Growing up in Washington, Ga., Hillary Lindsey wrote her first song at age 10 and danced and sang with her parents and sisters in the kitchen.
Tonight, the 34-year-old songwriter will be sitting in the audience among Hollywood's elite at the 83rd Annual Academy Awards, hoping to bring home the Oscar for Original Song.
Lindsey and her co-writers, Tom Douglas and Troy Verges, have been nominated for Coming Home , which actress Gwyneth Paltrow sings in the film Country Strong.
It's one of four songs nominated in the category. The competition includes I See the Light from the film Tangled ; If I Rise from 127 Hours; and We Belong Together from Toy Story 3 .
Being nominated is a dream come true, Lindsey said in a telephone interview from her home in Nashville, Tenn..
"It's kind of hard to explain. It's really unbelievable. Never in a million years ... I never would have thought this would happen. It's very surprising, and I'm completely honored and blown away," Lindsey said.
Gwyneth Paltrow is scheduled to sing Coming Home at the awards show.
"The nice thing about this award, whether she wins or loses, she will always be known as an Academy Award nominee," said Lindsey's father, Ricky Lindsey. "We're so proud of her."
This isn't Lindsey's first major recognition.
In 2006, she won a Grammy for Best Country Song for Jesus, Take the Wheel , sung by country artist Carrie Underwood.
This year, she was nominated for two Golden Globe awards for her songs There's a Place for Us in the film The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and Coming Home .
"There were only five nominations this year, and she got two of them," said her mother, Kathy Lindsey.
Lindsey's songs have been recorded by many top artists. Her most recent No. 1 songs are So Small , Wasted , Last Name and Just a Dream -- all performed by Carrie Underwood -- and American Honey, performed by Lady Antebellum.
Other recent charted songs include Fearless, performed by Taylor Swift, A Little Bit Stronger, by Sara Evans, Unstoppable, by Rascal Flatts and Kiss Goodbye, performed by Little Big Town.
She has also penned songs for Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, Martina McBride, Lee Ann Womack, Lindsay Lohan, Jessica Andrews and Miley Cyrus. In 2002, Hillary had her first No. 1 song, Blessed , which was recorded by McBride.
She has also had international success, with EMI Belgium recording artist Sarah, who took Lindsey's song Very Last Moment to the top of the pop charts. Warner recording artist Ilse Delange brought Lindsey's song I'm Not So Tough to No. 1 in Holland, and Lindsey's most recent international song, Take It , was sung by Verena, the winner of Austria's Starmania .
A promising start
Lindsey's father said he knew his daughter had musical talent when she was only 2. She was sitting on her grandfather's lap as he was playing the organ, and she started singing.
"When she started writing songs as a teenager and winning competitions, I just knew that she would have a career in music. I told her before going to college that she would win a Grammy. I said, 'You've got a Grammy song in you,' " Ricky Lindsey said.
Her mother recalls that Lindsey started singing in the church choir and won her first award at age 8 in the Kiwanis Talent Showcase. As a child, she won 4-H singing competitions and participated in 4-H's traveling performing arts group, Clovers & Co. Jennifer Nettles, now a member of the country music duo Sugarland, participated in the group with Lindsey.
"If she had a crush on somebody, she would write about it. Some kids kept journals and some kids talked to their girlfriends. Every time something happened that was of interest in her life, she would write about it," Kathy Lindsey said.
Change of direction
Lindsey graduated from Washington-Wilkes Comprehensive High School and moved to Nashville to enroll in Belmont University's Music Business School. She landed a publishing deal during her senior year.
Lindsey's initial plan was to become an artist. Several years later, she received a record deal from Sony and was signed as an artist. But the executive who signed her left the company and she was dropped from the label.
"I had only been there for three months. I never even went into the studio. Never made a record. Never recorded anything," Lindsey said.
As she tried to figure out her next step, she continued writing songs. Her songs started being recorded by artists in Los Angeles, where she was living then.
"It was just sort of a natural path for me. It just kind of happened. The artist thing sort of went by the wayside, and the writing became my main focus," she said.
Lindsey, who plays piano, drums and guitar, still sings on her demos, and around Nashville, and does background vocals for several artists. She recently sang backup for Underwood at the Country Music Awards.
"A lot of the background vocals that you hear on Carrie Underwood's record are me. I sing on Martina's records. I sing on Faith Hill records. I've sang on tons of Sara Evans' records. So I still sing. I'm just not the one on the tour bus every day. I get to have a really good life, still be at home and write songs, and still get the fun parts. I kind of get the best of both worlds. I like my life," she said.
A song with meaning
Sony executives came to Nashville seeking songs for Country Strong , and Lindsey was approached by the film's music director.
"He had heard a couple of my demos, and he really liked my voice and my writing. He asked me and a couple of other people to read the script and write this song called Coming Home . The title was already written in the script," Lindsey said.
Lindsey, Verges and Douglas collaborated on the song, which is based on the storyline about Gwyneth Paltrow's character, a country singer named Kelly. They competed against other songwriters and their version of the song was selected for the film.
"There's a lot of different meanings to this song. She struggles with alcohol addiction very heavily, and she was very torn and tormented and struggling with her career. She just wanted things to be more simple, like they used to be when she was younger. So there's a facet of the song that's about coming home literally and trying to get back to your roots," Lindsey said.
The song also represents "coming home to God." After Paltrow's character sings the song, she commits suicide, Lindsey said.
"There are a lot of metaphors in it. Once you watch the movie, the song means a lot more," she said.
At the Oscars, Lindsey plans to wear a deep peacock blue dress designed by her co-writer Troy Verges' wife, Jessica Maros. She will start getting dressed in the morning so she can arrive by 3:30 p.m. Pacific time, she said.
Her sister, Taylor Lindsey, who works in the music business at BMG Rights and pitches Lindsey's songs, will accompany her.
Many of Lindsey's songs reflect her life in Washington. She writes about "the love of a small-town community, the love of your family and wanting things to be a little more simple," she said.
"Growing up in a small town, you do treasure that. I think it comes out in a lot of songs," she said.
Today, Lindsey owns a music publishing company. Last week, she was writing songs with Underwood. She also writes for Lady Antebellum.
"I just love them. I went out on the road with them and wrote with them. They're just great guys. Super fun, amazingly talented people," Lindsey said.
Lindsey remains connected to her hometown, said Ashley Barnett, the tourism director at the Washington-Wilkes Chamber of Commerce.
"We love her dearly. She's a very humble person. Beautiful on the outside, but even more beautiful on the inside. She's got a great heart. She loves this community. She comes back often," Barnett said.
A few years ago, Lindsey participated in a local festival and raised $20,000 for middle and high school band students who couldn't afford instruments.
The town's arts foundation and a local service sorority, Beta Sigma Phi, have organized an Oscars party in Lindsey's honor.
"She's already won to all of us, though," Barnett said.
Last summer, Lindsey was recognized as a songwriter and publisher by the IRAA for selling 30 million records containing her songs, since she started her publishing company in 2004.
A record executive told her mother that Lindsey is a talented songwriter, "but it's her spirit and soul that captures everybody."
"She's so humble and generous and compassionate. It doesn't matter to her whether you're Kenny Chesney or Kenny Jones. She's the same around everybody. She's just a really good soul. That's what we're the proudest of. That this hasn't changed her. It's given her the ability to reach out and touch more people," Kathy Lindsey said.
Gwyneth Paltrow will perform Coming Home, co-written by Lindsey, tonight. \nSPECIAL
Hillary Lindsey has won many awards in her singing and songwriting career. \nTHE WEINSTEIN CO./ASSOCIATED PRESS
In this film publicity image provided by The Weinstein Company, Colin Firth portrays King George VI, left, and Helena Bonham Carter portrays the Queen Mother in a scene from, "The King's Speech." (AP Photo/The Weinstein Company, Laurie Sparham) \nZACH BOYDEN-HOLMES/STAFF
Kathy Lindsey holds a jar of honey commemorating American Honey's No. 1 status. Her daughter wrote the song for Lady Antebellum, which boasts two Lakeside High graduates. \nZACH BOYDEN-HOLMES/STAFF
A 1986 clipping shows Lindsey after she won the Kiwanis Talent Showcase. \nZACH BOYDEN-HOLMES/STAFF
Kathy and Ricky Lindsey says they first recognized their daughter's musical talents when she was 2 years old. Hillary Lindsey wrote her first song at 10. \nspecial
A young Lindsey sported a patriotic outfit for a performance of Lee Greenwood's God Bless the USA. \nMERCER HARRIS/SPECIAL
Hillary Lindsey performed at a benefit concert at the Washington-Wilkes Country Club in 2007 to raise money for students to get instruments. \nZACH BOYDEN-HOLMES/STAFF
Kathy Lindsey holds a photo of her daughter with country music star Carrie Underwood. Hillary Lindsey wrote Jesus take the Wheel for Underwood.