Sarah Darling made the bold move from her home in Iowa to Nashville nine years ago to be a singer-songwriter, and her path to success wasn't an easy one. The 29-year-old tried everything, including waiting tables and an ill-fated reality show, in her quest to fulfill her dreams, but never once considered giving up on her passion.

"My grandpa told me, 'I thought you would come home,'" she tells Nashville's Tennessean newspaper. But the tenacious songstress stuck it out, and in 2009 found herself on Black River Records. She went on a radio tour to promote her new music, but radio stations that appeared to genuinely like her music hadn't added any of her songs to their rotation.

"It was a discouraging time," Sarah admits. "I felt like the music wasn't right, and that my team was missing a puzzle piece. If you think back on the greatest artists that have come along, they always have that one person who will fight for them until the end. I was out looking for managers, and everyone was like, 'Well, you haven't had a lot of radio success. We want to see you be successful first.'"

The powerful vocalist may have been tempted to fulfill her grandpa's prediction and return to her hometown of Des Moines, if not for the encouragement of John Alexander, a former GAC employee who became Sarah's biggest champion. While still at the TV station, John made Sarah their first-ever "Amazon Discovers" act. More than 50,000 downloads in one month later, and he switched jobs to became the VP of Marketing and Artist Management at Black River, in an effort to help Sarah's fledgling career, and the tide quickly turned.

"I have more things going on now than some artists with massive hits, and we've done all this stuff without radio airplay," Sarah notes. "I get in conversations with program directors now, and they're saying, 'I feel like this is your time.'"

The singer has had a No. 1 video on CMT ("Something to Do With Your Hands"), performed on the Grand Ole Opry more than a dozen times, and appeared in ads for both Viva paper towels and the city of Nashville's tourism campaign. Most importantly, she's working on a new album, with producer Dann Huff, who has also worked with Keith Urban, Rascal Flatts and Martina McBride, at the helm. The turn of events in her career is almost more than she can comprehend.

"I love connecting with people. It's the most incredible feeling in the world," Sarah tells The Boot. "It's been the most incredible year of my life."

Sarah will return to the Opry stage tonight (July 3), and then perform for Nashville's fireworks display at Riverfront Park on July 4. Keep track of her upcoming shows here.

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