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Regional stars who are poised to break out

We give you the heads up on the best regional singer, band, storyteller, and more

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Every famous star starts somewhere. But the big question is, where are the world’s up-and-coming stars coming from? We’re just nervy enough to answer that.

They’re right here: eight local artists most likely to be tomorrow’s stars. Catch them now in cities from Austin to Boston; soon, you can brag that you knew them when.

Best Stage Actor: John Cameron Mitchell

Will success spoil J.C. Mitchell? It’d sure be nice. He gave up on it once before, when his quirky, square-peg charm perplexed L.A. casting agents. ”I kept losing parts to ‘TV pretty’ people,” he says. So he went East — and now he’s the one winning them over: Mitchell’s disarmingly caustic wit stole the New York stage hits Six Degrees of Separation, The Destiny of Me, and Hello Again. This year, he directed Kingdom of Earth for Manhattan’s Drama Dept. theater company; appeared as an aspiring actor in Spike Lee’s Girl 6; continues to camp it up in his New York rock-cabaret hit Hedwig and the Angry Inch; and landed the Best Friend role on Fox’s Party Girl — ”the Rhoda of the show,” he deadpans. ”My agent actually said something you don’t hear as an actor,” Mitchell, 33, says with a Cheshire-cat grin. ”He said, ‘What do you want to do next?”’ Do what the pretty people do: Smile, baby.

Best Country Singer: Dale Watson

”I’d like to stress that this ain’t no retro thing,” says Watson. The Austin singer-guitarist, 33, wants to make that point clear, since for over a decade record labels kept their distance from his authentic honky-tonk sound, despite a strong local buzz. But as traditional became ”alternative” country, he scored a contract in 1994 with HighTone. ”They don’t try to make an artist what he ain’t,” Watson says. ”They just let ’em be what they are. In my book, that’s what record companies are supposed to do.” He’s put out two gritty albums to critical acclaim — Cheatin’ Heart Attack and this year’s Blessed or Damned — without selling out. ”They didn’t tell Johnny Cash to hum. They didn’t make Buck Owens go electric.”

Best Storyteller: Kevin Kling

After spellbinding audiences with his enthralling one-man show Fear and Loving in Minneapolis and acting in the parody Hate Mail, Kling, 39, is preparing for another role at the Twin Cities’ Jungle Theater, doing freestyle commentaries for National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, and trying to fit both car crashes and swordplay into a new work. Kling’s raved-over theater pieces have placed him with fellow Minnesotans Lee Blessing and August Wilson in Northern minds; he even played softball with them in a local scribes’ league. ”All these playwrights become national figures,” the Minneapolis monologuist remarks dryly, ”and here I was, thinking ‘Jeez, August sure can hit a ball a long ways.”’

Best Jazz Singer: Dominique Eade

With her fresh approach to small-ensemble vocal jazz, Eade has earned the admiration of a growing number of cognoscenti. Her sophomore release, My Resistance Is Low, displays a handful of sophisticated originals as well as out-of-the-way gems by well-known songwriters. With a different kind of project — her first child — due in October, the 38-year-old Bostonian hasn’t slackened her frenetic schedule of composing, performing, and teaching at Boston’s New England Conservatory of Music. And Eade is convinced that her distinctive scat style can reach more listeners. ”There’s this whole language akin to what somebody like Louis Armstrong would do in jazz,” she says. ”I’ve always had the conviction it could be accessible to people.”