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14-year-old singer brings talent to stage

Karly Ritland, 14, a student at Grand Forks South Middle School, has always wanted to be a performer, her mother said. She's taken piano lessons since she was 4 and now studies with Laurie Guy. Her voice instructor is Maria Williams Kennedy of Be...

Karly Ritland, 14, a student at Grand Forks South Middle School, has always wanted to be a performer, her mother said. She's taken piano lessons since she was 4 and now studies with Laurie Guy. Her voice instructor is Maria Williams Kennedy of Bel Canto Studio.

Ritland just finished playing Belle in South's musical production of "Disney's Beauty and the Beast," a lead she shared with another student. Tuesday night, she'll be featured at Dancing for Special Stars, a fundraiser for the Special Olympics, in the Empire Arts Center.

In August, Karly performed in Orlando, Fla., in front of a much bigger audience than she'd ever had before or since.

"Karly is always looking for different ways to sing or play for people," her mother said. So when her family spotted a magazine advertisement inviting people to perform in a talent show (part of a convention for a health and wellness company), Karly submitted a DVD audition. When Ritland got the call inviting her to perform in Orlando, parents Leah and Michael Ritland decided the whole family (which includes brother Brady, 11) should go.

Leah Ritland said she was more nervous than her daughter the night Karly sang "Only Hope," a Mandi Moore song from the movie "A Walk to Remember," in front of more than 6,000 people at the Orange County Convention Center. Leah decided she would sit in the audience during the show. Karly's dad kept Karly company backstage, where (observers later told her) he told jokes and kept the atmosphere light.

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Karly took the stage, and as she began singing, looked up at the audience and smiled, just as her voice teacher had taught her, Leah Ritland said. That's when she knew Karly would be all right.

"As a mom, I just love watching the video of her performance now because I was really scared for her then," Leah Ritland said.

Karly, who accompanied herself on piano, made it through the song without a hitch. Her performance is posted on YouTube. To see it, go to youtube.com, and type "Karly sings Only Hope" in the search line.

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