From pottery town to the Grand Ole Opry

EAST LIVERPOOL, Ohio – It was only her third Christmas eve when Annette Volino picked up her first microphone. Only a toddler, she pranced around the house and sang to her family and relatives.

The singing wasn’t just a phase. She received her first Faith Hill tape when she was 6. Nearly wearing it out, she listened to it over and over, memorizing the words. After giving her mom a solo performance of Hill’s Someone Else’s Dreams from the back seat of the car, Annette said she wanted to sing when she grew up. Tina Volino, her mother, told her that not everyone can become a singer.

Annette didn’t listen.

Now, the East Liverpool teen, the daughter of Dave and Tina Volino, has performed at county fairs, rodeos and has been the opening act for some of country music’s superstars.

Opening act. Annette’s first opening act happened six years ago when, at age 10, when she stepped on the stage at Ponderosa Park in Salem, Ohio. In front of nearly 1,500 people, she sang Break It to Me Gently and Blue, a LeAnn Rimes song she practiced on a karaoke machine. Two standing ovations later, James Bonamy and the Kentucky Headhunters took the stage.

True performer. From there, she has opened for Billy “Crash” Craddock at Capitol Music Hall in Wheeling, W.Va., and has sang for four years on a Christmas show on KDKA, a Pittsburgh television station.

Whether she’s singing at a county fair, a D.A.R.E. program or a grand opening of a Steubenville Wal-Mart, Annette loves to perform.

“I don’t want to get off the stage once I start,” she said.

The self-proclaimed shy teenager traveled to the famous Tootsies Orchid Lounge in Nashville, Tenn. With autographed pictures of country legends lining the walls, Annette sang on the same stage where Patsy Cline and Reba McEntire performed before making it big.

The performance was a stepping stone. Annette met Loretta Lynn’s manager and recorded her first CD, Walkin,’ with Loretta Lynn’s band. Annette’s second CD, Things Change, came out last November and is sold at her performances.

Favorite singer. At the Pepsi-Cola Roadhouse in Burgettstown, Pa., Annette opened for David Ball. Annette said that out of all the country singers she has met, Ball is her favorite. Ball, who got his start playing at folk festivals, had a friendly laid-back attitude and gave Annette some advice on pursuing her own career.

“He said to work as hard as I could and that it takes a while to get exposure,” she said.

New experience. Lines of Harley-Davidson motorcycles lined up outside Rinky Dink Roadhouse in Amity, Pa., to hear David Allan Coe perform. Before the Akron native turned Death Row inmate turned paroled country singer took the stage, Annette sang in front of a leather-clad crowd for 30 minutes. After her performance, Annette sat in the front row as the long-haired and tattooed Coe spouted his venomous lyrics. The contrast in performance styles couldn’t get any further apart – Annette’s innocent, youthful voice opening before Coe’s wild antics. Although it was different from any of her previous performances, Annette said the crowd liked her music.

Kids are cruel. However, when it comes to her music, not everyone has been complimentary. While attending West Gate Middle School in East Liverpool, Ohio, a couple of girls made her life difficult by making fun of Annette and her music. After her grades dropped, Annette’s mom had her enroll at Oak Glen High School in New Cumberland, W. Va. After spending a year at Oak Glen, Annette, now a sophomore, has resumed her honor roll status.

“I made friends first before I told them about my singing,” Annette said, referring to her experiences at Oak Glen High School.

While her computer contains MP3s of every genre, Annette sings mostly country music. Faith Hill’s This Kiss is the only song she has trouble singing.

“It just doesn’t come out right,” she said.

Sign here. At her performances, fans even ask for autographs and pictures with her.

“It surprises me,” she said. “I feel like a professional singer then.”

Next up, Annette will be opening for David Lee Murphy at the Columbiana County Fair in August, where she opened for Joe Diffie last year.

Future plans. Annette said she would like to find a talent agent. Harry Netti, a sound engineer who is currently on the road with Barry Manilow, heard about Annette’s singing on the Internet. Netti, who went to school with Annette’s mom, called her and asked for a tape. When he returns from Manilow’s tour next month, Annette said he is going to find some more original songs for her to sing.

“I would really like to have at least one hit song,” she said.

Although college is a few more years away, Annette said she would like to become a music major at West Virginia University. Whether she fulfills her dream of singing at the Grand Ole Opry or becomes a music teacher, music will always be an integral part of her life.

“I would definitely like to go as far as I can with it,” she said.

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