BEMIDJI — If there’s one thing Courtney Gunsalus is sure of, it’s her passion for country music.
Coming from a family that has had a long standing history with music, Gunsalus has her sights set on getting her name in the Nashville spotlight by competing in karaoke events both near and afar.
Gunsalus has risen to the top of these competitions the past year, earning her the opportunity to perform on main stages at many area music festivals.
"This has been great," Gunsalus said. "The fact that I’ve put so much into it and gotten so much out of it is amazing."
The 24-year old singer recently placed third out of 1,000 competitors at the WE Fest Karaoke Roundup contest, allowing her to open for country superstar Eric Church at WE Fest on Aug. 1
"I would love to be known as an inspirational country artist," she said. "I just like to perform."
After learning three chords from her grandfather last year, Gunsalus began teaching herself to play the guitar and began writing her own music.
The aspiring artist has written 30 original songs, which she described as "family oriented" and songs about "being yourself."
"I wanted to learn to play drums, but my mom would always remind me that you can’t be a lead singer playing drums," Gunsalus said cheerfully. "I want to learn to play the piano someday, too."
Discovering her singing ability in high school, Gunsalus said it was her choir teacher who encouraged her to seriously hone her vocal talents.
"He would use me as an example to show other girls how to sing a section in a certain way," she said. "That’s when it really hit and was like, ‘If he is using me as an example, I must be pretty good.’"
An active member of the Bemidji High School Vocalmotive club, the 2009 graduate remembers receiving solos when she was only a sophomore.
Performing at this weekend’s Moondance Jammin’ Country Fest, taking the stage and entertaining large crowds is something Gunsalus said she does naturally.
"I usually don’t get nervous on stage, since I’m trying to keep the other people on stage calm by talking to them about something else," she said. "After I get off the stage, that’s when I start to get shaky and go ‘Ahh, I just got done.’"
Preferring to act on a whim, Gunsalus said she rarely knows what she will be performing until moments before going on stage.
"I usually get to the place I’m singing, get a feel for what I want to sing to the crowd and then decide what I’m singing."
Working to jumpstart a career in the music industry, the Martina McBride/Gretchen Wilson-inspired Gunsalus said she always remembers the reasons why she is performing.
"You have to be true to who you are and can’t sing a song that you don’t feel every ounce in you going into it," Gunsalus said. "You have to spend your time having fun with the people who are with you; it’s about being out there and having a personality."
Planning to have her first original album recorded within the next year, Gansalus said she is confident that no matter how far her love of singing takes her in life, she will always call Bemidji home.
"I want to remember people I know, and treat everyone the same," she said. "I’m not going to get a big head about anything I do; never have, never will."