HANCEVILLE, Ala. — Paige Harbison, a former Miss Wallace State and theatre student at Wallace State Community College is realizing a dream she didn’t believe was possible a few years ago. The 2010 graduate of Cullman High School will soon be moving to the hills of East Tennessee to work at Dolly Parton’s Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge and earn a living as an entertainer.
“I thought I would just get a job and work,” Harbison said of what she had planned to do with her life until this opportunity arose. She figured the only way she might be involved in entertainment would be taking on roles with community theater performances. That changed, however, after her time at Wallace State.
Harbison, the daughter of the late Russell Harbison and Melissa and Jeff Stricklin, said she’s been singing ever since she was 4 years old. She’s not sure from what genetic pool she drew her talents since neither of her parents nor her brother Waid Harbison sing and dance like she does. Musical theater is one of her favorite genres of entertainment.
As a student at Wallace State, Harbison has participated in many of the theatre department’s production. She won lead roles in “Guys and Dolls” and shared the lead female role of Fiona in “Shrek The Musical.” Away from Wallace State, she’s been in productions with the Decatur Community Theater group, where she was the narrator in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”
Harbison’s talents helped her win the title of Miss Wallace State in 2011 when she competed in her very first pageant. That took her to the Miss Alabama competition where her father told her she was “a lost ball in high weeds,” she recalled with amusement.
“Hopefully I won’t be a lost ball in high weeds in Tennessee,” she said.
Harbison auditioned for representatives from Dollywood earlier this year in Atlanta. The process was multi-tiered, with applicants like Harbison having to pass each tier to advance to the next. Along with a selection of songs, they were asked to learn a quick dance to perform.
For her song selections, Harbison chose “Gorgeous,” “The Girl in 14G,” “9 to 5” and “Gravity.”
“I was a nervous wreck,” she said, especially when it came to singing Parton’s own “9 to 5.” Harbison said she chose that Parton song because it was also used in the musical based on the original movie.
After the auditions, in which she completed all four levels, she and the others who made it that far were told they would be contacted in March if they made the cut.
“Four days after the auditions they called me,” she said. “They said we don’t do usually do this, but we’d like to go ahead and offer you a job.”
After hanging up the phone, Harbison said she screamed then called her mom before running next door to tell her best friend. Many of her immediate family members have already purchased season passes to Dollywood so they can visit and see her perform this year.
Harbison will start her job on April 9 and will be one of the performers in Dreamland Drive-In, a show that features music from the 1950s and ’60s. The show is held in the Pines Theater in the Jukebox Junction section of Dollywood. During the Christmas season, Harbison said she would get to perform in a holiday-themed show.
“I’m so excited,” she said of her new job.
Harbison credits her time as a Wallace State student for putting her on the path toward a career in entertainment, and especially music and theatre instructors Tiffany Richter and Lauren Cantrell Salerno.
“They’ve taught me everything I know,” she said. “Thank you, Wallace State.”
“Paige Harbison has been one of the brightest stars in my career,” said Richter. “I remember asking her three years ago why she wasn’t planning a career in performance. It doesn’t at all surprise me that she was hired so quickly, and I can’t wait to see her on stage.”
Harbison will join at least one more former Wallace State student at Dollywood. Breanna Moore will return to the Country Crossroads show, which is held in the Valley Theater in the Craftsman Valley section of the park.
For more information about Wallace State, call 256.352.8000 or visit www.wallacestate.edu.