For a talented singer-songwriter, sometimes, all it takes is being in the right place at the right time, to change your life. For 19-year old Amelia James, that place appeared to be Tamworth, 2014, when she was signed on by a recording label. She tells SPIRIT Magazine about how fairytales can turn into horror stories; how close she came to giving up her dream, and how discovering inner strength and re-igniting her passion for music has made her a stronger, better person and musician.

The fourth child in a family of five Amelia’s musical talent was evident from a very young age and she was enrolled with Barbara Thomas at Ladybank School of Music in Ashburton, learning numerous instruments, singing individually and in choirs, exploring all kinds of music. She began performing on stage at age seven.

Over the years, she has earned a string of accolades and awards, so when she was spotted while performing at a gig in Tamworth, and signed on within weeks, her dream of taking her music to the world seemed to be on a fast-track.

It all started when she won a scholarship to the Association of Country Music in Tamworth – a week long training camp to help hone her musical skills. There, she worked with professional voice coaches and big-name Aussie stars including Amber Lawrence, graduating right before the Tamworth Music Festival. “The whole experience was phenomenal. I developed so much as an artist,” she says.

“It really felt like it was a dream come true. This was so exciting for a girl from Hinds. I was signed on with my original songs, and promised that I could be myself, sing my songs, no restrictions. Mum and I signed up, believing this was my big break.” Once all the excitement had subsided though, things changed. “I was turned into this sexy little product, put on a strict diet, told to write, sing, and perform in particular ways.  All other ways were wrong. Music is never wrong. How can it be?” she asks. “It’s about sharing love and sharing what you feel. I was completely controlled and sexualised and that wasn’t even the half of it. It was a learning experience, but not a good one.”

When the rollercoaster hit the ground with a thunderous crash, Amelia returned home, frustrated, angry, depressed and disillusioned. Two years on, it’s still raw, but she says that with help from family, and counselling, she is stronger and wiser, and is sharing her story so that others don’t fall into the same trap. “I want others to know that you don’t have to be turned into a robot. I didn’t know who I was. I lost all my creativity, my authenticity, my deep-seated passion for my music and I lost myself because of it.”

Quietly confident, glowing with good health, Amelia is back to her creative best. “I’m very excited and relieved to announce that I’m back,” she smiles. “I’ve become a person I appreciate and love again. The music was still there. I just needed time to heal so I could find it again.”

Inspired by the music of artists like Alison Kraus, Gretchen Wilson, Ed Sherin, Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash, Amelia’s music spans the generations and genres. “I like to take the lyrics from old artists and make them relevant to my generation.”  It’s a style that exudes retro but feels distinctly modern.

Now Methven-based, Amelia and partner Robbie Giddens recently returned from travelling and performing in Europe. “I loved Austria,” she says. “The audiences were amazing. They didn’t even understand the words, but they were right into it, dancing and clapping. Amazing.”

Amelia dreams of being on a stage, spotlit, in front of a huge crowd, “Just me and a guitar, maybe a someone on fiddle or a mandolin, performing with other artists from around the world, sharing the dream.” With plenty of pure talent there is nothing to hold her back. 2017 looks like the year that Amelia will carve out the successful career she dreams of.  Stay tuned!

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Judy McAuliffe is a writer, and publisher Essence Mid Canterbury. Her experience in media is extensive and includes approximately 15 years as Creative Director for The Radio Network, writing, and managing the writing of radio advertising, mainly in Invercargill and Greymouth. In the late 1990’s she transferred to Christchurch, moving into an Account Management role with 91ZM. In 2007 she and a business partner set up Essence Mid Canterbury, very quickly adapting her radio-writing skills to print media. Judy became sole owner of Essence Mid Canterbury in June 2014. Judy is a ‘people person’ and has found her niche writing feature stories about the community she lives in and the people who live there. She is also available for freelance writing assignments.