Gamilaraay woman Loren Ryan wins 2023 Star Maker title at Tamworth Country Music Festival

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Tamworth-based country artist Loren Ryan has taken out a competition she grew up watching at her hometown’s annual country music festival.

14 years after she first sang in public, Ryan last night won the Star Maker title, which has been a launch pad for country music legends like Lee Kernaghan, Keith Urban, and Beccy Cole in the early part of their careers.

Ryan is a proud Gamilaraay woman, and is understood to be the first Indigenous woman to win the competition.

“It was just a beautiful moment, and I feel like I’ve worked my whole life for this,” Ryan said.

“I still didn’t expect it because the field was so incredibly talented.”

She told the crowd at the grand final she grew up “on the wrong side of the tracks,” and paid tribute to Aboriginal musical icons like Roger Knox for their role in breaking down barriers.

A woman playing the guitar and singing on stage with other guitarists in the background.
Loren Ryan performing in the grand final at the Tamworth Country Music Festival.(ABC New England North West: Patrick Bell)

“I’m so thankful for the work generations before me have done for me to have these opportunities,” she said.

Ryan said hoped her win would encourage more aspiring First Nations country artists.

“I’ve got the door open and I’m going to hold it open for you.”

Her prize pack includes a recording session, production of two video clips, and flights and accommodation for the CMA Fest in Nashville in June.

Ryan said the latter will be a major experience for her.

“I’ve never left my country, so sis needs to get a passport!” she said.

Importance of family

Ryan, 28, is a single mother, and credits her daughter Charlie as her single biggest source of inspiration.

She said there were “happy tears backstage” with her family after the win, and also thanked her parents for the role they have played in facilitating her music.

“To know that [Charlie] has a safe place with you when I’m chasing this dream, that means the world to me,” she said.

A young performer singing and playing guitar on a stage in central tamworth
Loren Ryan with her daughter Charlie during the 2020 Tamworth Country Music Festival.(ABC Arts: Alex Dick)

Ryan was previously a Star Maker grand finalist in 2022, and came out on top of a group of 10 finalists which included 2022 ‘The Voice’ contestant Finnian Johnson.

Star Maker coordinator judge Cheryl Brown said the panel was impressed by the musical diversity of the finalists.

“After taking all elements into consideration, it was Loren we felt most ready,” Ms Brown said.

Ryan is also a producer on the ABC’s Saturday Night Country radio program.

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