JARED FIELDS • PICAYUNE STAFF
LLANO — McKenzie Jones needed a bodyguard after her very first public performance at age 3.
She was with her family in Branson, Mo., when the performer asked little McKenzie on stage to do the twist with the band.
Judy Watkins said her granddaughter was wearing her Halloween costume, a 1950s-era outfit complete with a poodle skirt, when she was brought up on stage.
“I was about to have a heart attack because I couldn’t get up there where she was, and her mother would die if she found out I let a total stranger take her,” Watkins said.
Jones stole the show.
“She just took the microphone away from (the performer) and went to the front of the stage and told everybody who she was and everything,” Watkins said. “When it was over, everybody wanted her picture.”
Watkins said that later, when McKenzie was 6, she started singing to the radio in the car.
That’s where McKenzie said she decided she wanted to be a singer.
“We were in the car, and I decided I wanted to sing one day,” the Llano resident said. “It started right there.”
She began taking voice lessons in Llano and last year began taking lessons from a classical voice teacher in Austin.
Now 11, McKenzie sings at area Oprys and has begun to attract a following.
“It’s just amazing. People come to the (Llano Country) Opry and tell them when they’re selling tickets that they’re going to buy a ticket because that girl is singing tonight,” Watkins said.
McKenzie was featured in Wiles Magazine as one of the top independent artists, has a popular YouTube account and a website — www.mckenzie-jones.com — that rivals many professional artists. She sang the National Anthem at a Round Rock Express game June 22.
McKenzie said the community has helped make everything possible so far in her young career.
“Lots of people say that I’m really good and to not give up my dream to become a singer. I love this town because it’s supportive,” McKenzie said.
Although she’s entering the sixth grade with more performing experience than most 20-somethings, her mother, Robin Jones, said McKenzie won’t grow up too fast.
“We have to make sure she still takes time to be with friends and still has that experience,” Jones said. “She gets to be a kid, gets to be silly and close to her classmates.”
But on stage, McKenzie said she gets to tune everything out and focus on herself, and her singing.
“A lot of the time, I’m really confident,” she said about being on stage. “When I’m on stage, (everything else) goes away. I just get to express myself when I’m on there. I don’t have to know that people are paying attention to me; I can just sing.”
Her mother said it’s a special skill she enjoys watching.
“When she goes to the Opry, she’s talking to friends, family. And then, when it’s time to go up there, it clicks on, she goes up, does her thing and comes back and she’s a kid again,” Jones said.
Jones said the family will help McKenzie perform as much as possible until college.
“Our hope is that she is able to continue doing her music and expanding on that,” she said.
For now, McKenzie said she wants to return to Branson, where it all began.
“My dream is to perform and have my own show on Strip 76 in Branson, Missouri,” she said.
Until then, McKenzie will continue being a kid, except when she’s on stage.