Local teen musician stays true to herself
Local songstress and Tuscola High School student Helena Hunt has been bringing femininity to the local bluegrass scene since she was only 9 years old, and she was recently even chosen to be a part of a reality TV show.
But she has proven that nothing, not even the chance at TV stardom, will interfere with who she really is and how she wants to see herself portrayed.
Hunt received her first banjo for her ninth birthday and started learning from her dad. With his help and some inspiration from an Earl Scruggs CD, she first mastered three-finger playing and later learned the more difficult claw hammer style.
Old time three-finger banjo is played by picking the strings. With claw hammer, the melody is played by the index finger striking on several strings in a three-part rhythm.
A few years later, at 14, Hunt decided to try her hand at guitar, and mostly taught herself. She took banjo lessons and was also an active member of the Junior Appalachian Musicians.
Over the years, Hunt has made musical appearances at the county fair, fundraisers locally and in Nashville and can often be seen at restaurants such as The Patio and Frog Level Brewing.
At 10 years old she was lifted up onstage to sing Patsy Cline's hit song "Walking After Midnight" with Loretta Lynn at a concert and once opened up for Doc Watson at the Stuart Auditorium with the Junior Appalachian Musicians.
Even though she's been performing for years, Hunt admits that she still gets butterflies when she plays for a crowd.
"When I first get up there my hands are always shaking," she said.
But once her fingers start strumming and picking, she becomes fearless. Really, it’s more like the music simply takes over.
It's not just her banjo and guitar skills that swoon audiences, but her singing voice, which seems to match her personality to a tee. With a hint of Alison Krauss’ sweet, feminine vocals and a bit of bluegrass/country flair, Hunt has developed her own unique sound.
She mostly plays cover songs by her favorite artists, such as Patty Griffin, Alison Krauss and Iris Dement, but she's started trying her hand at writing her own music. So far, she's crafted one song for the banjo, although she's still working on the lyrics.
Far from ‘reality'
While most teens would jump at the chance for reality television stardom, Hunt decided against it when she learned that the show failed to depict her true “reality.”
At Tuscola, Hunt is a member of Summit, the school's elite show choir. That's how she first learned about an opportunity to be a part of a reality TV show.
One day last fall, a film company called Superfine Films out of New York contacted the chorus teacher at Tuscola in search of young local talent. Hunt sent in a video of her music and it wasn't long before she was invited for a role in a show featuring young musicians heading to a music competition called Childress Idol in Kentucky.
Before her experience, Hunt always believed that reality shows, from those on MTV to The Discovery Channel, were real. But her own experience cast reality television in a new light.
A crew of about six people arrived at her log cabin home in the rural Crabtree area on a crisp fall day. At first, they filmed her singing and playing one song, but then she said they began doing what they called "on the fly interviews" of her and her mom.
“I didn’t really know what to expect,” she said. “I figured they would film me doing stuff, but I didn’t know they would be telling us what to say and do and make me act different.”
The crew only followed her for one day before she realized they were attempting to depict her as a small-town diva, forcing her to roll her eyes and pretend to be mad at her parents.
“Reality shows are dramatic and we’re not a very dramatic family. We live on a farm and that’s about it. Basically they were making me look like a brat,” she said.
After meeting the petite, quiet spoken musician, it’s difficult to imagine anyone successfully making her seem anything but polite, charismatic and talented.
After several hours of being followed and directed by the crew, Hunt and her mother decided to back out of the deal. She had not signed any papers promising to be on television, so the crews left the property.
“That’s probably the biggest thing, I knew if they did film me they would make it as dramatic as possible and people would. I didn’t want to be known as a bratty teenager instead of being known for my music,” Hunt said.
She backed out of the show and out of the competition, but it was worth it to Hunt and her parents. With relief, she was able to focus on her own music and image and finishing up her senior year.
While she briefly considered studying bluegrass at East Tennessee State University, she said she wants to take a more practical career route.
“I already know how to do music, so I figured I’d do something that I could actually get a job with and do music on the side,” she said.
Fame and fortune are not on her to-do list. Hunt simply wants to be herself and continue doing what she loves — music.
"I don't really want to be famous, but I definitely want to continue playing and performing," she said.