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UNG sophomore wins Atlanta division of NASH Next Contest, opens for Darius Rucker

University of North Georgia (UNG) student Kyle Clark, a sophomore business administration major from Jefferson, Georgia, won the 2017 Atlanta division of NASH Next Contest. His prize was singing at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre ahead of country musician Darius Rucker. (Photo courtesy of Cumulus Media Inc.)

Last year, University of North Georgia (UNG) student Kyle Clark entered the NASH Next Contest with the hope of becoming the next country music artist. But he didn't make it past the first round.

This year, the sophomore business administration major beat 70 other musicians to win the 2017 Atlanta division of NASH Next, which was locally sponsored by Carl Black Automotive and presented by KICKS 101.5 FM, a Cumulus radio station. Country Inn & Suites is sponsoring the contest nationally.

His prize was opening for Darius Rucker at Verizon Amphitheatre.

"I played for about 1,000 people, which was the most I've ever played for," Clark said. "It really hasn't set in yet."

The added bonus is Clark met Rucker after the concert.

"That was a cool moment," Clark said. "I've listened to him since I got into country music. It was nice to meet the man who has influenced my music."

Now, the 19-year-old Jefferson, Georgia, native must wait and see if his winning Atlanta performance will elevate him to the finals.

About 45 winners, including Clark, from 27 states will be whittled down to 10. Country music industry professionals will pick the top 10 by watching a live performance video showcasing the contestants' best original song.

The top 10 will compete at a live concert in Nashville in early November. A panel of celebrity judges will select the NASH Next 2017 national winner, who will earn a recording contract.

"Now I'm in the process of waiting and hearing back," he said. "But performing ahead of Darius Rucker is a good consolation prize if I don't go to Nashville."

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