Karla Davis, '08 sings and plays her guitar.

Many singers grow up with dreams of making it in Nashville. A place where your name can shine in lights before thousands and your voice can be projected to the world.

Many leave heartbroken, dreams unfulfilled, songs unsung.

But others get a breakthrough. It takes a mix of talent, moxie and serendipity. Karla Davis ’08 has them all.

Karla, 24, knows about elusive goals, but for most of her life they involved a ball and a net, not a stage and a song. Growing up she excelled at soccer and captured the attention of collegiate coaches who wooed her to play for their teams. UNCG won; she enrolled in the fall of 2004.

All of a sudden, that athletic mindset just set in.

In her downtime the media management major wrote poetry. By her senior year, she’d taught herself to play guitar and started strumming the melodies she heard in her head. She recorded a few songs on her laptop. She would have preferred no one else knew about them.

But curious friends listened to the songs. Others heard her sing in passing and craned their heads to hear more. Everyone thought she had a special talent.

She eventually entered a country music talent show and won the top prize, moving on in the competition against other amateur talent.

With music growing in importance, she decided to chase her dream and quit her job. Last October, the self-professed homebody left her heart in Carolina and steered her car west toward Music City.

There she made important contacts, but her biggest breakthrough was set in motion before she ever set foot on Tennessee soil. She’d advanced through the state and regional rounds of the talent contest she’d entered back home, earning her an invitation to the national finals of the Colgate Country Showdown, one of the premier talent showcases in country music.

The finals were held at the historic Ryman Auditorium in January, with five acts vying for the grand prize. Karla was the last to take the stage.

“When she walked out on stage at the Ryman, there was this composure,” says Gabrielle “Gabby” DiMora ’08, Karla’s manager and a former member of the UNCG women’s golf team. “It was like she wasn’t even nervous.” Years of performing under pressure on the soccer field had prepared her for this moment. “All of a sudden, that athletic mindset just set in.”

Karla sang two songs — “Whiskey’s Got a Job to Do” and “Keep Movin’ On“.
Once her last note hung suspended in the air, the audience jumped to their feet.

The judges, many record label executives, announced the winner: Karla Davis. Her win grabbed the attention of major labels and she soon had appointments to visit their offices.

“I could tell they were thinking of ways they could change me,” Karla says. “I’d probably only be able to put one original song on my album with a major label. I’d sound like everyone else and my songs would sound like everyone else.”

But with her $100,000 winnings from the Showdown Karla had the financial flexibility to chart her own path. She created a label, 3 Chord Entertainment, and retains majority ownership, a move that allows her to navigate the course of her career — and manage her growing song portfolio – on her own terms. Her vision. Her sound. Her music.

Since the spring, her full-time job has been in the professional studio in her producer’s home, finishing up her debut album.

“I know we’re taking a chance,” Karla explained. “I’m going off of the reaction of people in Nashville who have heard me play. They say it’s a breath of fresh air.”

Photography by Chris English, University Relations