It's been a great year for Dahlonega native Kurt Thomas.
After his second son, Van, was born earlier this year he won the Kenny Chesney Next Big Star competition, allowing him to open Chesney's Atlanta show on July 13 at Turner Field.
Now, he's been crowned the winner of Music City Madness, a contest sponsored by CMT that searches for the best unsigned bands and musicians across the country.
The grand prize, after some 22 million votes were cast, is a trip to Nashville, Tenn., to record an episode of the CMT online series "Unplugged at Studio 330," a private audition with Warner Bros. Records and a mentoring session with country star Randy Travis.
Thomas said a friend noticed the contest on TV, and since tryouts were taking place right down the road at the Cobb Galleria, he thought, "Well, what will it hurt?"
"Back in August I went over there and tried out for it with a song I wrote called ‘Follow Your Lead,'" Thomas said. "Then it got narrowed down to 64 in the country and it turned into a bracket-style competition - 64, 32 - and every week all my friends and family, folks from Dahlonega, all really pulled through.
Thomas' mother and father, Susie and Tommy Thomas, still live in Dahlonega along with his brother, Kevin Thomas. Thomas said he and his wife, Sabrina, relocated to Atlanta a couple years ago for her job at WSB-TV.
"Follow Your Lead" was also the song that helped him win the Kenney Chesney contest earlier this year. Thomas said it's written about his mother, his wife and his oldest son, Bo Taylor Thomas.
And the timing of this contest win capped off a year of good fortune, he said.
"They called me a few days before Christmas, so it was a good Christmas present," he said.
Now, after 12 years of performing a few nights a week in clubs all over North Georgia, Thomas said he's grateful that his music can be heard by an even larger audience.
"It's an opportunity I'm really looking forward to," he said. "Just to be heard is a great thing."
And then there's the opportunity to get advice straight from Randy Travis, who has more than a dozen albums under his belt, Grammy Awards and 16 No. 1 hits.
"Shoot, I just want to meet him," Thomas said. "Randy Travis has really reached that legendary status. He's like a Kenny Rogers or a Garth Brooks. He's been there long enough to know the tricks of the trade.
"That's just a big dream for any singer - to get to meet one of their heroes."
Locally, Thomas will be performing Jan. 24 at Wylie's Restaurant in Dahlonega.