Born to be a 'Star'
Twelve-year-old Alisa Ekdahl of Alexandria sat in her bedroom with a guitar on her lap singing along to the music of Johnny Cash and Conway Twitty streaming from her radio.
As the songs ended she took a breath and grabbed the diary on her bedside table.
In it she wrote eight simple words: I want to be a famous country singer.
More than a decade later as Alisa (now Hvezda) drove up to the TMC Recording Studio in Tennessee, this memory was one of the many thoughts that were swimming through her head.
"This was the moment I had been dreaming of. I had always seen myself being here. It was just so surreal that it was actually happening," she said.
Alisa, whose stage name is Alisa Star, has been singing and writing poetry for as long as she can remember.
"When do kids start writing? I feel like when I learned to write I was always trying to rhyme. I still carry a notebook with me and write everywhere, like when I am waiting for a train to pass. You just never know when a good song idea will pop into your head," she said.
During school, Alisa participated in any and every music group including honor choirs, the Jefferson High School carolers and the North Dakota State University Women's Choir.
Her love for country music however, never blossomed until Alisa's grandmother introduced her to it.
"My Grandma Angie started her first guitar lesson when she was 70 years old. That always gave me hope that if she could start learning and writing songs at the age of 70, I could do anything I set my mind to," she said. "She was probably my greatest country music influence that I know personally."
Alisa's grandmother introduced her to the good old country singers like Waylon Jennings, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash and Conway Twitty.
This strong love for country and the singing ability that was passed on to her from her mother, Nancy, inevitably cultivated Alisa's desire to be a famous country singer.
With that goal, Alisa joined the west central Minnesota band, Nasty Habit, in 2009. With them she sang anything from Carrie Underwood to Journey.
"It was a really great thing for me to do; they pushed me out of my box and they were all really great friends and band family," she said.
But in December of 2012, Alisa decided she wanted to start focusing on writing and recording original songs, so she went solo.
"It was a huge, huge nerve-racking step. I mean you have a band and you have a following, you have great devoted fans. But this was the next chapter," she recalled.
Teaming up with musician James Berger who put music to her lyrics, she started recording her first original songs.
Alisa's songs are composed of an electric guitar, acoustic guitar, fiddle, steel guitar, drums, bass and piano. Though many critics have compared her to artists like Carrie Underwood, Faith Hill or Miranda Lambert, Alisa said that she has a sound that is all her own — a mixture of dirt kickin' country and southern rock.
"We literally recorded the demos in his kitchen. People were like 'where did you record them' and I would have to say 'in his kitchen'," she said.
After posting her songs online, she was quickly contacted by a company called HMG in Nashville, Tennessee who wanted Alisa to come to Nashville, perform at B.B. Kings and record some of her original songs at TMC. TMC is a state-of-the-art recording facility in Tennessee that has helped many big name singers, like Josh Turner, on their way to success.
Elated and completely overwhelmed, Alisa, her parents and her husband made their way to Nashville this past June.
"I was so scatterbrained driving up to these beautiful buildings. I had recorded in some studios before — small little ones and my friend's kitchen — but never anything like this," Alisa said, recalling when she had first driven up to the TMC studio, which had at one point been Conway Twitty's studio.
In the studio itself there were a 10-foot-long sound board and individual sound rooms for each musician of the band.
Alisa, you have to focus; this is why we are down here, she thought to herself. I am only this little small town girl from Minnesota that nobody knows and I am recording in Conway Twitty's studio. Yeah, this is a great day.
Three hours and two songs later, Alisa walked out of the studio ecstatic.
"I cried the entire way home because I was just so thankful and grateful for the experience I had," she said. "A lot of times I sit here and think 'I wish I already made it, or why am I not touring or why has someone not picked up one of my songs yet?' But you know what? I am just so unbelievably thankful every day when I look at where I started and where I am at. I would have never thought that I would be where I am today."
Alisa is thankful for her parents, husband, sisters and all of her fans for being so supportive and dedicated to her dream.
"There is no way I would be where I am today if I didn't have the people here to support me and keep me positive," she said.
"Road to Nashville" will be Alisa's first original single. The song will be sent out to 2,000 radio stations in August.
"I think the goal is to get signed to a label or a writer's group, but if I don't achieve those that is fine because I am writing and recording and doing what I love," she said.
Since writing those eight simple words in her diary, Alisa has reached for the moon and landed on stars time and time again.
She has performed at hundreds of large events including Moondance Jammin' Country Fest and Moondance Jam the last four years, The Connie Lee Stich Live Radio Show and B.B. Kings during the CMT Fan Fest and music awards.
She has recorded numerous original songs and many more are in the works. She has many devoted and encouraging fans who have followed her throughout her journey and she couldn't be happier.
"If you have a dream or a passion, no matter what it is, go after it and don't look back. The worst thing that could happen was that you don't make it, but you tried; I will never regret trying, ever. It doesn't matter where you are from or what your background is, go after your dreams," Alisa said.
By Caroline Roers, Echo Press Intern