On the Bright Side: Local teen's original country music earns award nominations

Sarah Eames | The Daily Star Krystal Lee "The Country Sweetheart" Poole performs for a Facebook Live broadcast Wednesday from her grandparents' Oneonta music store, The Eighth Note.

For the second year in a row, a Delaware County teenager was nominated for several awards at the Josie Music Awards, held annually at Dollywood in Tennessee.

“It’s like the CMAs (Country Music Awards), but for independent music artists,” said 17-year-old Krystal Poole.

Better known by her stage name, Krystal Lee “The Country Sweetheart,” Poole was nominated for Young Adult Artist of the Year, Young Adult Vocalist of the Year, Song of the Year and the Songwriter Achievement Award for her just-released single, “By My Side.”

While this year’s awards ceremony remains uncertain amid the coronavirus pandemic, Poole said it was an honor just to be nominated.

“I didn’t even expect to get nominated,” she said, noting that show organizers estimated they received 10,000 more submissions this year than the year previous, Poole said.

“It was so much fun,” she said of her first experience at the Josie’s.

Among the highlights of the trip was a pre-show at Ole Red, one in a chain of bars owned by country artist Blake Shelton, where she met Kirk Jay, one of the members of Shelton’s team on the NBC reality show “The Voice.”

Poole said she also met the members of Lizard Lick Towing and Joann Cash, who was in attendance to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award.

“I’ve probably met people from every state now,” she said.

Poole said she was Invited to perform onstage at the Hard Rock Cafe in Pigeon Forge after buying a guitar there, and asked to play again upon her return to Tennessee. She and her parents took a day trip to Nashville, where they met up with country singer Jamie O’Neill and her daughter, also an up-and-coming performer.

On the return home, Poole said she was gifted meet-and-greet tickets with Hunter Hayes and Kylie Morgan for her participation in the Big Foot Country competition in Pennsylvania.

In contrast to her whirlwind summer last year, this year’s has been much more subdued, Poole said. Amid the pandemic, she transitioned to performing all-virtual shows.

“It’s a whole different way of performing,” Poole said. “It’s weird because you have a script and you’re not talking to the audience.”

Poole’s parents, Scott and Yvonne, are her sound and tech experts, her managers and her biggest fans.

“We’re working through this and learning as we go,” Yvonne said.

Krystal gave a Fourth of July performance at Hanford Mills and Museum, where she was supposed to perform for its annual Independence Day celebration. On Father’s Day, she returned to performing live with a show at the O in Otego.

“It was outside, with everybody in the audience spread out,” she said. “I stayed on stage, so it wasn’t really a problem.”

“I put up 20-foot streamers all around the stage,” Scott said. “I made sure nobody was going to get near her.”

Krystal, a rising junior at Charlotte Valley Central School, also had to contend with the transition to online learning — “one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do,” she said.

A member of the National Honor Society, the National Technical Honor Society, the Mathematical Honor Society and the principal’s and platinum lists at her school, Krystal said she’s “always been a great student, but this was so much.”

“She was sitting in front of the computer for seven or eight hours a day,” Yvonne said. “It amazes me how much she can do.”

In addition to performing, Krystal is working summer jobs at both Hanford Mills and Maurice’s in the Southside Mall, as well as taking summer cosmetology classes to follow in her mother’s footsteps as a hairdresser “and sometimes has a social life,” she said with a laugh.

Although she missed out on her junior prom, the varsity softball season and a trip to Italy,  Krystal said life on pause gave her the opportunity to write more songs.

“It’s bettered me as an artist,” she said. “I’ve grown from it. I’ve learned from it. It’s helped me to learn how important connections are between people.”

Krystal was featured on an indie country album alongside half a dozen other up-and-coming artists, organized by Missouri songwriter Kimberly Smoak. The pair met through a record label Facebook group at the recommendation of a mutual acquaintance.

Smoak said she was looking for a young adult female to sing a song she cowrote with fellow Missouri artist Rachel Wentler, “Different Days, Bring Different Things.”

“Being a seasoned songwriter, my choice of artist to sing a song is just as important as the song,” Smoak said. “You need an artist that believes in the song and can carry that belief to their audience — Krystal did just that.”

Describing Krystal as “an energetic performer” with “exceptional vocal talent,” Smoak praised Krystal’s “good heart and ability to connect with her audience.”

I love Krystal’s energy and passion for music — she has the voice of an angel,” Smoak said. I just love her brand ‘Krystal Lee The Country Sweetheart’ — that’s so cool!”

The Josie Awards are scheduled to take place Saturday, Sept. 5 at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

For performance updates, visit krystalleemusic.weebly.com and follow “Krystal Lee the Country Sweetheart” on Facebook and @krystal.lee on Instagram.

Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at seames@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.

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