PEPPERELL -- Move over, Carrie Underwood. Two Pepperell girls are hoping to steal the title of reigning country music queen.
Paige Zacharakis, 13, and Olivia Junek, 16, both won honors from the New England Country Music Organization, including Female Vocalist of the Year in their age groups.
Zacharakis also won a People's Choice Award and a Horizon Award for being a promising new artist, while Junek won the New Country Female Vocalist award.
The Pepperell teens said singing is their passion, and country music is their favorite way to express themselves.
Zacharakis, who said her favorite artists are Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood and Lorde, first became interested in playing music when "Hannah Montana" was on TV.
Prior to that, she said, music was everywhere in her home. Her father, who was in a band when she was younger, played music in the basement and exposed her to bands her friends had never heard of, like Evanescence.
"I've been singing since I could talk," she said.
Since then, Zacharakis has taken voice and guitar lessons at the Pepperell Music Center and has recently started playing open mic nights at Bailey's Bar and Grille.
For her first open mic in January 2012, she played Train's "Drops of Jupiter" and Taylor Swift's "The Lucky One," and the response was overwhelming to her.
"I had so much fun and everyone was so supportive. Since then, more people have come and it's really helped me learn how to work a crowd," she said.
An eighth-grader at Nissitissit Middle School, Zacharakis said her primary goal is to become a famous country music singer.
"It's how I express myself. If I connect to a song, I know that I want to play it in an open mic so I can share it with everyone else," Zacharakis said.
Country music is her favorite because of the life experiences the songs help to explain.
"The songs are almost all about relationships, and I like to listen and see different people's perspectives so I can learn from it," Zacharakis said.
"I really hope that the music thing works out, but I just want to do something that I have a lot of fun doing," she said.
Junek, a sophomore at North Middlesex Regional High School, also said she grew up around music.
"My mom always says she played classical music under my crib while I was sleeping," Junek said.
Now she sings, acts, rides horses and plays varsity volleyball, and is learning to play guitar.
Her ambition is to attend either The Julliard School or Berklee College of Music, so that she can either be a country music singer or perform on Broadway. In the meantime, she hopes to start performing at local open mic nights.
This spring, she is going to Tennessee to perform with NECMO.
Her favorite bands include The Band Perry and Lady Antebellum, whose songs she performed for NECMO.
"The music really describes any person's life. You can really connect with it. It's about love, breakups, everything. Not to mention, it's catchy," she said.
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