Country music star and Gamilaraay woman Loren Ryan has a grand finalist in the 2022 Toyota Star Maker competition.
Ms Ryan, a Tamworth-local, will face off against the other nine finalists at the 2022 Tamworth Country Music Festival - competing in the same competition that thrust country music fame like Troy Cassar-Daley and Keith Urban into the spotlight.
Speaking to the National Indigenous Times, Ms Ryan recalls the moment she got the call.
"It was like 7:59 in the morning, I was getting my baby ready for school and getting myself ready for work. They told me and I started crying and had to explain to bub why I was crying because she's only three!" she laughed.
"It's so lovely to hear that people think that it's my time. I've worked hard for this."
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Becoming a grand finalist secures Ms Ryan a place amongst those who've competed before, including legend Uncle Troy.
"Troy was in it the same year that Keith Urban, Keith won. Troy didn't even win, but look at him! They seem to climb that ladder at the same time, that is the power and the influence that this competition has on the industry. People are watching," she said.
Like many First Nations people, Ms Ryan has a deep love of country music â" one that may just secure her stardom.
"For me, I feel like as a First Nations person you have this deep-rooted connection to country music," she said.
"You drive around any Blackfulla neighbourhood on the Friday you're gonna hear Alan Jackson, and Charlie Pride and Brooks & Dunn - all them fullas."
"Also growing up in Tamworth, and not missing a festival since I was born, being exposed to all that good music, buskers and seeing people have such a passion for this music. Going down the street and listening to the music, swimming in that energy is so inspiring and it's why I love it."
In her music, Ms Ryan blends the smooth sounds of country with Gamilaraay language â" bringing something new and powerful to the genre.
"It's very powerful for me. It is very fulfilling to know my lingo and be able to sing it in and now bring it to this kind of audience too," she said.
"To open people's ears and minds to language, it is power and it's a movement towards reconciliation."
Ms Ryan will perform to a home crowd on the main stage at the festival which kicks off on January 14.
"A lot of people have said that they're going to come down and support me, and make some signs and t-shirts - which is just so insane. I guess it's the hometown advantage hey!" she laughed.
"It makes me so proud because all the people who have said they'll come watch are mostly First Nations people and that's part of the reason I'm doing this, to show that we are good enough to be there with these other artists.
"It is a space for us to lean into, some of us are shame to say we love country music. But I'm here to change that."
"I feel very lucky, I feel very supported and I feel very lucky to be in it. This isn't just for me."
With 2022 on the horizon, Ms Ryan has the Toyota Star Maker competition in January and an album not far off. It seems it's all steam ahead for the rising star.
By Rachael Knowles