Gloucester County's own twangin' Taylor

Singer Taylor Coccia, 14, of Washington Township, signs photos, with mother Denise.
Singer Taylor Coccia, 14, of Washington Township, signs photos, with mother Denise. (MICHAEL VITEZ / Staff)
Posted: August 09, 2011

Collin Raye was running late. The country music star's meet-and-greet was supposed to start at 7, but he hadn't even left his hotel.

So Taylor Coccia, 14, did her best to fill in with the waiting fans. She sat at a table with her publicity photos arranged neatly in front of her.

Her little sister, Taryn, 11, brought her a fresh Sharpie for autographs. "Now we're in business!" Taylor said.

Her mother, Denise, took photos of Taylor posing with fans. Sometimes, Taylor posed with lips sealed, self-conscious about her braces. Other times, she smiled big and bright, such as when Angel and Brian Murnane of Atco told her they'd heard her songs on a program featuring up-and-coming stars.

"Mom, they heard me on satellite radio!"

Taylor's father, a Washington Township police officer, dressed in black to double as concert security. Even though 180 people attended Saturday night's show at Camden County College, he said, Collin Raye, with 15 number-one hits in the '90s, wanted order.

Raye didn't know the meet-and-greet started so early, but Taylor's family didn’t realize this, and her father was annoyed he was late. Joe Coccia seized the teachable moment.

"You ever become famous," he told his daughter, "you remember a guy like that. You don't act like that." (When Raye arrived, he greeted the fans warmly.)

Arlene Iannacone, Taylor's grandmother, sold CDs for $5 at the door. "This is going to be my new job," she said proudly.

As Taylor was being introduced, Denise Coccia, backstage, applied finishing touches to her daughter's makeup.

"Mom, how do I look?"

"Beautiful."

Off to Nashville

The family just bought a used RV - Taylor named it Dolly - and this month, Taylor, her mother, and her grandmother are heading down to Nashville.

Taylor just finished eighth grade, but won't be attending Washington Township High School. She'll be home-schooled so she can spend more time in Nashville.

As soon as her braces come off, in 18 months, she and her mother plan to move there, live in the RV, and find out if Taylor has the talent, looks, and fire to make it as a country music star.

She has already adopted a stage name, Payton Taylor, in case she makes it big, to avoid any confusion with Taylor Swift.

"I don't want to be known as the other Taylor," she said.

Joe and Denise Coccia have been expecting everyone - school officials, friends, entertainment people - to tell them "stop, you're crazy, don't do it." But people encourage them. And Joe Coccia isn't going to stand in the way of his daughter's pursuing her dream. He remembers his passion to play major-league baseball, and his parents' encouragement. He played two seasons in the minors before being released. He has no regrets. He tried.

These parents love seeing their daughter so motivated and happy, and believe that what she gains will outweigh anything she sacrifices by missing high school.

There were wistful moments. "What about the prom?" her mother lamented.

Their solution: Buy a prom dress and turn it into an outfit for a performance.

Joe Caliva of Cherry Hill is Taylor's voice coach, accompanist, cowriter, and manager along this path to stardom. He is willing to move to Nashville and believes Taylor is "the total package." This isn't something she wants, he says, but something she needs, like air. And that's the attitude one must have. Nowadays, talent alone won't set you apart.

If Taylor never makes it big or suffers heartbreak along the way, she'll still be young, with a world of memories behind her and her whole life in front of her.

And she'll have plenty of material for a country music song.

'Kick-butt country'

"Hello everybody! I'm Payton Taylor, and it's great to be here tonight."

She danced and stomped, mixing in a little yodel and twang. Her style is high energy - what she calls "kick-butt country" - and the crowd gave her support and approval. People clapped and cheered, even whistled. She performed eight songs - two her own - ending with "Folsom Prison Blues" by Johnny Cash.

"She did a great job," said the fan from Atco. "She's got the music down. She's so pretty. Got to get the exposure now."

Taylor Coccia a.k.a. Payton Taylor is a long way from being Taylor Swift, but the road to stardom has to begin somewhere. After the performance, her mother hugged her and Joe Caliva hugged her and two aunts hugged her and both grandmothers hugged her.

"So many faces I'd never seen before," Taylor gushed. "It was so cool."

On one song, "I felt like I was enjoying the song so much, I forgot the words. . . ."

Still elated, she went to meet Collin Raye. (Sherry Lynn was performing next.) He was kind, complimentary, and helpful.

"You sound wonderful," he told her. "You're the right age. That's what they want right now. You sound pretty confident. It's all about confidence."

Keep writing, he told her.

"Write and record and perform your own songs," he said. This was a lesson he had learned the hard way.

"It really pays off on the back end because that's where the money is. And at the end of the day, people want to know what you're all about."

At 14, Taylor is just beginning to understand what she's all about. But she believes her future is onstage, in cowboy boots. On Monday night, she sang the national anthem before the Camden Riversharks game. On Wednesday, she'll perform at the Salem County 4-H fair. And then it's on to Nashville.

And who knows.


Contact staff writer Michael Vitez

at 215-854-5639 or mvitez@phillynews.com.

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