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WAYNESBORO >> Julie McCloud's song "My Little Men," inspired by her two young sons, is one of four finalists in the Dream Recording Session Contest that promises an opportunity to record in Nashville with country music giant Clint Black.

McCloud wrote "My Little Men" about eight months ago, reminiscing about toy guns, playing Superman and worrying about monsters under the bed. She said she cried throughout the process of writing the song.

The contest — sponsored by Black to promote his favorite charity, research into Rhett Syndrome — will play out on the website www.chideo.com between now and Sept. 3 as country music fans vote for their favorite song among the four finalists. The winner also gets to shoot a video with Black and perform in an audition with Black's management team.

McCloud, a 27-year-old Waynesboro resident who, by her own count, has written more than 1,000 songs since the age of 7, is no stranger to Nashville, but she's never met Black, although he's been a favorite for many years.

An Iowa native who moved to Nashville with her family at the age of 13, McCloud said she focuses on positive messages in her songwriting, perhaps as a buffer against some rough patches she survived in the past.

For years, McCloud earned a living in the music industry as an adult, co-writing and performing with artists like James House, who wrote the 1997 hit "A Broken Wing" for Martina McBride in 1997, and "Hick Hop" artist Big Smo, the self-proclaimed "King of the Country, Boss of the Stix."

Along the way she sang and recorded a number of the tunes she wrote — recordings that her first Pennsylvania friend came to love after McCloud moved to Waynesboro to be near family and to leave the Nashville scene and an abusive relationship. McCloud said that friend, Tina Hahn, alerted her to the contest.

Although she continues to write "three or four songs a day," McCloud said she makes a living by cleaning houses and by performing for shut-ins at nursing homes in the area.

She said the benefits of the nursing home "gigs" go beyond money, and help her make a positive mark.

McCloud said she takes her sons Elijah, 4, and Noah, 5, along sometimes.

"They get free ice cream," McCloud said, "and the people love them."

Since moving to Waynesboro a year ago, McCloud said her relationship with her children dominates her life.

That bond and the life she's created in Waynesboro reflect the positive nature of the example she tries to set through her music after surviving two abusive episodes.

McCloud said her father — who also wrote music — was abusive. She later had two children with an abusive partner.

Meanwhile, "My Little Men," with McCloud accompanying herself on guitar, and the other final songs can be heard at www.chideo.com, where listeners can vote once a day after signing up on the website.

Other McCloud compositions can be heard at www.reverbnation/juliemccloudmusic.

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