was great."

In the lead-up to Saturday's 7 p.m. show, Michelle already has gotten a taste of stardom with radio and TV interviews. When it's all over, however, Michelle said she hopes the concert isn't an end point but the start to even bigger things.

"It's going to be a great experience," she said. "I'm going to be sad that it's over, but, hopefully, people will recognize me, and maybe I could get discovered by the time it's over so I can keep going."

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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