LOS ANGELES, Calif. - Ebro native and 1996 Vernon High School graduate Karen Hornsby is more than 2,000 miles away from Washington County this week but says she's never felt closer to her hometown.
Hornsby, daughter of Charles and Edell Gilly of local Gilly's Family Opry fame, has just made it to the next round of "Rising Star," the country's first singing competition in which viewers watch and judge performances in real time via a mobile phone app. One of only 30 chosen from a pool of about 2,500 invited to audition in six cities, she recently made the top 20 cut.
"The support I'm receiving from Washington County is unbelievable," said Hornsby. "I'm getting a lot of messages, and it's the coolest feeling ever. A lot of people ask me how it feels to be on the show, and as hard as it is to put that into words, it's even harder to articulate how much it means that my hometown has my back."
Hornsby began her musical career in the Washington County School system, singing at nearly ever graduation event for her class from elementary school to senior year, as well as performing the national anthem at Vernon High School sporting events.
"I even remember coming home from school, and everyone in our family band would be waiting for me on our bus," laughs Hornsby. "We would go perform all over the southeast United States, and I'd be back in school Monday morning."
While Hornsby says her time performing as a child helped prepare her for a career in music, it's her setbacks that helped prepare her the most.
"One of my favorite sayings is that God allows you to go through trials because he's letting your character catch up with your calling," said Hornsby. "And everything that's happened over the last nine years was just preparing me for the future."
"Three of us in my family have seen the face of death and survived. My moment came at age 19 when my car collided with a semi-trailer, causing my car explode into flames. After 10 minutes of being surrounded by smoke and flames, and multiple attempts by others to rescue me, a miracle occurred. An off-duty officer who attempted seven times to get the door open, was suddenly given the strength to somehow bend my car door in half and pull me to safety."
That officer was now retired Florida State Trooper and current Washington County School Board member Milton Brown.
"He is my guardian angel; that's what I've always called him," said Hornsby. "He risked his life to save mine, and today I'm a wife and a mother because he put me first."
Brown, who never met Hornsby before that day, says her testimony and strength often help him get through tough times.
"We made a connection that day, and we've stayed in touch," said Brown. "Neither of us knew how that day would change our lives, but she's living proof you can rise above any circumstance."
Years later, in 2005, Hornsby's husband was diagnosed and treated for cancer, and in the same year her healthy two and a half year old daughter was diagnosed one day with brain cancer, and the next, lost her sight. Since that diagnosis, Hornsby's daughter has received 5 rounds of chemotherapy, radiation and has had two major brain surgeries, followed by 3 strokes. Currently she fights through multiple mobility issues and is unable to clearly communicate.
"I have seen many victories, triumphs, and many miracles in the midst of my journey," said Hornsby. "It is now my mission to take these experiences and fix them to recordings and place them on stages as long as God grants this bird breath to sing."
"If I can convey one thing to my Washington County friends, it's that it doesn't matter how small your town is, you can achieve your dearest dream, and when you do, it will mean the world to have your hometown people cheer you on."
Rising Star airs at 8 p.m. CST on ABC.