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LAS VEGAS — If life’s a journey, then Tracy Distefano has covered enough miles for all the residents in some small towns — say, Platte Center and Monroe.

Distefano, who grew up on a farm between the Platte County communities, has come a long way since walking across the Lakeview High School stage in 1989 to receive her diploma.

Now she is performing nightly on a stage in Las Vegas, but the road to Sin City included enough twists, turns and stops that you might need an atlas to follow along.

As a teenager in rural Nebraska, Distefano’s interest in performing arts was a bit misplaced. This was before the days of hit TV shows like “American Idol” and “The Voice.”

“It’s something that I enjoyed doing, but not something I thought I would do (as a career),” she said.

Lakeview had a show choir and speech class, but no theater program, so Distefano often stopped by Columbus High to see the school’s “big” productions.

And there was another problem during her early days of performing.

“It was very nerve-racking for me,” Distefano said. “I didn’t have a lot of confidence.”

But that’s natural. Every performer battles the jitters, she said, “and if they say they don’t, they’re lying to you.”

So she persevered, even making one unsuccessful run at the Miss Columbus title before graduating high school.

Then college came and reality began clashing with fantasy.

Distefano settled on the idea of becoming a family therapist — and she earned the degrees to do so while attending the University of Nebraska-Lincoln — but a sorority sister altered that plan her junior year by convincing Distefano to rejoin the pageant circuit.

She competed in the Miss America system, advancing as far as runner-up for the Miss Nebraska crown. Distefano focused on singing as her talent since she picked up dance tips while taking lessons at Barb’s School of Dance in Columbus from elementary through high school.

Although pageants helped keep a performing career in her mind, graduation countered with a push to enter the real world and take a “normal” job.

“You kind of feel this pull to be this normal person, but yet you have this pull to be on stage,” Distefano said.

Unsure of which direction to go, she decided to do neither.

Distefano took a year off, waited tables and backpacked through Europe for two months before moving to Omaha with friends.

“The idea of walking into an office job just made my stomach turn,” she said.

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So she continued waiting tables, started doing dinner theater and auditioned for shows that came to town.

Then, at the age of 25, Opryland USA offered Distefano her first professional job in a revue show at the Alabama Theatre in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. She relocated and began performing about six nights a week with a live band and around a dozen other singers and dancers.

“I was loving it. It was like, yes, this is what I’m supposed to be doing,” Distefano said.

She also got to know fellow cast member Patrick Dodd, a Lincoln native who also attended UNL, and they married in 2000.

The couple moved to Los Angeles, Nashville and northern Michigan — booking gigs and working other show business jobs along the way — before hopping on a cruise ship around 2003.

They spent about seven years on the open seas, mainly with Princess Cruises, entertaining guests with a variety of shows and traveling the world. The six- to eight-month stints were broken up by a few weeks off at their Kansas City home.

“It’s an interesting life to kind of witness,” Distefano said of their cruise ship experiences, which were followed by a brief stay in New York City before they settled in Branson, Missouri, after Dodd was offered a job there.

Distefano and her husband started their own variety show — appropriately titled the “Patrick and Tracy Show” — and they hit the road again last winter, touring in southern Texas on their way to the Nevada desert.

Distefano and Dodd relocated to Las Vegas in March. “We just picked up and moved here with nothing,” she said.

But the risk quickly paid off.

She now has a full-time role in “Vegas! The Show” at Planet Hollywood, performs with an all-female group called Divas3 and teams up with her husband to form the country duo Heartland Road.

They’re also considering starting their own podcast about show business and how to survive in the crazy world of entertainment — although Distefano admits she’s had her fair share of “freak-outs” along the way.

“This career is not for people who don’t have an adventurous spirit,” she said. “You have to just kind of jump and then see if your parachute opens up.”

For now, Las Vegas is the place to be for the Platte County girl who once only dreamed about shining under the bright lights.

But if there’s one thing she’s proven over the years, it’s that nothing is set in stone.

Distefano would like to live in Italy one day.

“The best thing about this business is you never know what’s going to happen,” she said. “And the worst thing about this business is that you never know what’s going to happen.”

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Editor

Tyler Ellyson is editor of The Columbus Telegram.

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