The Taylor Swift effect

Thousands of long-haired girls wearing jeans and boots will file into the AmericanAirlines Wednesday night to see Taylor Swift perform a sold-out concert, most of them so familiar with her songs that they'll sing every word.

Swift's effect apparently has gone beyond just motivating teenagers to buy her albums, of which she has sold 26 million. Just as boys take to basketball courts wearing LeBron James jerseys, many girls in recent years have picked up guitars and spilled their guts via song in pursuit of a career like Swift's.

Experts say South Florida is full of female country-pop singers who pattern themselves after the 23-year-old Swift, whose girl-centric themes of heartbreak and belonging have dominated radio since she was 16.


Pictures: Miami Fashion Film Festival closing party

"It would be very hard to overstate the effect," said Mike Carroll, president of SouthFloridaCountryMusic.com. "It's pretty rampant out there."

Many will say they feel connected to a pop star who's only a few years older than they are, and who delivers thoughts and feelings that could have been lifted from their own diaries.

At last summer's Texaco Country Showdown in Davie, 18 of the 21 entrants were girls, Carroll said, and at least half were directly influenced by Swift.

"They dress like her, and they want to sing like her," he said.

Like Swift, whose parents moved her to Nashville at 14, many of these girls are trying to form careers before they even enter high school. They write their own songs, and keep notebooks full of undeveloped hooks and lyrics. Some have gone to Nashville, looking for connections.

That includes 14-year-old Emily Brooke, who picked up a guitar at age 9 shortly after hearing Swift. Within a year, she was singing at a Wellington coffee shop. She has released an album and is now on playing paid gigs, although she calls her voice "raspier" than Swift's.

"I understand you have to work really, really hard, because there's a bunch of amazing artists out here, and you have to be super lucky," said Brooke, who will open for Ty Herndon April 26 at the Wellington Amphitheater. "But hopefully, one day, I'll make it there."

She said a watershed moment came a few years ago at a Swift concert.

"I was sitting there and everyone knew every word to every song," the Wellington Landings Middle eighth-grader said. "I almost cried, and said to my mom, 'This is what I want to do.'"

Erica Morgan, 21, of Coral Springs, said hearing Swift's stories of heartbreak and fitting in while she was in high school "made me feel like, 'Oh, I'm not that weird girl who likes playing country music instead of going to parties.' She's really been my inspiration."

Morgan, now a student at Florida Atlantic University who opened for country singer James Otto at the school's 2011 homecoming, writes Swift-like songs, she says, "because we all go through heartbreak and we all meet mean guys. So I just blast her songs obnoxiously all the time from my car."

She especially admires Swift's songwriting technique.

"She uses metaphor in all her songs," said Morgan, who includes "Red" among her favorites, because Swift compares love to the color.

Morgan said she even is fine with Swift's recent turn away from country toward pop.

"She could even do rap, and it would come out well," Morgan said.

Swift's perceived humility and genuineness have propelled Savannah Maddison, 12, into singing and songwriting. Along the way, the Weston girl promotes her special cause. Maddison, who is home-schooled, created Savannah's Soldiers, a letter-writing campaign for schoolchildren to support U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan (SavannahMaddison.com). The effort has spread to 40 states and generated 38,500 letters.

"I like that she's not fake," said Maddison, whose friends call her "mini-Taylor." "And I love, love the sparkly dresses."

Maggie Baugh, 13, was certainly Swift-like in "Middle School," one of the 18 songs she has written. The song — and her performance of it — earned her second place in the Texaco Country Showdown.

"I wanted people to know that middle school is not that scary, you just have to keep your head up," said Baugh, a seventh-grader at Bak Middle School of the Arts in West Palm Beach.

So these girls — and many others out there singing at festivals, talent shows and karaoke nights — have been emboldened by the fact that a girl who was just like them is now a megastar.

Brooke, in fact, has gone a step further by meeting Swift's mother and singing for her. Mom stuck one of Swift's CMA Awards in Brooke's hand.

"She told me, 'You're going to win one of these some day,'" Brooke recalled. "That was really, really motivating."

nsortal@SouthFlorida.com