After Courtney Leigh Heins graduated from Boston College in 1998, she jumped in her car and drove to Los Angeles.
The Fort Wayne native knew she wanted to escape cold winters. With her background as a theater and English major, she thought she could make a career in acting and films.
She kept getting cast in musicals, however, so she took guitar lessons and steered in a new direction — country music. It's been a good route to take.
Heins, 37, recently was nominated in two categories for the International Music & Entertainment Association (IMEA) awards, which will be presented Nov. 2 in Ashland, Ky. Her latest album, “Bright Blue World,” which was released in January, is nominated for Best Country Album, and its title song is a nominee for Best Country Song.
The album also received Producer of the Year nominations for both music producers who worked on it.
Music category winners are selected based on votes of both an award committee and music fans. The fans' votes count toward 1/5 of the nominee's total score, so Heins needs local support to win.
Voting is open now and continues through Oct. 1 at www.imeaawards.com/vote.
Heins, speaking by phone from Los Angeles, said she sent the IMEA nominating committee a copy of her song “Bright Blue World” and the album of the same name sometime this summer and forgot about the awards.
Based in Atlanta, IMEA is a nonprofit organization working to promote and advocate for individuals and organizations in the performing arts industry, including music, theater and film,” it says at http://imeaonline.com.
She received an email Sept. 2, however, notifying her she had been nominated for the two awards.
A 1994 recipient of The News-Sentinel's Sterling Sentinel award for drama and a Snider High School graduate, Heins said she had a big collection of folk music while growing up. She also enjoys the music of older country artists, such as Emmylou Harris, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt.
Both those styles of music have filtered into her songwriting, which she describes as a mixture of folk, country and Americana music.
Heins, who performs on acoustic guitar accompanied by a musician on mandolin and sometimes a third player on violin, said songs on her “Bright Blue World” album have a pop-country sound.
“I think that probably is the direction I will be heading,” she said of her music.
Most songs on “Bright Blue World” flow from her Fort Wayne roots, she said.
“It's about leaving home, seeing the world and expanding your horizons,” she said. It's also about good times and the fun she had growing up with her sister, Jennifer Skelton, now a math teacher in Atlanta.
Looking ahead, Heins plans to attend the IMEA awards ceremony Nov. 2, as do her parents, Bill and Anita Heins of Fort Wayne.
She hopes to record another album next year. She's trying to set up a brief concert tour in Poland, where one of her songs, “Angel,” has become a hit based on its use on the soap opera “M jak milosc,” which means “L for Love.”
She's also waiting to hear back from some well-known country artists who are considering whether to record a few of her songs.
As her song title suggests, for Heins, right now it does look like a bright, blue world.