Ask anyone in Cabin Creek, West Virginia and they'll tell you Rachelle Nicole was born singing. Whether she was in church, performing in a play or hanging out with friends, songs just flowed out of her the way other people speak. So it surprised no one when she announced that her dream was to be a country music singer.
"I love the feeling I get. I can be around one or two people and I get nervous a little bit, but I get in a crowd, all eyes on me, the attention, the thrill, the adrenaline rush," she said.
While virtually everyone who heard Rachelle sing loved her sweet, rich voice, no one believed she would become a country star. After all, the tiny back hills town of Cabin Creek isn't exactly the place to make contacts in the music business. But then opportunity knocked. Country superstar Reba McEntire's duet partner, Grammy Award winning singer Linda Davis, did a concert in nearby Charleston.
"She was doing a show for the 4th of July fireworks and she was singing Does He Love You and no one was singing the words, it was a little crowd. And she asked if anyone knew the words and my Mom grabbed my hand and pushed it and she pushed me on stage," she said.
Linda Davis remembers how impressed she was with the 14-year-old's natural abilities. "She popped up on the stage with all the smiles and excitement of a young girl, when I told her, no rehearsal at all, just sing and do what I do, she jumped in there and sang like she'd been singing all her life. My first impression was, this isn't this kid's first time on the stage," she said. After that holiday performance three years ago, Ms. Davis began helping Rachelle make connections in the country music capital Nashville, Tennessee. There, Rachelle further impressed the owner of Aria Records, Jim Allison. Even though she can't read music, she sang Nobody Loves Me Like the Blues - a song that even accomplished singers have trouble with. To top it all off, she had only heard it the day before.
Rachelle began working on a demo CD, performing in Nashville clubs and occasionally touring with Ms. Davis. But just when her dreams started coming true, Rachelle came down with a mysterious condition she would become violently ill for days at a time, vomiting until she lost consciousness.
"I spent three years in the hospital and all the doctors could do was watch me lay there and lose more and more weight, deteriorate more and more. They thought I wouldn't make it another year," she said.
Doctor after doctor tried to identify what was wrong, but no one could come up with a diagnosis. In between bouts with the strange sickness, Rachelle would leave the hospital and go back out on the road for concerts. The young singer's mother, Delinda Stanley, wondered if the stress of touring might be too much, but soon realized it was the only thing keeping her daughter going.
"I can't imagine I would have that kind of strength, or maybe I just never hand anything I wanted that bad. I don't know what kept her going. She would be ill for five to seven days of the month and she would jump up right out of that and do some work," she said.
Finally, last year, Rachelle was diagnosed with Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome. But unlike other patients, Rachelle's condition had a rare trigger - her hormones. In other words, her body was allergic to maturing. While there isn't a cure, she said medication now keeps it under control.
"It makes me appreciate life. It makes me appreciate everything I have. I think in the long run, it made me a better person," she said.
Through it all, Linda Davis and Jim Allison stuck by Rachelle. Now, at 17, she's releasing her first CD, It Comes From You.
"You can see it as earthly love between a man and a woman, but I don't see it that way. I see it very inspirational from the first moment I heard it I thought, 'Wow this is an awesome song.' It's absolutely beautiful, great writers. They're awesome," she said.
One of those awesome writers is Billy Montana, who recently wrote a hit for country singer Jo Dee Messina, Bring on the Rain. He also sings back-up vocals on Rachelle's CD. Linda Davis is extremely proud of her prodigy. In many ways, she said, Rachelle reminds her of herself at that age.
"If she keeps this intense desire and fire going, she can do anything she wants to," she said.
Now that Rachelle is on her way to stardom, she's taking a page from her mentor's book. She said she hopes to be a good role model and always encourage her young fans to follow their dreams.
"Never give up, no matter what the consequences. You can fall rock bottom but that only means you're gonna be able to grow up," she said.
In the future, Rachelle Nicole hopes to release a CD featuring songs she's written herself. And someday soon she dreams of coming back to West Virginia to do a free concert in appreciation of the people and state she loves.