Enjoying their three minutes
From the outside, the New Zealand Gold Guitar Awards are a weekend of country glitz and entertainment. For those competing, it's a lot of hard work. Lauren Hayes follows two young performers through their journey to Gore.
The space backstage is cramped and dark.
It's still bright enough to see the anxious looks Maggie Townley, 13, and Beth Walker, 12, are exchanging, last minute, as they wait to perform at the Gold Guitar Awards.
The nerves have been a long while coming. Only minutes ago the girls were laughing and joking, as though they were hanging out after school instead of preparing to perform in front of hundreds of people.
"I don't really get nervous hours before," Beth says. "It's just the minute beforehand I will."
Looking at their faces, it seems as though that minute has now arrived.
Maggie and Beth, young as they are, are practically Gold Guitar veterans.
The two have been performing together for about five years - a long time in the life of a 13-year-old. Beth was named the Gold Guitars junior winner last year, and both have been attending the event for as long as they can remember.
This year, however, things are a little different; for the first time, the girls are competing in the intermediate section.
There's a bit of a jump from junior to intermediate. The junior section is for kids; in intermediate, you're up against teenagers who are old enough to drive and sit exams, almost old enough to drink and vote.
There's also some big-name competition in their grade - New Zealand's Got Talent finalist Jenny Mitchell and X Factor competitor Khona Va'aga-Gray, to name a few. It must all be a little daunting for the girls but they seem pretty philosophical about their competition.
There's no point worrying about what other people are doing, Maggie says. The Gold Guitars are all about getting your own moment in the sun.
"It's our three minutes and that's all that matters," she explains.
Even so, three minutes is not a long time to impress the judges, something all competitors are well aware of.
Beth and Maggie have been squeezing in practice after school, under the watchful eye of their parents, since March, working hard to perfect their sound and synchronise their dance moves.
Other competitors have been practising longer, and have poured just as much preparation into their costumes as their music.
This weekend, Gore quite possibly had more rhinestones, fringes and cowboy boots per head of population than any other town in the world.
Maggie and Beth have opted for something a little more subtle.
During a shopping trip in Dunedin, the girls picked two outfits: matching navy dresses, as well as dark green numbers with a tasteful sprinkling of gems - just enough glitz to impress the judges.
The girls are going to wear the green frocks for their first performance. Well, that was the plan.
It's not until the two begin applying their makeup that they discover Maggie has brought the blue dress, leaving the green one at the motel. Luckily, Beth's blue dress is still in the car - only a mad dash away in the parking lot. Two trips have already been made to the vehicle to grab forgotten socks and makeup. Crisis averted.
The girls, now in their navy gowns, hand their chord charts in backstage before being whisked into the time setting box.
There's nothing left to do except wait.
A group in plaid farm shirts finish their song, running off stage, high on the buzz of performing.
The compere calls Beth and Maggie to the stage. The months of preparation have come down to this.
It's time for the girls' three minutes.
Without even the briefest look back, the two waltz into the light, beaming away any trace of nerves with their sunny stage smiles. Show time.
The Southland Times