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At 20, Sarah Ross is being called upon to forge the trail for women in the fast-growing country/rap/hip hop genre of music. The New Jersey native is no stranger to forging country music lyrics with a hip hop beat. With encouragement from her mother, the innovative singer has been melding two of her favorite genres since she was 16.

Signed to Average Joes Entertainment after label head, Shannon Houchins, saw her on “American Idol” and looked up her videos on the Internet. He immediately invited Sarah to make a trip to Nashville, and within one short year she found herself in the studio, recording with the label’s group, The Lacs. One of her songs, “Knock ‘Em Dead,” was on the compilation album “Mud Digger 4,” along with label mates Colt Ford, The Lacs with J.J. Lawhorn and Montgomery Gentry. She also claims her country roots along with Colt Ford in “We All Country” by the Moonshine Bandits.

“Mud Digger 5” had another of Sarah’s compositions, “Shotgun,” as its lead single. The video for the tune is a gritty warning to guys about what might happen if they are found cheating on their sweetheart. The song is on Sarah’s first EP, “Calm Before The Storm,” which releases on July 24.

“As a little girl I grew up listening to my daddy’s all-time favorites — Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, George Strait, Patsy Cline and Martina McBride,” says the young lady who grew up on a farm just south of Atlantic City. It didn’t take long before she started flipping through radio stations, from country to rap and back, discovering tunes she loved from favorites Miranda Lambert, Kacey Musgraves, Justin Moore, Jason Aldean, Eminem, Wiz, Drake and Nicki Minaj, and of course her country rap label mates.

The new EP showcases Sarah’s multi-genre influences, such as the first song she ever merged country, rap and rock, Linda Ronstadt’s “You’re No Good.” It has received airplay on Sirius’ “Highway” (Channel 56) and CMT Pure and on the channel’s “12 Pak Countdown.”

Her rap influences also show up on “Shotgun,” which combines the modern beat with an iconic country storyline. Her softer side comes through on “Lovin’ This Beat” and her vocals shine on the ballad, “Happy Hour.”

Sarah learned the ropes quickly in Nashville, and before long she was writing with some of the town’s top writers. Among those who contributed and/or wrote with Sarah on the EP are Jared Scuillo, who also acted as producer along with Josh Kerr. Other writers include Mallary Hope, Charlie Farley, Noah Gordon, and Preston Brust of LoCash, as well as Ronstadt.

Like most songwriters, Sarah pulls from her life experiences when writing. “Calm Before The Storm,” written with Jared and Mallary, is an edgy country song with a hint of rock and rap. The singer drew the idea form a guy who did her wrong although she is the first to admit that not every word of the tune is true. “I think each line of this song was from each of us (writers) and we really worked together on it. It was a song that flowed, and came out easily for each of us. From the beginning, it was one of my most favorite songs that we wrote.”

One of the audiences that enjoy the music Sarah and her label mates sing and perform are folks who love mud sports. While the singer is well acquainted with hanging out with friends who like to drive their pickup trucks on the back trails of the farms around her southern New Jersey town, she had never been to any of those type sporting events until she moved to the south.

“My friends and I always had a great time taking our four wheelers and trucks out trail riding and deer spotting. When it rained we would head to nearby historical Batsto to get all muddy riding through the creeks and trails. So I’ve done that kind of thing but not at an ‘official’ mud bog.”

Sarah already has a favorite event to attend now that she has moved to Nashville. It is the one in Butler, GA, where the “Mud Digger 4″ release party was held. “Colt Ford performed and there were so many people. It was an experience for me and I loved it. I’m looking forward to performing at that event.”

The singer of Italian descent admits that now when she attends the bogging events, she does so as a spectator, not a participant, unless she rides shotgun. “My four wheeler is back home and my dad would kill me if I got a scratch on my truck,” she admits with a laugh.

Sarah began singing at 15 and started taking voice lessons at 16. She credits her vocal coach, Sal DuPree, who has worked with artists including “America’s Got Talent” million dollar winner Bianca Ryan, “Star Search” champion Tiffany Evans, the group Choice with Alisha Moore (Pink), Miss Americas, Broadway stars and participants in TV singing competitions, for being a huge part of her career. Soon after starting to work with DuPree, Sarah was winning singing competitions throughout Pennsylvania and surrounding areas. Winning and recognizing that people enjoyed her music was the catalyst for pursuing a musical career path rather than following in her mother’s footsteps as a nurse.

Her mother was not totally disappointed in Sarah’s journey to a music career. It was actually she who encouraged her daughter to try out for “American Idol” season 12. Sarah went all the way to Hollywood singing a country song and rapping one of Nikki Minaj’s songs for her, which the judge absolutely loved. Judge Keith Urban said it best, telling Sarah she was “like an IPOD shuffle, never knowing what you’re gonna get.” Minaj told her she shouldn’t have to choose between the two genres. Sarah decided to heed that advice …she didn’t choose … she combined them!

Sarah has one trait that she gets from her father that will do well for her in the music career that she has chosen. She doesn’t worry; she just figures that if it’s going to happen it will.

“I do feel like I have a weight on my shoulders since I am the first female to do this kind of music, so that does make me step up my game,” she admits. “It all began with a passion for eclectic music and unique sounds. I hope it will connect with others who have an open mind and also enjoy a variety of country and rap music.”

“It’s kind of crazy but in a cool way, when you see all the country/rap collaborations such as Tim McGraw and Florida Georgia Line with Nelly, Jason Aldean with Ludacris and Brad Paisley with LL Cool J. Florida Georgia Line even raps on “This is How We Roll.” It’s all about who does it, if it works and who believes in you. Country music is evolving. It has its roots and that’s here to stay. I would never want to try and change it, just add a variation.”

As for her entry into the world releasing her debut EP, Sarah has mixed feelings.“I am actually super nervous but also super happy with the EP,” she admits. “I am really nervous because there is such a wide variety of songs on there. But I am excited to see what family and friends and fans will feel about all the different sides of me. I think I write with so many different people, and I pull from so many different genres in my music, it’s kind of like whatever songs were my favorite ones, I threw together and hoped for the best.”

Sarah is in Nashville to stay. While she misses her family and the horse farm in Southern New Jersey, and roaming the 240 acres with her cousins, Sarah is committed to making the music she loves. There is no turning back. As she says, there is no Plan B.

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