Kersey teen wows crowd with winning voice at National Finals Rodeo
Platte Valley High School junior Caitlyn Ochsner will graduate high school in May 2016. From there, she hopes to study music at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn.
Waiting in the hallway of the Thomas and Mack Center arena in Las Vegas on Saturday night, Caitlyn Ochsner could already hear the roar of the crowd.
An audience of 18,000 gathered in the stadium that night for the opening of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, or as Ochsner described it, “the daddy of them all.”
The 17-year-old country and Christian music singer would soon perform the National Anthem for a full house.
“I knew, it’s time and my dreams are really coming true,” she said.
The Platte Valley junior had sung for large crowds before, including at the National FFA Convention in October and the Greeley Stampede, but she had never performed at an event as large as this one.
After winning an online community vote and earning the approval of a panel of judges, she had earned the opportunity to show off her winning voice before a national audience.
“Before the performance, my dad told me, ‘From this time on, you are a performer.’ It’s about having fun and learning from the experience, but it’s also about going out and doing what you do best,” she said.
Ochsner took that advice to heart. In the hours before the performance, she prepared as she normally would, isolating herself from the crowd to center herself mentally.
Unlike a typical performance, however, Ochsner got her first taste of star treatment.
A private chauffeur escorted Ochsner and her family from their hotel directly to the stadium. Her mother, father and two younger siblings were led to the seating area while Ochsner followed her guide to a private dressing room to prepare her vocals.
“I knew it would be fine no matter what. I was going to walk out there and do my thing,” she said.
Her confidence would be vital in pulling off a memorable and moving performance.
She would never let on that, as she sang to the largest crowd of her life, her earpiece was malfunctioning. Despite repeated checks, her in-ear headphone had failed right as she hit center stage.
“I really could not hear what I was singing, which was absolutely scary, so I could only feel it with my voice. All I could hear at the end were the screams of the crowd but everything else was muted,” she said.
Among those cheering in the crowd, oblivious to Ochsner’s technical failure, was Patty Gates and five other members of the Greeley Stampede executive committee.
“It was truly beautiful. We’ve heard lots of renditions, but she had people on their feet,” Gates said. “She has a really pure voice. She’s one of those singers that does justice to the National Anthem.”
At home, Patty Darrough, the performer’s voice coach watched on the CBS Sports Network. Although she was far from the arena, she felt the emotion of the rendition.
“I was blown away. I really thought she did a great job,” Darrough said. “Now she owns it. It’s really from her heart. It’s not just technique anymore. She’s making it hers and it’s a statement of how she feels.”
Darrough has worked with Ochsner since her early days of vocal training.
Although the coach typically accepts older, more versed students, she saw something special in Ochsner.
“She had a gift right off the bat, I could tell,” the voice teacher said.
Sitting on the sidelines during the act, Ochsner’s mother, Julie, felt her nerves and excitement fade to awe as she witnessed the crowd go wild over her daughter’s performance.
“What I was most excited about was how the crowd reacted to Caitlyn. They were touched and the reaction was so patriotic,” Julie said. “I think she fed off of the energy of the crowd. She did not look or sound nervous.”
She recalled her daughter’s early years leading to this moment. As a toddler, Ochsner already spent her time singing and humming.
For Ochsner’s parents, operators of a cow-calf operation in Kersey, music was a foreign world to them, but their daughter insisted on performing. Ochsner participated in rodeos from an early age, but she soon realized she rather be behind the mic than on the saddle. From there,the child began signing at cowboy churches, nursing homes and local events.
For Ochsner, signing is an opportunity to serve her community. Her Christian faith has guided her to use her talent not for herself but to help others.
“The best thing about having a gift like this is that I can use it to touch other people,” Ochsner said. “I look at the last couple of years and see all of these opportunities that have come up and been given to me. The Lord has placed so many awesome opportunities in my way to prepare me for this.”
While Ochsner said she is still on cloud nine following her performance, she is already thinking about her future as a singer.
“I’m looking for the next opportunity to use that gift and perfect my skills even more,” she said. ❖