The little girl looked nervous as she stepped into the music room to audition.

The only singing that Alina Ortiz had done before was at home or in the family car, singing along to the radio. Now the 8-year-old 3rd grader at Castleberry Elementary School was auditioning for The Texas Girls’ Choir.

Standing alone on a recent morning in the audition space, a pristine room bathed in sunlight at the school, the girl faced two directors from the elite children’s performance arts group.

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After taking a deep breath, she sang, “My Country ’Tis of Thee,” the child’s light but confident soprano voice filling the space.

Tami Owsley took notes, with a focus on Alina’s range. The rehearsal assistant was deciding if the young singer was qualified for entry into the beginner-level prep choir.

Every year, the 54-year-old nonprofit auditions more than 400 North Texas girls between the ages of 8 and 12. Only 100 or so make the cut and continue on as members of one of five ensembles within the choir program. Acceptance into the choral group means opportunities to tour the world and access to high-powered vocal coaches.

The girls “are usually nervous during the auditions,” Owsley said. “But they are also chatty and want to know about what we do.”

Perhaps unexpectedly, the kids often ask Owsley if her program is like American Idol and if making it will give them a shot at fame.

The Texas Girls’ Choir includes singers from all socioeconomic backgrounds. But what ties all the girls together is simple. They all love to sing.

Ortiz (left): “When I sing at home it’s more private. Singing makes me happy. I can express myself.” Photo by Vishal Malhotra.

Alina returned to class at Castleberry not knowing how she did. For someone so young, Alina has a pretty clear career objective:  to sing professionally one day like her idol, Taylor Swift.

When Alina got home, she got the good news from her mother. First, the little girl was relieved. Then she was excited.

But there really wasn’t any time to celebrate. In less than a month, Alina and about 50 other new recruits in the prep choir will learn four new choreographed works, including a foreign-language piece, and a 40-page medley of classic TV theme songs.

And the parents won’t be getting off the hook any easier. Commutes to twice-a-week rehearsals, special events, and concert dates and help with fundraising require every family’s time.