At first, Katie McNeill, Deserea Wasdin, and Blaire Stroud sound like most other teenagers, from their polite but “like”-filled teen vernacular to their peculiar sense of what is and isn’t cool. “We were cheerleaders and we hung out with the football players, partied and had fun. We basically had a normal teenage life,” says Stroud. But unlike their peers, these girls recorded an album at seventeen, after signing on with RCA. The trio also spent half of their senior year at L.D. Bell High School in Hurst as students during the week and on the weekends as one of the featured artists on Seventeen magazine’s national tour. While their classmates were preparing for college, McNeill, Wasdin, and Stroud were busy building a fan base.

In December 1997 McNeill, Wasdin, and Stroud agreed to sing at a funeral service in Bedford for a friend’s grandmother. Their harmonized version of the gospel song “He Leadeth Me” attracted the attention of someone in attendance (or “in the audience” as McNeill puts it) who knew a Christian record producer. The three girls soon recorded a demo of four cover tunes, including a Shania Twain song, a Martina McBride song, a gospel tune, and the National Anthem. A little meddling from McNeill’s mother, Sarah McNeill, took them a step further. One of Sarah’s co-workers at FedEx delivered a copy of the demo tape to Peter Svendsen, an independent record promoter, who happened to be on the co-worker’s route. Svendsen’s daughter then handpicked the very same tape from a pile of other unsolicited ones on her father’s desk, instantly putting the trio in the hands of someone who could propel them into the limelight.

Svendsen’s intervention lead to a deal with RCA Records and a collaboration with producer Byron Gallimore, who has also produced albums for Faith Hill, Phil Vassar, Jo Dee Messina, and Tim McGraw. The girls have long been fans of other Christian bands and country acts like the Dixie Chicks, but now with heavyweights behind them, they are seeing the music business from the inside and gaining visibility faster than they can say fame.

The 3 of Hearts have found themselves on the movie soundtrack of Where the Heart Is (starring Ashley Judd) with their recording of “Just Might Change Your Life.” Country music radio stations have been playing “Love is Enough” and “Arizona Rain,” two singles from their recently released self-titled album, and they have inched their way up the country music charts. Their visibility is not restricted to the music industry, though. Warner Bros. has expressed interest in a television show starring McNeill, Wasdin, and Stroud.

Now eighteen-year-old high school graduates and just off of their second tour (the Wal-Mart Across America Tour), all three Hearts admit that their recent success and fast-approaching fame, though unexpected, is a dream come true. “We all three sang individually when we were younger, like on local oprys and talent shows, and stuff like that,” says McNeill. “When I was little I grew up singing Patsy Cline songs with my dad and stuff, and I just knew I always loved singing. I always said, ‘You know, I’m gonna be a singer when I grow up.’ And I always wrote that down on my bios and stuff like that.”

“We’ve known each other since fifth grade,” explains Wasdin, “and we’ve talked about it ever since we were that young. As fifth graders Katie and I sang “I Swear” together for the talent show at our elementary school and it was horrible. We sang with the tape [of] John Michael Montgomery’s voice . . . and it was pretty bad. Ever since then, we’ve always wanted to sing. And we’ve always talked about how, you know, we can sing together. And then when we got older we were like, ‘You know what? We wanna be our own stars!’ In seventh and eighth grade we sang separately, and then we came together again at the funeral.”

How are they handling their new career? As former cheerleaders, the members of the 3 of Hearts have had little trouble establishing their individual stage presence and public persona. “There are times, of course, when you’re like, ‘You know what, I don’t wanna get up at six in the morning and go sing and I’m tired and I don’t feel like smiling all the time and being happy,'” says Wasdin. “You know, it’s hard work. I mean, it’s harder than what we thought, but you gotta keep reminding yourself that it’s a job and you can have a life outside of this. But at least you have a job that you enjoy and that is gonna really set you up for life and open doors for you to meet all kinds of neat people and experience so many cool things. It’s so much better than just like an office job, so we’re happy to have this. And happy that we can start young enough to where it could actually take us somewhere.”

As the 3 of Hearts grow into their career, their dreams have grown too. While they currently sing others’ words, all three hope to write their own lyrics for future albums. Wasdin hopes to add producing music and directing music videos to her repertoire. And, once escorted from a stage where they peeked in on Grammy rehearsals during a trip to Los Angeles, the trio now dreams of gracing that same stage as winners.