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Lancaster's Hewitt goes from country to big screen

Singer-songwriter Ashlee Hewitt's career may have taken a big step to the next level, but for now, she's home with her family in Lancaster, Minn., planning a Home for the Holidays Concert at the Empire Arts Center in Grand Forks for Dec. 20.

Hewitt

Singer-songwriter Ashlee Hewitt's career may have taken a big step to the next level, but for now, she's home with her family in Lancaster, Minn., planning a Home for the Holidays Concert at the Empire Arts Center in Grand Forks for Dec. 20.

Hewitt, who grew up singing with her sister at county fairs and other area events, hit the national stage in 2008 when she finished in the Top 5 of the TV country music singing show, "Nashville Star."

Now, she's finished making her first movie, as Elle in "Elle: A Modern Cinderella Tale," set for release in March. Hewitt plays a country singer and her co-stars include Sterling Knight, Thomas Calabro and Kiely Williams. The movie soundtrack will feature eight of her songs.

"This just kind of opens a whole new door and wider fan base," Hewitt said in an interview. "It's country music, but it's all the kids who will be inspired by the story. And it will give people a chance to know me more."

The imdb.com Web site says "Elle" is about a young girl whose parents have just died in an accident who wants to be a country singer-songwriter. She comes to a small independent record label with a pop environment that makes her feel more alienated and alone. When Elle meets pop singer Ty Parker, she rediscovers new ambition to sing and write songs.

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Parker is played by Disney star Knight, who did TV's "Sonny With A Chance" and the 2009 movie "17 Again." Thomas Calabro most recently played Dr. Michael Mancini in TV's "Melrose Place," and Kiely Williams is one of the Disney Channel's Cheetah Girls and had a role in the movie "The House Bunny."

Hewitt said the role of Elle felt made for her, and she may be right.

"At the beginning of this year, I was thinking about getting into acting," Hewitt said. "But I didn't really know how. So, I went online and typed in "auditions," and the first one I saw said: 'Wanted: Blonde country singer who plays guitar.'"

So, she answered the ad. The upshot? She heard from the casting directors, who said: "We can't believe you just e-mailed us because we'd seen you on 'Nashville Star' and you were on our list to play Elle."

Hewitt flew to Los Angeles in March, and her summer was consumed with making the movie. Filming was pretty much done in August, she said. Hewitt returned to Nashville, writing songs for an album she plans to release next year.

To perform in Nashville clubs and hot spots, you really have to stand out, Hewitt said. There are so many talented musicians in Nashville; until they're starting to get a foothold to fame, many of them perform for free, she said.

"Even on the street, you're going to find people playing on the street who are 10 times better than you," she said.

Home for the Holidays

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Right now, she's glad to be home for Christmas. She is the fourth oldest in a family of 13 and her siblings range in age from nearly 6 to 28. She has two nieces, two nephews and a sister who soon will make her an aunt again. At home, she said, she's happy to help her younger brothers with their music.

"I can't go a day without doing music," she said. "So, when I come home, my little brothers play instruments, one plays drums, a couple play guitar. They play in church a lot. So, I just help them and help them learn their instruments."

After a summer in Los Angeles, she admitted, laughing, the winter weather doesn't agree with her much anymore. She's spending most of her time indoors.

Tickets for the Dec. 20 concert at the Empire will be $12, $10 for Empire members and will be available in advance through Chester Fritz box office, (701) 777-4090, and also at the door.

Reach Tobin at (701) 780-1134; (800) 477-6572, ext. 134; or send e-mail to ptobin@gfherald.com .

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