Brittany Davis: OCU Rising Star

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Brittany Davis at Oklahoma City University Student Lounge
Big River musical performance at Spain Park High School in 2008
2009 Miss OCU Contest
Davis began recording in studio at age 15.
CMT Network studios
Performing at CMT Network on Top 20 Countdown
Performing at CMT Network on Top 20 Countdown
Brittany Davis at Oklahoma City University


By Clif Warren

On her lucky day—December 17, 2010—OCU lovely, Brittany Davis, whose magic numbers include ones and sevens, received the exciting news that she won the Oklahoma City “Country Strong” Singing Challenge. Up against 27 other contestants, she’d delivered the best a capella version of the title song from the soon-to-be released movie, “Country Strong,” directed by Shana Feste. While the regional prize contest at Rooster’s at Bricktown OKC brought only $500 to her college funds, plus an advance screening of “Country Strong,” the Grand Prize augured a far brighter future:  A trip to Nashville for two, a meeting with a Sony A&R music executive, a demo delivery and a chance to perform on Country Music Television’s Top 20 Countdown Show.

The life-changing resolve Brittany made in Nashville became the unexpected benefaction that awaited her.

When the telephone call came she’d trumped the 15 regional winners in the National Contest, by tallying the most on-line votes, Brittany was changing planes in the Will Rogers World Airport, bound for Christmas at home in a suburb of Birmingham, AL. She reported to OKC film publicist Michelle Langston, ”I started screaming and crying hysterically, and all these people started looking at me … it’s a dream come true for me!”

Looking at the extensive record of her Internet postings, that dream came true after a thorough show biz preparation. Born in Wisconsin in 1990, Brittany, who followed her sister Alisha in performance classes, was only 6 when she took her first acting workshop with the Great Lakes Opera Company. That connection elicited her role as Mouse in “Little Fir Tree.”

After her eight years in Wisconsin, Brittany moved with her family to Northern California, where she enrolled with the John Robert Powers Agency in Pre-Teen Commercials Phase I. Shorty thereafter, one more move, and the family re-located to Birmingham. Still a child, Brittany made her first TV appearances there as Piper with Chris Mohney Productions and on WB News at 9.

Later training included musical theater workshops for three years with the Summerfest Musical Theater Program, a class in on camera acting and another in cold readings.  At Spain Park High School, Brittany sang for three years in the Park Singers Show Choir (2005-2008) under Gia Graddy and also studied and performed with Steve Pennington of Show Stoppers Productions (2004-2006).

Clearly, here was evidence of a young lady involved in the heavy study it takes to be an overnight sensation, as well as that of a supportive family that cared for and about her. Dara Mosteller, Brittany’s opera teacher in Alabama, advised her about the nationally-recognized music theater program at Oklahoma City University and the Ann Lacy School of Dance, where she would add ballet, tap, jazz, and stage combat to her arsenal of performance techniques.

Acceptance and enrollment at OCU requires a well-written resume and an audition. While she was in the midst of that, Brittany was to face a dark night of the soul. During her senior year at Spain Park High School, she was stricken with ovarian cancer. As if that were not enough to face at 17, along with the chemotherapy and resultant hair and weight loss, ahead lay the mustering up of enough strength to carry through with the audition preparation for entrance to OCU.

The tall and svelte 20-year-old beauty now approaching me in the Student Center at OCU for a chat about her Nashville triumph reflects all the refinement her extensive training and performances provided — the upright carriage, head held high, brisk walk. Brittany’s shining, well-brushed chestnut hair glows under the soft overhead light and her warm hazel eyes and cheery smile greet me even before she says, “It’s so good to meet you at last.”

I discovered Brittany‘s last year not at OCU in “Bye Bye Birdie” or “The Light in the Piazza,” which I unfortunately missed. Rather, I saw her first in Guthrie at the Pollard Theatre, where she was sensational vocalizing memorable Lieber and Stoller solos and joining in difficult vocal blends. She portrayed Brenda throughout the sold out performances of “Smokey Joe’s Cafe,” as well as Ruth in the fast paced “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” Someone attached the highly favorable reviews to her Facebook page.

Settling into inviting leather seats in a beautifully furnished room off the lobby of the Student Center, where we could well use the burnished wood-paneled walls and Steinway piano in her cover photo, Brittany brought me up to date on her grand adventure in Nashville.

She enlisted her dad to fly to Nashville with her, handle the heavy lifting, and aid with her daily video diary of the journey. Her mom drove the family car over later. The trip lasted Sunday through Wednesday.

Nashville offered up lasting memories Brittany recorded on film—the huge Gaylord Hotel and Convention Center with the stream that runs through it; the site of the Grand Ole Opry; and, finally, the impressive Sony studios building, where she met with Vice President Jim Catino, of the A&R division. Catino oversees the demo recordings.

After a pleasant and informative session with Catino, Brittany visited the famous set where she would perform “Country Strong” on the Top 20 Countdown on CMT. In her mind, she recalled some of the luminaries who had stood center stage—Reba, Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift.

On stage for the live performance of the countdown, to her surprise, Brittany met young hunk Garrett Hedlund there to perform also and promote the “Country Strong” movie, in which he befriends country idol Gwyneth Paltrow, whose philandering husband, played by Tim McGraw, has latched on to a new country doll, Leighton Meester. “Garrett was very nice to me. Everything went well,” Brittany reports.

At the famed “Blue Bird Café,” where so many country stars began their careers, Brittany began to feel somehow transformed. “It was open mike night and I was second to the last one to perform. I decided to sing and play one of my own songs—“Feelin’ Alright.”

“I settled back on the seat and got comfortable with my guitar under the stage lights in the cozy room. The place felt warm, and suddenly I sensed myself being more mature and more focused than I ever had,” she said. “I realized right then that playing a character in a musical is not anywhere near as fulfilling as performing one of my own songs, a story from my own life.”

Brittany shared that she plans to return to Nashville when she completes her degree at OCU next fall and begin a country western career. “Mr. Catino says he will set up meetings for me with labels under the Sony banner when I return. So far I have written 14 songs.”

Dr. Clifton Warren received his Ph. D. in comparative literature and letters at Indiana University. He is former Chairman of the English Department at Oklahoma City University and taught on the graduate faculty of Oklahoma State University.  At the University of Central Oklahoma he and the late novelist Marilyn Harris initiated the M. A. degree in creative studies.  At UCO he served as Dean of Liberal Arts for 15 years.  He is also a recipient of a Governor’s Arts Award.

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