Spend any time with Kristy Starling and you will hear her sing.
The 22-year-old college student is known for singing anywhere, anytime, all the time: in the car, in the kitchen, even (much to the chagrin of new husband Adam) while watching TV.
"It's pretty much who I am," the Oklahoma City native admits with a laugh. "If anyone were to describe me, they would say, she sings! Because that's all I do, it's just my life. I guess it's because I can express myself so easily through music. I feel like it's just so natural to me."
One place Kristy hadn't expected to find herself singing -- at least, not at this stage of her life -- was before an audience of millions on the country's number one morning news show. But in one of those fairy-tale-come-true stories we sometimes hear, Kristy's life has been transformed literally over night: one day she's a music student in college, the next she's in New York City performing live before millions on NBC's Today show. Fast forward one month and Kristy is in Malibu, California, recording with Grammy-winning producer David Foster and beginning work on her debut album.
Kristy has made the transition from student life to up-and-coming recording artist with surprising ease. Indeed with her powerful, richly textured voice, bubbly personality and an assured stage presence, she seems a natural for a music career. In fact, Kristy has come a long way. Once a shy young girl too timid to sing in public, her story shows what one can do with a little hard work, a whole lot of determination, and a willingness to face one's fears.
The youngest of two in a close-knit, middle class family, Kristy was raised surrounded by music. "We all grew up singing, all the time," she says. "My mom says she sang to me every night when she was pregnant with me; to this day she says she honestly thinks that's why I sing as well as I do!"
Kristy's earliest performances were as a young child, singing in church and at school musicals. Recognizing the youngster's talent, family members and teachers pushed her to develop her vocal skills. But somewhere between childhood and adolescence, Kristy developed something else: a paralyzing stage fright. Suddenly, performing anywhere except the bathroom mirror was out of the question. Still, her family urged her to sing -- even if it was just around the house with the headphones on.
"My parents would hear me singing in the bathroom or just around the house and she could tell I had a little soul in me, I liked to do little runs with my voice. So she thought if she bought some tapes of that kind of music, I could practice singing like that. She bought me a bunch of Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey tapes and I ran those things until they wouldn't run anymore! I memorized every single note."
Teachers and friends urged Kristy to perform as well. One teacher convinced Kristy to sing in an ensemble contest, hoping that as part of a group she'd feel more at ease. Even her best friend pushed her to sing, telling her, "you need to do solos, it will be good for you!"
While it sounds like practically all of Oklahoma City was on her case, what ultimately got Kristy to face her fear came from her own heart. "I wanted to sing so badly! And I wanted to be good so badly. So I just knew that I had to do this. And I would look at my mom: she has a beautiful voice, but she never sings because she gets real scared, she's really timid. I saw that and I thought, I cannot just back off and not sing.
"I didn't do very well at first because I was just so scared. Every time I would sing my voice would shake and it would be horrible. But I got more and more confidence in myself; finally I got to the point where I was like, Okay! I can do this!"
Indeed, as Kristy began performing in the Fine Arts competitions, she started winning. By high school she had won the state competition, finishing ahead of hundreds of fellow female vocalists. She finished second in the national competition two years running.
By her 20's, competing and performing had become old hat. Married to Adam in Fall of 2002, finishing her senior credits, Kristy planned to find work leading a church music program. Adam, who had studied youth ministry, was fielding several post-graduation offers from churches. The young couple seemed on their way to a life in the church.
Then Adam's mother heard about another national singing competition -- "Today's Superstar," NBC News' morning show competition complete with live vocal performances and audience voting via the Internet. Once again urged by family and friends to compete, Kristy -- along with 4,100 other wannabes -- mailed in a videotape, never imagining she'd be chosen.
Amazingly, Kristy would become one of six finalists. Over the course of one frantic fall, she'd fly New York City twice a week for performances and a harrowing on-air voting process in between writing term papers and studying for exams. Kristy lasted through five elimination rounds, only to lose in the final round to a singer from Atlanta. And she did it all without a trace of the stage fright that she'd worked so hard to overcome as a young teenager.
Though Kristy took second place, her performances had captured the attention of David Foster and Warner Bros. Records. Foster, the legendary producer behind such divas as Whitney Houston and Celine Dion, wanted to work with Kristy; Warner Bros. was interested in signing her to a record deal. But early on in her Today show interviews, Kristy had professed an interest in Christian music. It's a conviction she holds fast to today.
"Christian music is an expression of who I am and what I believe in," she stresses. "I guess to me it's the only thing that I could honestly sing with everything that I am. I don't think I could sing anything else and really give everything I have."
Now preparing her debut for Warner Bros. Christian Music Division, Kristy and Adam have had to make a few adjustments. In an odd bit of irony, graduation has been postponed but Kristy's music career is about to take off. This has given her an opportunity to consider her own goals.
"I want to be a role model to young girls and even to people my own age," she declares. "I want to be a person who moms can look at and say 'I want my daughter to be like her.' These days people look for that genuine quality, which is exactly what I strive to be on stage and in the everyday. God has always promised to be faithful to me and I want to be in faithful in return."
That's a powerful message amply demonstrated by the dramatic changes in Kristy's own life. But that's not all. If nothing else, Kristy's recent whirlwind proves one thing:
"I just want people to know that their dreams can come true. If you try hard enough, you can do anything."