Anaka Grace came all the way from West Texas to audition Saturday for the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame’s annual John Ritter Showcase.

She had only one reservation.

“I wasn’t sure about coming here because, you know, we’re in Carthage, Texas and the only thing I ever knew about Carthage was that they beat Wylie at state in football. Do y’all remember that? Anybody?” she asked while up on stage. “I was really hesitant... I would feel like betraying my homeland.”

But Grace came, and along with other aspiring singers, auditioned for a chance to compete at the showcase in August. The winner of that competition represents the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame at events around the state — and performs at the annual Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony too.

Those auditioning are judged on vocal quality, stage presence, appearance and overall entertainment. This year the Hall of Fame added a new requirement: singers had to choose a song written or recorded by one of the Hall of Fame’s inductees.

“We wanted to honor the legends that are in our museum,” Tommie Ritter Smith, with the Hall of Fame, told singers on Saturday. “It’s a great learning experience for you, and I know it can get real challenging at times, but it’s going to make the show really good and it’s going to teach y’all things that you’re going to have to do when you’re all on The Voice.”

Judges included musicians, record company executives and songwriters.

Lane Scott, a singer himself who is married to Carthage native and country singer Linda Davis, once again served as a judge. He told contestants not to be anxious.

“You’re looking at friendly faces,” he said. “We’re pulling for you just to have a relaxed performance. Just take deep breaths, make sure your guitars are tuned before you get up there to play them and just have fun. We are here, we’re pulling for you, we just really look forward to hearing you sing and your delivery of the songs that you selected today.”

Rusty Summerville, who has worked as a songwriter and director of design at Gaylord Entertainment Company, also told singers to relax.

“Just come up here and have a good time and just your best and good luck!” he said.

Sean Christopher, of Jacksonville, sang Waylon Jennings’ “Rose in Paradise,” joking with judges beforehand about an uncle who was married to a lady who had once dated Jennings. His choice in Hall of Fame inductees was easy.

“I love Waylon,” Christoper said. “He’s a legend.”

Grace, meanwhile, had originally wanted to perform a Willie Nelson song but someone else got to him before her. So she went with another legend: Bob Wills and “My Window Faces the South.”

Her decision to compete in a music competition about six hours away from Abilene started at a friend’s graduation party. Her friend’s grandmother lives in Carthage and told her she should sign-up.

It was a no-brainer for Grace, who calls herself “a Nashville dreamer.”

“Since I was 11, I decided that I wanted to do music, and just country music, it really makes me tick,” she said. “It’s what I’m here for.”

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Carthage native Meredith Shamburger has worked for the Panola Watchman since 2018. Before that, she worked at sister papers in Longview and Marshall; the Dallas Morning News; and The Daily Voice, a hyperlocal news company in Westchester County, New York.