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Colgate Country Showdown

ROME TOWNSHIP — Even the brightest stars had to form somewhere.

Looking to lay the foundation of their blossoming careers, 19 country music acts took to the stage Wednesday night as the Colgate Country Showdown rolled into the Lawrence County Fair.

Singers from across the Tri-State performed two songs of their choice in front of a three-judge panel and captive crowd with the winner gaining entry into the West Virginia Colgate Country Showdown state finals next month in Parkersburg, W.Va.

Wednesday’s edition carried a little more significance as it served at the Tri-State’s final 2009 qualifier. The area finals were moved to the Lawrence County Fair after semi-final rounds were washed out July 5 during Summer Motion in Ashland, Ky.

Sponsored by WTCR 103.3 FM and hosted by its morning drive team of Clint McElroy and Judy Eaton, the amateur talent showcase is designed to find the most promising country music talent across America and give that winner the chance to launch their professional career.

The Colgate Country Showdown is in its 28th year. Stars like Garth Brooks, Sara Evans and Billy Ray Cyrus all used the competition to kick start their careers.

And the possible pool of talent at the Lawrence County Fairgrounds did not disappoint. Named by the judges at this year’s winner and West Virginia state qualifier was Ashton Ernst of Culloden, W.Va.

Ernst who admitted this was her first win as an amateur singer, was all smiles after her name was announced as the winner by Eaton.

“Right now, I am so excited. I did not expect to win today as there was some great talent up on the stage,” the second year Marshall student said. Ernst is a business major at the Huntington campus and is also in real estate school.

Named runner up was the duo of Kelly and Ken from Franklin Furnace.

From the start, singers and bands had the crowd tapping their feet and singing along. Some patrons even used the aging fairgrounds grandstand to show off a little two step.

One contestant who had the crowd on his side was Bobby Blanton of Franklin Furnace.

Blanton, who won the Tri-State Idol competition in Huntington last year along with a victory at the 2008 South Shore Quilt Festival, said that while singing is more of a hobby now, it is something he sees in his future. Blanton currently is a nurse at the Southern Ohio Medical Center in Portsmouth.

“Singing is what I really want to do,” Blanton said minutes after wowing the audience with his version of Randy Houser’s top 20 hit “Anything Goes.”

Events like the Colgate Country Showdown are what keep Blanton reaching for his dream. He has already tried out for American Idol, Nashville Star and America’s Got Talent in the six years he has been singing.

While the judges tallied their votes, audience members got a little change of pace when local Christian rockers, the Chris Feller Band took the stage.

Colgate Country Showdown Contestants:

Katie Owens and Leatherwood, South Point

Tim Salyers, Huntington, W.Va.

Rebecca Jarvis, Huntington, W.Va.

Kayla Carter, Branchland, W.Va.

Emily Vance, Greenup, Ky.

Dale Bowen, Lavalette, W.Va.

Mindy Richardson, Ona, W.Va.

Suzanna Crews, Barboursville, W.Va.

Ashton Smith, Huntington, W.Va.

Kelly and Ken, Franklin Furnace

Mary Kress, Ashland, Ky.

Ashton Ernst, Culloden, W.Va.

Wakita Billips, South Shore, Ky.

Summer Verose, Lesage, W.Va.

Bobby Blanton, Franklin Furnace

Holly Forbes, Argillite, Ky.

Deliah Lynons, Lavalette, W.Va.

Emily Kinner, Huntington, W.Va.

Bridget Reynolds, Kitts Hill