Sept. 22--Watch "Nashville" on ABC closely this season and keep a quick eye out for a dark-haired beauty strumming an acoustic guitar and singing behind star Hayden Panettiere on stage. She'll be the one flashing a big Oklahoma smile.
That smile belongs to Tulsa native and former Wagoner resident Kaileigh Bullard.
A senior at Belmont University, the multi-talented brunette snagged a nonspeaking role as an acoustic guitarist and background vocalist for Hayden Panettiere's character, Juliette Barnes, on the hit ABC show "Nashville," which debuted in 2012.
"I always say it was a God thing because there is nothing I did for that (to happen)," Bullard said in a recent phone interview from Nashville. "It was nothing I planned on doing."
It seems she was working one of her four internships as a college senior majoring in music business when one of her friends was contacted by the music director of the Grand Ole Opry and asked if she had any musician friends who might be interested in being on a TV show.
"She submitted my name, and they looked at my picture and what I did," said the 23-year-old singer-songwriter who was born in Tulsa, moved to Wagoner at age 3, grew up there until age 18 and then moved with her family to Nashville to pursue her country music career. She graduated summa cum laude from Belmont in 2012.
"They actually hired me to be Hayden's fiddle player. But then, right before we shot the pilot, they asked 'Would you mind playing acoustic guitar and backup singer?' It was crazy."
The series, which returns for its second season Wednesday on ABC, follows life among the country music stars, wannabes, musicians and songwriters trying to find love and success in Music City. Connie Britton stars as country star Rayna James and Hayden Panettiere as Juliette Barnes who plans to take her place at the top of the country charts.
Bullard, who is taking acting lessons, appeared in 11 episodes of the series last season and started shooting episodes for the new season last month. She's also working every day to make connections in the industry, writing and co-writing new songs and performing with her band every chance she gets.
It's a long way from her stage debut at age 3 in front of 300 people at her grandmother's workplace in Oklahoma. The little wisp of a girl took the microphone and sang "Oklahoma" complete with hand motions and finishing with a bow. The gestures, she explained, came from watching a Discoveryland! production of "Oklahoma" in Sand Springs.
She started learning tap, jazz and ballet at age 4, clogging and playing piano at 5, fiddle at 8, and guitar at 12. She's also a clogger, and her first performance with a live band as a kid was with Muskogee's "The Voice" finalists The Swon Brothers.
"I've known them since I was 6 years old," she said. "I'm really happy for them and have talked to them several times. So glad to see they bought a house out here (Nashville)."
She also performed with Checotah's country music star Carrie Underwood during the summers of 2003 and 2004 in Northeastern State University's Downtown Country showcase.
"The show was for college students, but they added a position for me as the kid in the Christmas show. I clogged and played the fiddle and did the Christmas shows at the NSU Playhouse until 2006. That was a huge part of my growing up as an artist," she said.
"It really molded me. Just getting to watch and be friends with girls like Carrie. I looked up to them. I was like the little sister to all of them. I must have been 12, 13 or 14 when Carrie and I performed together. "
Over the years, her talent also gave her the opportunity to open for country music artists Ronnie Milsap, Ray Price, Kitty Wells, Hank Thompson and Toby Keith. Last year, she did a kickstarter project online and used the funds raised to make her six-song debut EP -- a recording that includes more than one single but not enough songs to make a full album. It's available on iTunes.
These days, she is busy learning original songs and shooting the show -- which takes several hours once or twice a week, she explained.
"There's usually not much prep time before shooting," said Bullard, who doesn't hale from a musical family. "Thankfully, we all play music, so it's not too difficult. One day, we got the music at 11 a.m. and had to prepare two songs for the next morning. Those days can be a little stressful. I think last season we did probably like 10 songs."
As a singer-songwriter, she likes doing original songs and said she counts Bob Wills, Merle Haggard and Patsy Cline among her influences. She loves Western swing and is "big on all the legendary performers," but she's also up for new artists like Josh Turner.
"Artists that still incorporate traditional country music but give it a new vibe for this modern market."
But her favorite thing, next to her passion for singing, songwriting and God, she said, is the show "Nashville."
"I'm a fan. I love the authenticity of it. The lady who created the show, Callie Khouri, is very involved, and she wants to know that Nashville is being accurately presented."
She added she has tried to get her family to come to the show and be extras, but they are too shy. Her father, Mark, is an accountant and her mother, Gayle, is a former elementary school teacher who is starting her own photography business. Her brother, 19-year-old Kolton, is a finance major at Belmont.
"They are so excited about the show. We all watch it together and say 'Oh my goodness, what is happening?' It's just kind of surreal for them and for me.
"I came to Nashville to be a country music artist, and it's a whole new world to be a part of 'Nashville.' "
Watch Kaileigh Bullard in video clips at tulsaworld.com/kaileighbullardtv and see her perform as a three-year-old at tulsaworldcom/kaileighsings
Rita Sherrow 918-581-8360
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