Rising country music singer Jody Direen has come a long way since performing in the Otago Daily Times' Big Night In at Forsyth Barr Stadium last year - and come April she will be going even further.
Direen (23), of Wanaka, told the ODT her experience during the show, which marked the paper's 150th anniversary, was ''awesome''.
''The main thing for me was the sheer size - it was the biggest crowd I've ever performed in front of.
''It gave me the feeling if I could do that, I could do anything ... it fuelled my drive and determination a little bit more. It made me want it more and have more of those experiences."
While performing in front of about 20,000 people was nerve-racking, Direen said she had come a ''long way since then in terms of handling pressure''.
This year, she has balanced performing gigs across the South Island, managing and staging her own ticketed shows, and writing her own music for her second album, which will have more of a pop influence - with a little bit of help from some of the country music industry's heavyweights.
Direen spent time in Australia earlier this year writing with some of the top country songwriters and also had meetings with Keith Urban's former manager, Greg Shaw.
''It was awesome ...he's keen to help me out."
After winning the New Zealand National Country Awards Horizon Award earlier this year, Direen earned herself a trip to Nashville in June, coinciding with the Country Music America Festival where she will perform a 20-minute set at the Global Artist Showcase in front of industry representatives.
However, after talking to Mr Shaw, she has decided to travel to Nashville in April and spend three months in the country music capital of the world, focusing on songwriting.
''[Greg] has a lot of contacts that would take me years to build up myself ... one girl in particular writes songs for Faith Hill.
''I'm just going to suss the whole Nashville thing out; I'll know what to do after that, whether I find a way of staying there, or coming and going.
''I'm at the point now where I need to just do something a little bit different to get to the next level.
''I never want to turn my back on New Zealand - my career so far has been New Zealand and that's really important to me ... I'm just going to go over there and see what comes of it."
She also has a record deal with Ambition Entertainment pending, but was ''not quite ready'' to sign it yet.
''They are quite happy with that. There's a lot more to consider - it does limit your opportunities once you've signed and I don't feel I'm quite there yet. I want to have a look around and see what other opportunities there are out there."
While ultimately her dream to become an internationally renowned singer and songwriter ''seems so far away'', Direen was determined to keep going.
''A lot of people are telling me how tough it is over there and the chances of making it are extremely small. I'm listening to it and knowing it's going to be bloody tough, but I'm not going to [give up]."