ALBANY, Ga. -- Sometimes dreams that appear lost have a way of coming back around and finding the dreamer.
Jodi Mann started dreaming of a singing career when she was first old enough to belt out a tune in church. When she got her first professional job right out of Albany High School -- with the Paramount Carowinds in Charlotte, N.C. -- she took it for granted that she was on her way to realizing that dream.
Then real life got in the way.
"My friend (South Carolina-born country singer) Julie Roberts and I sang together with the Carowinds -- did six shows a day, six days a week -- and we talked all the time about our singing careers," Mann, owner of Backstage beauty salon, said. "She went on to pursue her dream, but I came home."
Mann came home and started a family. In need of work, she decided to go into the family business.
"I wanted to do something that would allow me to express art and flair," she said. "There are a lot of hairstylists in my family, so I that's what I did."
Mann was good at the business, and eight years ago she opened Backstage. But even that enterprise spoke of her unfulfilled passion for music.
"I figured if I was never going to get to perform in front of people, I could at least get a gig doing performers' hair and makeup," she said. "That's where the name of my shop came from; if I don't make it center stage, at least I can get backstage."
Even with her successful business, however, that long-ago dream kept nagging at Mann. She still sang in church, and her buddy Bo Henry invited her to sing with his eponymous band on occasion.
"She has such a wonderful voice," Vicki Sperry, one of Mann's regular customers said Wednesday as Mann worked on her hair. "I've known her since she was in Porterfield's praise band -- my husband taught her in Sunday school -- and everytime I'd come in here I'd ask her when she was going to sing again."
Just when it seemed that Mann's dream of a singing career was fading away, fate intervened. Her younger sister Kati married Blake Cook, a musician who three years ago opened the LeVee Studios. When Mann's itch to perform resurfaced, Cook encouraged her to record some of her music.
"It was a family deal," Cook said, "but I also knew that Jodi was a phenomenal singer. This had always been her dream, and I wanted to try and help her make it happen. It became one of those life's-too-short kind of deals.
"A lot of people have talent in places like Nashville and Hollywood, but it's not all about talent. In fact, making it in this business is usually 15 percent talent and 85 percent work ethic. There may be a million people out there who have voices like Jodi's, but maybe 1 percent of them have her work ethic."
With the encouragement of her family and help from Cook, fellow musician Jared Humphries and LeVee sound engineer Dennis Frazier, Mann spent each of her Monday nights for the last three months or so working on three original songs: "When You Love Somebody," "Stay With Me" and "Bargain With the Devil."
Now that the three songs -- a mix of pop/country crossover appeal a la Lady Antebellum with a little Sheryl Crow and Joss Stone thrown into the mix -- have been recorded, Mann's ready for her "coming-out" performance.
She, along with fellow artist Scott Ricks, will perform Saturday night at the LeVee in a showcase that will allow Mann to command that center stage.
"It's for 18 and over -- although we will let in people who are younger if accompanied by an adult -- and we're going to have a cash bar," Mann said. "Everyone who comes will get a free CD, and we're just going to have a good time. I'll do the songs on the CD with the LeVee house band, three more originals I'm working on and a lot of fun covers.
"I'm having the release party to help with the cost of making my music -- it's a very, very expensive habit -- but I also want to get my music out to the people in the community. I've made the songs on the CD available on the website reverbnation.com\\jodimann, and I've gotten incredible response to them."
The songs are easy to like. "When You Love Somebody" is an up-tempo country tune that Miranda Lambert wishes she had recorded, while "Stay With Me" is a heartfelt acoustic ballad. "Bargain With the Devil," meanwhile, is a rocker with great lines like, "I'm promising God I'll never go there again with my fingers crossed behind my back."
The latter tune, Mann says, is taken directly from her life.
"The first verse is about all the rumors you hear living in a small town, but the second verse is about me going after my dream," she said. "It was a wake-up call; I always said I'd have to lose weight, get a nose job or do all these things to make it. But now I'm putting myself out there -- this is me -- and I'm not willing to make a bargain with the devil to make it."
All of which sets well with Mann's network of family and friends.
"I used to get off the school bus every day and the first thing I heard was Jodi singing," sister Kati Cook said. "She's always been a wonderful sister and a great singer. It's cool that we were able to make this happen for her through our family connections. It was her time."
Saturday's CD release party kicks off at 8:30 p.m. The LeVee is located at 2516 Dawson Road, in the Largo Plaza.