Charles Esten and Lauren Alaina had their hearts on full display Jan. 21, as headliners for the 2017 telethon to benefit the West Texas Rehabilitation Center in Abilene, Texas. The “Nashville” star who portrays leading character, Deacon Claybourne, and the “American Idol” runner-up in 2010 who is celebrating her highest chart success this week with “Road Less Traveled” the title song from her album of the same name, brought double-barreled entertainment to the facility’s most important fundraiser of the year. They stars felt the love in return, too, as they never let down the emotion or energy in their performances for a second throughout the five-hour effort to raise $1 million. Open hearts always make a difference and change lives for the better, and Lauren Alaina and Charles Esten certainly pushed with love for open wallets, too, and created an unforgettable evening, for a wonderful cause.
Lauren Alaina has courageously assumed her role as a very “real girl” role model for young women through her own battle with the eating disorder, bulimia. In these celebrity-driven times, when images are created in an instant, only to vanish in flames, the singer was a symbol in strength, and the need for support, throughout the night. She opened with “Queen of Hearts,” in constant interaction with her band and the audience gathered at the Abilene Convention Center. She thanked everyone, going back to all the votes that she garnered from her “Idol” run, and was refreshingly open about her mother’s and other family support through her struggle, exemplifying the correlation between all the services provided for disabled children and adults through WTRC. “We all need help sometimes, and what's wonderful is knowing that there's a place like the Rehab to come,” she emphasized. Lauren Alaina celebrates a Number 14 song at the moment, her highest ever. She talked with telethon host, and country broadcasting icon, Charlie Chase, about how culling 300 songs down to 12, “was a tough, challenging experience,” especially since she wrote so much for the album. Chase teased that “now you've got your next five albums done,” but there’s no sign of resting on laurels for Lauren. She kept things up close and personal, asking about anyone with “a crazy family” leading into “Doin’ Fine” and “My Kinda People,” and sang a precious duet with a singer of about age 6 in the audience. Her album will drop Jan. 27, and to be sure, considerable more copies will be purchased from Abilene listeners now.
As it turns out, Charles Esten is anything but a stranger to Lauren Alaina. “We met at the Bridgestone when I first came to Nashville, and she was just wonderful to me, and to my girls,” the actor and Grand Ole Opry regular gushed. “She's as sweet as can be.” The cheers started coming for “Chip” before any notes, with only a glimpse of his ready smile. He opened with the tender “Simple As That,” featured in the first episode of the “Nashville” Season 5 premiere, on its new network, CMT. Even though Charles Esten has been a regular on “Whose Line Is It Anyway” and had parts in drama to comedy, he explained his yearning to find the perfect show, one that allowed him to sing, play, and star, to Charlie Chase, and that ultimate experience is the drama. Also an active, long-time supporter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, the singer stressed to the audience that the work and exemplary services and reputation of WTRC are known across the nation, “and definitely in Nashville,” where Esten lives with his family. The room started to rock with “Buckle Up,” the latest single in his “one a week” song pledge for the year. He sang his own composition, “It's All Good,” and then “Sounds Like Love,” referring to the ringing telephones from those that were calling in pledges. He playfully said that needed the “great head shots” like those of cattle being auctioned “live” from the stage for a favorite segment of the night.
The draw from the livestock alone was over $287,000, and by the end of the evening, the goal of $1 million had been exceeded, with $1.3 million taken in, a phenomenal feat for five hours. Besides the fun of a live auction, numerous civic, senior, and church groups work all year long to create masterpiece quilts that are auctioned to benefit WTRC, and children who are patients create artwork , exquisitely unique, that also goes up on the block.
The West Texas Rehabilitation Center was founded in 1953, and provides comprehensive services in physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, aquatics therapy, and adaptive equipment needed to allow those with birth defects or coping with challenges from illness, injury, birth defects and other conditions that prohibit normal function to regain life and independence to the deepest extent. There is a sliding scale for payment, insurance is accepted, and no one is turned away for inability to pay. Throughout the evening, the authentic stories of WTRC patients and families portrayed perfectly why these proceeds and performances from the heart matter so much.