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Born for the stage: Townsend heads into 3rd season in the Smokies
emma charles townsend
Emma-Charles Townsend heads into her third year on stage this month in the Smokies at the Country Tonite Theater. The 9-year-old has been performing since she was very young, and is getting ready to release her own music. (Photos courtesy of Nina Townsend)

Emma-Charles Townsend has participated in at least 50 pageants, has won several national singing competitions and will soon begin her third season at Pigeon Forge, Tennessee’s Country Tonite Theater. And all of that at the tender age of 9 years old.

Clearly, Townsend was born for the stage.

The daughter of Charles and Nina Townsend of Statesboro, Townsend began singing before she could talk, often humming along to the car radio while strapped safely in the backseat. Noticing her musical inclinations, her parents enrolled her in Kindermusik, a music and movement program for young children.  

  While still in diapers, she won first prize in the talent division of one of her many pageants singing "Five Little Ducks." At age 4, she captured first place at the Platinum competition in Panama City Beach, Florida, singing Michael Jackson's "Ben." She then joined the Statesboro Youth Chorale, and received voice lessons from Georgia Southern University music professor and vocal coach Dr. Tamara Harper, and performed Stephen Sondheim's "Broadway Baby" on the Averitt Center stage.   

Her life changed when a family friend from Tennessee heard her and thought she would be perfect as a youth performer for the Country Tonite Theater.  Then 7 years old, Townsend auditioned and was hired on the spot in January 2020 for what has been voted the "Best Live Country Music Show in America."   

Slowed by the pandemic and after months of rehearsals, the show finally opened in June. In the meantime, her parents and grandparents, Ben and Glenda Smith, and her older brother Charlie, temporarily relocated to accommodate their young star's work schedule.

A dream came true in October 2021 for this deeply rooted Dolly Parton fan when she was offered a job at Dollywood for the show "T’was the Night Before Christmas." With two years of professional work under her belt, this 9-year-old was building quite a resume.   

Earlier this year, Townsend collaborated with longtime Country Tonite cast member Mike Caldwell to record her first original song, "Never Go A Day Without A Rainbow."  "Mr. Mike," as Townsend affectionately calls him, has his own list of accomplishments, singing with country music legends including Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty, as well as performing on the Grand Ole Opry stage and at the Kennedy Center. Her song can be heard on her YouTube channel, "Emma-Charles Townsend." 

Later this spring, she will be recording her first Extended Play record (EP) and will soon be heading back to the hills of Tennessee for her third season of Country Tonite, which opens March 31.

(This story was written and submitted by Emily Kochetta.)

emma and cast
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