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A country girl AIMS FOR THE TOP

Alena Ferguson-Sheldon hopes her performance in Nevada this week will get her to Nashville

One of the favorite entertainers in a place which boasts of being a 'darn good little town' is performing on a much bigger stage this week. ¶ Alena Ferguson-Sheldon, of Banks, is one of 500 contestants competing in this year's National Talent Quest Contest. ¶ The competition, which got underway Sunday in Laughlin, Nev., has drawn entertainers from 24 states to compete in four categories.

Ferguson-Sheldon, who will be performing in the female country musician category, has been through the paces before.

In 2003, Ferguson-Sheldon placed first at the regionals, which were held in Pacific City.

At the national competition, she went on to place seventh.

This year, she will perform four of her favorite songs: Pam Tiller's 'Mi Vida Loca,' Ann Murray's 'Nobody Loves Me Like You Do,' Patsy Cline's 'Crazy' and Reba McIntyre's 'Why Haven't I Heard From You?'

'I've rehearsed them inside and out,' said Ferguson-Sheldon, who has performed them all at the senior-care homes she visits weekly.

The judges will score the contestants based on presentation just as much as the vocal performance. 'They want to see energy, if you can work a stage, display a story from your body with vocals that are pitch perfect,' said Ferguson-Sheldon. 'And if you've got the charisma, you've got the charisma.'

The competition is more than just a race to the top, it's a chance to network with professionals in the music industry and learn more about the business.

The first-place winner will receive a four-foot trophy, $3,500 and a month-long gig at the Ramada Inn in Laughlin. That opportunity would really speed up conversations she's begun with a production company in Nashville, Tenn.

'They say sometimes if you wait good things will come,' said Ferguson-Sheldon, who is 36. 'I have waited for this day for my entire life as a performer… I've got to win this.'

Ferguson-Sheldon began performing in bars at age 18 under the name Storming Norman and Alena. 'I always had to be escorted off stage because I wasn't old enough to be in the bar,' she said.

Since then, she has moved toward singing at senior-care facilities favoring the work hours and the improved air quality.

'It's better than what I used to have to do,' she said. Singing from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. isn't ideal, and cigarette smoke isn't very good for vocalists.

During the '90s, Ferguson-Sheldon moved forward by managing her own band called Alena and Pacific Country. The band saw its high point opening for Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, and other country music stars at the Oregon Jamboree.

In 1995, one of her original songs, 'Willing Heart,' made it onto international radio, playing regularly for about one year.

She describes her style as Patsy Cline, Wynonna and Cher molded into one.

Over the years, Ferguson-Sheldon's music has taken her to festivals, rodeos, weddings, and anywhere else musicians are requested.

She has put out two Patsy Cline tribute CDs and one short album with four original tunes.

Her next project, a combination of contemporary pop/country songs and some original songs, will be out around Christmastime.

'I am now working as much as I can,' said Ferguson-Sheldon. 'This is my full-time career.'