By Ray Van Dusen
ABERDEEN – Everything happens for a reason. Fifteen-year-old aspiring singer/songwriter Carley Wilemon was already in Nashville with her parents talking with one record label when a songwriting friend of the family introduced them to a woman named Cindy Owen, who was working for a new upstart label in town. Owen was originally from West Point and the songwriter was Wren native Marty Funderburk.
As the local connections were cohesive to the family, the label seemed to carry the same perfect fit for Carley once the Wilemons learned more about its origins and intentions of giving artists opportunities to shine.
“The first time we met him [Given Entertainment founder Jim Kacmarcik] was at his 50th birthday party and he was giving away 50 Make-A-Wishes and that sold us,” Carley said.
Kacmarcik said God woke him up one day and said it was time to give back, which convinced the Wilemons the label was run by the type of people they wanted to work with regarding Carley’s music.
“They told Carley to be herself and that they’d never try to make her into someone else,” said her father, Scott, who is an accomplished gospel singer and Carley’s biggest influence and role model.
Live performances at festivals in Kacmarcik’s native Milwaukee and a signed recording and publishing contract later, the Aberdeen teen is helping ring in the holiday spirit with two contributions on “It’s A Given Christmas,” a compilation album featured the label’s other artists.
Carley showcases her vocal styles on the album alongside “American Idol” alum Naima Adedapo; “Nashville Star” and “Survivor: South Pacific” contestant Whitney Duncan; and Jason Jones, who charted a Top 50 hit on the country charts with “Ferris Wheel” in 2011.
A lot has changed in a year for the former Oak Hill Academy turned homeschooler, but a lot has remained the same for Carley as well. She still goes to OHA games, has fun with friends and is still a self-proclaimed English geek, which helps play into her songwriting. Finding inspiration can be the difficult part sometimes.
“It’s not easy. I’m still trying to learn and hone that craft. Being young, I don’t have the life experiences, but I may take something from an experience somebody I know has gone through and sympathize with that,” Carley said.
In addition to Funderburk, other artists she’s written with include Karen Staley, who wrote “Keeper of the Stars” for Tracy Byrd and “Hey Baby, Let’s Go to Vegas” for Faith Hill.
“It’s so much fun to write with different people. One person may just sit there and not say anything for 15 minutes and you’ve got someone like Naima who just keeps throwing stuff out there. I’m still quiet in the writing sessions,” Carley said.
For the holiday album, she co-wrote “Love That Christmas Brings,” which she also sings and “Hallelujah! Jesus Christ Is Born,” sung by Jones. She also contributed her rendition of the tradition Christmas song, “O Holy Night.”
A performance of traditional Christmas hymns was where her performance resume began at the age of 5 at her home church, Friendship Baptist Church.
Since then, she’s gained confidence from portraying the lead role in two plays while in junior high on the way to playing to bigger crowds in Milwaukee last summer.
“It’s definitely different to play in front of 10,000 people, but the bigger the crowd, the better for me. I was more nervous in school because everyone knew me. You learn how to communicate to the audience what you’re singing. Making eye contact and singing a line to someone makes them feel like part of the performance,” Carley said.
Taking lessons at Stamps Baxter School of Music in Nashville has helped in a range of areas.
“Even breathing techniques are huge. We were scared about “O Holy Night,” and I was like ‘Can I do this?’ and my vocal coach taught me one thing and the light bulb clicked,” Carley said.
Carley sang gospel growing up and intends to keep a gospel flare in her own music. In 2010, she released her first full length album entitled, “Can’t Dream Big Enough.”
“It was such a great experience to be in the studio. When I listen to it now, it’s crazy how much I’ve grown. I’ve fallen in love with the recording process,” Carley said.
As she continues to live in Aberdeen while making regular trips to the Music City, she can’t pinpoint a five-year plan outside of the desire to go to college.
“Nothing is set in stone. On a daily basis, it’s just about doing God’s will, trying to obey his will and going where it takes me.
“For others, I’d say to dream big and don’t ever think things can’t happen. You can’t even fathom what plans God has in your hands until it’s there and it unfolds for you. Keep working on your craft and get ready for when it does unfold,” Carley said.
“It’s A Given Christmas” is available for download on Amazon and iTunes.