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Just a country girl: Former ‘The Voice’ contestant Gwen Sebastian gives back to her ND fans

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Reuters Photo Gwen Sebastian and Blake Shelton perform “My Eyes” at the 49th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas, Nevada April 6.2 / 2

One of Gwen Sebastian’s favorite places to perform is in her home state — North Dakota.

“I love it no matter where I play,” she said. “I’ve been blessed to play in a lot of different places, but playing in North Dakota is always my favorite.”

The Hebron-raised country singer who appeared on the second season of “The Voice” is coming close to home on Aug 7. Alive@5 director Eric Smallwood has booked Sebastian to play the event in downtown Dickinson, which is free to the public.

“How excited am I?” Smallwood asked. “I’m excited to bring her into the community to play for us. I think it is going to be a lot of fun for her to do a show in Dickinson.”

Sebastian agrees. The downtown hit is growing, and its outdoor appeal with food and music is sure to draw a crowd, Smallwood and Sebastian said.

“It’s outdoors. Anyone can come to it,” she said. “It’s the perfect reason to come back.”

Outlaw Sippin’ with Jessie Veeder kicks off the show at 5:30 p.m., with Sebastian hitting the stage at 7:30 p.m.

Sebastian has gained fame since she first appeared on national television, but she has not forgotten about her roots, and her songs, including upcoming single “Small Town Soul,” and wholesome attitude show it.

“She hasn’t changed as a person at all,” said Kendra Slaubaugh, one half of Tigirlily and friend of Sebastian. “She is still Gwen.”

Before she was famous

Sebastian grew up in the small town of Hebron, a town of less than 800 people. She relocated to Nashville, Tenn., to pursue a career in music.

“I knew that I always wanted to be a singer,” she said. “I just didn’t know at what level it would be. I don’t think that anything like this could have happened to me.”

She signed a record deal with Lofton Creek Records in 2009 and first gained recognition when Country Weekly, a country music tabloid based in Nashville, named her as a new artist to watch in 2010.

Sebastian released three albums before her appearance on “The Voice,” including a holiday album titled “Christmas in July.”

But she gained recognition when she first appeared on the NBC talent show in 2012, when she sang “Stay” by Sugarland. With her parents and now-husband Louis Newman watching her behind stage, the crowd started cheering for her country allure.

She managed to make all coaches but Christina Auguilera turn their chairs.

“You are a great country vocalist,” Shelton said during Sebastian’s blind audition. “You have every quality. You’re tender in the right place and you’re powerful in the right places.”

With tears of happiness in her eyes, she said her heart was country and that it would be an honor to be on Blake’s team.

“Singing in front of all of you is an experience that I wish every artist could have,” Sebastian said on the show. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I thought may not come my way.”

Though she made it past the blind auditions, she could not survive the battle round. She sang “We Belong” by Pat Benatar with Erin Willet, who made it to the semifinals.

Sebastian’s run on the show was over, but her career had just begun. Shelton asked her to join him on his tour. She produced her self-named record with the music label Flying Island.

She has played for the Grand Ole Opry. And she has a No. 1 hit, “My Eyes,” with Shelton.

“Being on ‘The Voice’ is the biggest thing that has happened to me in my music career,” she said. “I get to say I have a No. 1 hit next to my name. I’m pinching myself still.

“That’s a dream come true for me … that’s was a huge platform for me.”

Giving back

When she isn’t traveling the country singing backup for Shelton or performing her own shows, she can be found enjoying the little things in life, like riding horse or helping other aspiring artists, including Hazen country duo Tigirlily.

Sebastian has been mentoring Kendra and Krista Slaubaugh for several years, even going as far as helping them record songs with Newman in Nashville.

“Tigirlily, I think, have everything it takes to pursue music,” Sebastian said. “They are not only sweet and so grounded, but they are so talented. You have to have a lot of different things to make it in this business and they’ve got everything.”

The mentor has taken the sisters under her wing and is always supportive, Kendra Slaubaugh said.

“She has always been there for us and has pushed us and encouraged us to alway follow our dreams,” Kendra Slaubaugh said, adding the three are like sisters.

Sebastian believes that Tigirlily has what it takes to make it.

“I’m not sure if everything I say is the right advice, but I hope it is because I believe in them,” Sebastian said.

North Dakota support

Sebastian also has a large fanbase in North Dakota, with more than 26,000 followers on Facebook. She said it is important to always give back and stay in touch with those that support her.

“As an artist with my fans I think it is one of the most fun things to do,” she said. “I love music and I perform and always want to, but one thing that you want to do is to not just do it for yourself. You want to do it for your fans.”

Though she has become famous, Sebastian has not forgotten where she comes from or how important her fans are, Kendra Slaubaugh said.

“If she wanted to toot her own horn she totally could,” Kendra Slaubaugh said. “But she doesn’t.

“That’s why everyone loves her so much. She is so true to herself and humble. She has an amazing voice and amazing talent, but the person she is is even greater.”

Sebastian has been so grateful for her fans, especially in North Dakota. She said it seems like everyone in the state wants to see their own win and is always cheering on future stars from the area.

“I think the thing about people from North Dakota is, in general, we all support each other, no matter what happens,” she said. “I think it is how we all grew up. We all want everyone to succeed and do well. When somebody does, it’s fun to be there and see it happen.”

April Baumgarten
April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, as the news editor. She works with a team of talented journalists and editors, who strive to give the Grand Forks area the quality news readers deserve to know. Baumgarten grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family continues to raise registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college,  she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as the Dickinson city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.