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Sometimes you hear the voice of fate when you least expect it. And sometimes that voice is so loud and clear that you can’t deny it.

For Adley Stump, that voice came—much to her own surprise—right out of her own mouth. So far her singing talent has already taken her from her native Oklahoma to nationwide exposure as a contestant on TV’s hit talent competition The Voice. And now Adley Stump’s voice can be heard in full flower on her debut EP, Like a Lady.

For the young woman at the center of all the fuss, none of this was part of the plan. Stump was busy getting her degree in public relations at Oklahoma State University when friends dared her to try out for a singing part in a sorority production. She’d been honing her skills as a dancer and cheerleader since childhood, but had never considered the notion that she might have a gift for singing as well. “We all just laughed when they dared,” she recalls with a chuckle. “But I’ll take a dare from anybody. So I started singing, and I think people were shocked by what came out. I was shocked by what came out.” What came out was a voice as rich and sweetly melodious as it was pure and authentic. She got the solo—but more importantly, she found a direction. “To feel that vulnerability and that fire for the first time … ” she says, “I thought, ‘I like this.’”

By her senior year she was performing regularly at Willie’s Saloon in Stillwater, Okla. (Garth Brooks’ old stamping ground), but still her path seemed set for a public-relations career working with the nonprofit organization To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA). It’s only in retrospect that the road to country music seems clear. “It’s like I was watching God place the puzzle pieces of my life,” she says. Dance and cheerleading gave her the performance experience and a confidence for getting a crowd on its feet; writing lyrics and poetry since age 10 gave her a knack for songwriting; extensive charity work had nurtured her empathy and desire to connect with others, as well as giving her experience as a public speaker; and her college degree had helped her to develop a canny business sense.

“I was praying one day,” she remembers. “I said, ‘God, why this?’ I felt like He just smacked me upside the head and said, ‘I gave you a stage and a microphone, what more do you want? You’re supposed to get up there and sing songs that matter. You’re supposed to tell your story.” All those “puzzle pieces” came together when Stump auditioned in Nashville for The Voice. She found the audition announcements while searching online for “How to be on Jeopardy.” “I was a broke college student!” she explained. “I was just goofing off looking for how to win some money. I found a list of reality shows and I saw The Voice and thought, ‘Why Not? You only live once!’”

A lucky break—but then, Stump has always made her own luck. By the time she auditioned for The Voice, she had already begun work on Like a Lady. After an offer from Force Majeuere Music, she made the move to Nashville. “I started learning what it meant to write with a purpose, to combine the structure that mainstream music requires with my own heart and soul.” She chose the seven songs on Lady from dozens of original numbers amassed over five months—but admits that it was only after the track listing was finalized that she realized what the wide-ranging tunes had in common. “I noticed that each song had the theme of strength underneath it,” she says. “If you want a doormat, don’t call me,” she sings on the romping opener “Addicted to Love,” and the title cut is similarly sassy: “I ain’t lettin’ anyone tell me how I feel.”

But even in tender moments, such as the ballad “Me Without Him,” the idea of inner strength is present. “That song is about a heart-wrenching breakup, but the lead character isn’t playing the victim,” observes Stump. “She’s saying, ‘I still have to know who I am as an individual.’” All the songs—especially the starry-eyed “Crazy Dreams,” which Stump developed with the encouragement of her acquaintances in the rock band Hinder—form a vivid portrait of the whirlwind journey that has been the last year of her life. “This time has been about figuring out who I am, and what I stand for,” she says. “People are about to be able to see that very clearly.”

Now that Adley Stump has the world’s attention, she aims to keep it. She’s eager to get Like a Lady into the hands of fans, and to prove herself in front of as many audiences as possible. “There’s no rush in the world like being onstage performing,” she says. “It’s addicting. It’s like this little torch has been lit, and I just want to go and start a wildfire with it.” She also hopes to continue handling her swift rise to fame with responsibility and humility. “This wasn’t something I earned for myself, it was a gift,” she says. “It is nothing to be take for granted, not even for a day. I feel like God’s trusting me with something, and I’m just trying to be the best woman I can be for whatever He’s got up his sleeve. I suppose He didn’t want me in a cubicle after all.”

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