Fresh off "American Idol," aspiring star Janelle Arthur returns to Dollywood

Sep. 14, 2013 @ 11:38 PM

Janelle Arthur played a very young Dolly Parton in the Dollywood show “Paradise Road,” which ran from 1998 to 2001.

“I always thought I would follow in her footsteps,” said Arthur, 23, who placed fifth on “American Idol” earlier this year. “You get older, and you don’t know if it’s going to work. But at that age, I was full-on dreaming about everything.”

This week, Arthur returns to Dollywood for a series of appearances in “The Great American Country Show.” She will perform Sept. 18 and Sept. 20-23 at the revue, which is included in park admission. “It’s pretty full-circle,” she said.

Arthur spoke on the phone from Nashville, where she just arrived home after a 30-city tour with her fellow “American Idol” contestants.

Performing solo isn’t so different from playing a character, she said. “Even as a solo artist, you have to become something else on stage. You show a part of yourself that you can’t show in everyday life.”

The tour was a welcome change from the televised competition. “During the competition,” she said, “people are just tense. When you’re dealing with that kind of pressure, no one can really relax. You’re just constantly trying to get through it.”

There was no pressure on the road, she said. “We all know, at that point, that we have all succeeded, because we’re on the tour. We did what we were supposed to do. We’ve won in our own way, and we’re able to perform for all our fans.”

She decided to try out for “Idol” after she moved to Music City to pursue an entertainment career. “That gave me courage,” she recalled. “I figured if I can move to Nashville, I can do ‘American Idol.’ I got out of my comfort zone.”

Oliver Springs native Arthur grew up in the Church of Christ, where the singing is unaccompanied by musical instruments.

“I started picking up on harmony when I was really young,” she said. “I think growing up in an a cappella church has helped me with hearing music in my head. You have to feel it in your heart.”

She still attends the Church of Christ. “I loved growing up like that,” she said.

“I love music, and I love harmony. Whenever you can strip everything down, and hear the lyrics and the harmony and the voices, it’s really special.”

After her Dollywood stint, Arthur performed in the Pigeon Forge show “Country Tonite.” “Pigeon Forge is a wonderful place for entertainment,” she said. “It’s good, clean fun. There’s not too many other places where you can go and take your kids, and not have to worry about them seeing something where you’ll have to cover their eyes.”

Now Arthur is settling down again in Nashville, where, earlier this summer, she performed on the Grand Ole Opry.

“I’m trying to move forward, trying to figure out the next step, the next phase,” she said. “I’m very happy with how things worked out with ‘Idol.’ That was such a door-opener.”

Still, she said, “I feel I’ve accomplished so much of what I wanted to already. This is just the beginning, and I’m already pretty content with what’s happened in my life.”

kburns@themountainpress.com