Gateway: Living

Gig Harbor High School students hit all the right notes for country singing competition

April Lawson, Jessa Moomaw,and Arthur Keast, from left, all winners in the Washington State Nashville Country Star singing competition, will perform on Friday evening at Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church.
April Lawson, Jessa Moomaw,and Arthur Keast, from left, all winners in the Washington State Nashville Country Star singing competition, will perform on Friday evening at Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church. Courtesy

High school students throughout the state of Washington have a unique opportunity to participate in the Washington State Nashville Country Star (WNCS) singing competition and through that experience gain confidence and, as a bonus, qualify for prize money.

The WNCS singing competition, founded by Ed Lisenbey, formerly of Okanogan, began its 13th year in January. The winner of the competition is awarded a cash prize of $1,500 and other finalists can earn cash awards as well.

The contest is open to any student enrolled in any Washington state high school, including home-schooled students in grades nine to 12.

Gig Harbor High School student April Lawson was convinced to try out during WNCS’s spring singing contest after seeing changes in fellow singer Arthur Keast, according to her mother, Danielle.

“In one year, (Arthur’s) performance and singing ability grew tenfold,” Danielle said.

“Seeing the difference in Arthur convinced April to try out. Since then she has learned stage presence, execution of lyrics, musicality and has gained such confidence in this ability,” she said.

Rumi Keast, Arthur’s mother, said his participation in the contests has been extremely positive.

“Arthur has been inspired and motivated by his fellow contestants with great stage presence,” Keast said.

A lot of the credit for GHHS students excelling in their music ability goes to Wayne Lackman, who teaches choral music at GHHS, and Allison Ellis of Peninsula High School.

“I work with such talented students. They make me look good,” said Lackman, who also heads up the Gig Harbor High School Meistersingers choir.

Lackman and the students perform throughout the community on a regular basis.

“What is so cool is we go out in the community and perform and unless you have a connection to a teenager, you believe (negative stories about teens) you read in the paper,” he said. “They are just excellent kids and it gives me faith in the future. You know the future will be in good hands.”

The public will have a unique opportunity to hear talented high school students perform in the Stellar High School Singers Show at 7 p.m. Friday (Nov. 17) at Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church, 7700 Skansie Avenue. Tickets are $8 and can be purchased at the door.

Featured singers will be 2015 WNCS champion Dakota Newman, Arthur Keast, April Lawson, Paige Lawson, Audrey Collins and Jessa Moomaw, as well as guest high school singers from the area.

WNCS contacts 350 high schools in Washington state and travels long distances to conduct rounds of auditions with millions of tedious tasks associated with the contest.

“Getting opportunities to sing with these excellent high school singers on the same stage is the result of their enormous efforts,” she said.

Through this experience, Arthur has learned more about genres of music and has become a real fan of the oldies.

Arthur competed in the WNCS contest during his sophomore year.

“It boosted my confidence because you have to perform in front of people, and I wasn’t used to that,” he said.

Gig Harbor High students Paige Lawson, Moomaw and Keast each received a finalist award in 2017, and April Lawson was awarded the spirit award in the semifinals.

No school has had four award winners since Washington Nashville became a statewide contest in 2010, Rumi said.

For his part, Lackman says the singers are incredibly talented.

“They are just really good people. These are the type of people I would love to have my kids hang out with,” he said. “There are days I can’t believe I get paid for what I do.”

Washington Nashville has awarded more than $74,000 to student singers to date.

“Gig Harbor has a unique environment to foster solo high school singers,” Rumi said.

More information about Washington Nashville Country Star can be found at