YouTube helps teen country starlet build a fan base

YouTube helps teen country starlet build a fan base

February 21st, 2012 by Casey Phillips in Life Entertainment

Maddie Grace is a 14-year-old country singer from the foot of Signal Mountain.

Photo by Doug Strickland/Times Free Press.

ABOUT HER

* Name: Madeline Grace Bales.

* Stage name: Maddie Grace.

* Age: 14.

* Grade: 8th grade.

* School: Boyd-Buchanan Middle School.

* Siblings: Step brother, Wesley, 23, and step sister, Brittany, 27.

FAST FACTS

* Singing idol: Jack White.

* Favorite songs to listen to: "I'll Follow You Into the Dark" by Death Cab for Cutie, "Coalminer's Daughter" by Loretta Lynn and "You Don't Know What Love Is" by The White Stripes.

* Favorite song to sing: "Someone Like You" by Adele.

* Place she'd love to visit: Barcelona, Spain.

* Favorite book: "The Summer I Turned Pretty" Jenny Hau.

* Favorite movie: "Legally Blonde." * Person she'd like to meet: Jack White.

HEAR MORE

See videos of Madeline Bales singing on her YouTube channel, www.youtube.com/maddiegraceofficial. Follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/maddiegracemusic and visit her website at www.maddiegracemusic.com.

TALENT SHOW

Do you know a child age 15 or younger with a precocious talent in academics, athletics or the arts? The Times Free Press is searching for children to feature in "Talent Show," which appears in the Life section on Tuesdays. To nominate a child as a possible subject of a future feature article, e-mail staff writer Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfreepress.com or call him at 423-757-6205.

When Madeline Bales begins singing Darrell Scott's country ballad "You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive," it sounds like she snuck in Loretta Lynn's house at night and made off with her voice.

In a YouTube performance, Maddie, then 12, maintains a somber expression as she croons about the heartbreaking trials of a coal miner with an East Kentucky drawl Lynn wouldn't be ashamed to claim. Only the braces on her teeth and her slight frame hint at her age.

When it comes to performing, however, Maddie, now 14, said it's the ability of a singer to connect with an audience, not her age, that matters the most.

"I've always been able to feel a song," she said. "I like to give that emotion and connect with an audience and show them what I really love to do."

For the last two years, Maddie has been posting videos of her covering artists such as Sugarland, Miranda Lambert and The Band Perry. She is accompanied on most recordings by her father, Patrick Bales Jr., who plays guitar and occasionally provides background vocals.

Her YouTube performances have 650,000 views across 28 videos, 11 of which have been seen more than 20,000 times. She has more than 2,700 subscribers.

Maddie's father said she has been singing practically from the moment she could speak. When she was 4, he and Maddie's mother, Amy Bales, noticed her ability to sing on pitch and signed her up with Ambiance Talent Management.

By the time she was 6, however, Maddie broke down and started crying during a performance at Hamilton Place mall. She eventually recovered and finished the song but decided to avoid public performance.

For four years, Maddie stood by her decision. She was constantly singing to herself or in the car with her father, but she didn't take the stage again until a teacher encouraged her in fifth grade to audition for Boyd-Buchanan Elementary School's Christmas musical. She did, receiving the lead role.

Somehow, in the course of singing four or five songs as "the meanest elf in town," Maddie discovered a confidence onstage she thought she had lost.

With music back on the table, her parents enrolled her in lessons with Diane Sheets, a professional vocal coach in Nashville. Although Maddie no longer takes lessons from Sheets, she developed tremendously since taking the lessons, her father said.

"Many times, when you see 11- or 12-year-olds who show some promise, you wonder how they'll develop and change during their teen years," Bales said. "I think she's really grown by leaps and bounds over the last couple of years as far as her vocal prowess is concerned."

Two years ago, Maddie's mother suggested that, even if Maddie didn't want to perform in public, she could still share her music through the Internet. At first, her father said, he and Maddie were reluctant to record anything, but after seeing how much positive has come out of doing so, it was the right decision.

Last year, Maddie and her father won a $2,000 first prize in the VocoPro Singing Competition, a contest for vocalists through Facebook.

Performing for digital audiences reignited Maddie's passion for the stage.

She has performed several times on the now-defunct "Nashville Traditions" radio show based out of Bell Buckle, Tenn., and "The Old Time Country Radio Show," which is broadcast from the BBQ Caboose Cafe in Lynchburg, Tenn.

Maddie and her father have been tapped three times to headline shows at the Acoustic Cafe in Ringgold, Ga. She also sang at the Williamson County Fair and performed the national anthem at the 2011 TSSAA Boys State Basketball Championships in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

So far, Maddie has made $3,000-$4,000 through her music, all of which has been earmarked for recording equipment, studio time to record a debut album and other things.

"I'm also saving it for clothes and makeup," she said, laughing.

At 14, Maddie is still too young to audition for "American Idol." Even when she meets the minimum age requirement when she turns 15 in August, she said she isn't interested in following in the footsteps of North Georgia "American Idol" finalist Lauren Alaina.

Now an architect, Bales spent several years performing with bands in Chattanooga and Nashville. He said he wants to shelter Maddie from the harsh criticism she would face on "Idol" in favor of continuing to build in popularity on YouTube.

In the meantime, he said, he's just happy the two of them have something to bond over.

"I love playing with her," he said, laughing. "She and I have a blast when we perform together. I hate that will end someday, but I know it will."