Originally created 11/27/98

Girl finds herself in spotlight



Large-crowd performances are nothing new to 14-year-old Haley Neal.

The Harlem Middle School pupil began singing gospel songs in her church choir at age 7 and now performs all over Harlem at local churches and 4-H club gatherings.

"I don't know exactly why I like doing it. It's just something I've always had fun doing," she said.

She also plays basketball on her school's team and sometimes sings the national anthem before her own games.

"I like basketball, but I would always rather be singing for a crowd," Haley said.

But recently, Haley found herself with an uncharacteristic case of pre-performance jitters when she found out where her next performance would be.

"I just couldn't believe it when I was told they wanted me to sing at Dollywood. I was nervous then, and I'm still nervous now," she said.

Haley was invited to attend the Tennessee theme park's annual Christmas show today, just months after someone familiar with Dollywood heard her sing at a 4-H contest in Harlem.

That someone was Doug Simonds, who is a music minister for Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in Harlem.

"The first time I heard her sing, I immediately knew she had a lot of talent, and I wanted to bring her with me," Mr. Simonds said.

Mr. Simonds has worked closely for years with organizers of the Dollywood Christmas show. He usually takes local singers each year to perform there.

"I'm really happy to take her (Haley) with the group this year because this will be a really great experience for her," Mr. Simonds said.

Haley will be on stage for about 15 minutes and will sing three or four Christmas songs.

Even though the large crowd at Dollywood at first may be a little intimidating for Haley, Mr. Simonds said the setting she will sing in should put her at ease.

"She will be singing inside a chapel, which is inside the park. It's a small chapel designed to replicate the one Dolly Parton went to when she was a kid. So with Haley's church choir background, she should feel right at home singing inside the chapel," he said.

"This will definitely be the biggest thing Haley has ever been involved with. I can tell that she's already getting very nervous about it," said Haley's mother, Rosemary Neal, who will be in the Dollywood audience.

"But I will be there to give her my moral support. I like supporting her with her singing because it's something she really enjoys doing. (It's) something she really has a true talent for."

Preston Sparks can be reached at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 110, or ccchron@augustachronicle.com.

"I just couldn't believe it when I was told they wanted me to sing atDollywood. I was nervous then, and I'm still nervous now."

-- Haley Neal, Harlem Middle School pupil