Singer Jeff Hinton got his first taste of the big time when he won the Starmania star-search competition in Branson, Mo., back in 1995.

"About seven years ago, I saw a program on the Nashville Network called `Be a Star,' " Hinton said during a phone call from his Lehi home. "I took the address down and sent them a demo tape. They wrote me back and asked for me to go to Nashville to audition for a spot on the show. Since my schedule wouldn't let me go, I sent a video."Hinton received a reply two years later.

"By that time the program was called the `Charlie Daniels Talent Round-Up'," Hinton said. "They invited me to the show, and I was on twice."

While he was in Nashville to tape the program, a local agent steered Hinton to a man named Bobby Reed, an agent from Houston.

In addition to Hinton, Reed has discovered other performing talents in Utah - the Hughes Brothers, who are regulars in Branson, and Sandy resident Christi O'Driscoll, who plays in Tennessee, said Hinton.

"Bobby also runs two talent programs, one in Las Vegas and the other in Missouri," Hinton said. "I kept in touch with Bobby, and he called me a few weeks ago and asked if I could headline the (`Starmania') convention in Las Vegas next week."

Hinton will play Sunday evening, the opening night of the gala, and he is, naturally, quite happy about it.

"I'll take anything that comes my way," said Hinton, who also teaches French at Mt. Ridge Jr. High School in Lehi. "But I want to make the decisions that are right for me and my family."

Hinton began singing about the time he was beginning to read. "My mom had me singing in church when I was 4. I kept on singing and took voice lessons."

Those voice lessons soon accompanied piano, guitar and songwriting lessons as Hinton began developing his musical talent. He stuck with it because it was fun and interesting.

Some of Hinton's influences include James Taylor and Dan Fog-el-berg. "I could tell my work was leaning more to those two. I focused a lot on songwriting."

But Hinton had to make a decision - whether to devote his full attention to music or raise a family. "To make it in this business, it needs to be all or nothing," Hinton said.

"The music is more than a hobby for me but not quite a career."

However, the father of two continues to sing, play piano and guitar, and produce for other local musicians, though he prefers writing. Hinton and his songwriting partner, Jeff Bliss, have plenty of songs out on the scene - they're just waiting for the big break.

"I don't think I'd be up for the touring," he said of the music scene. "I like to sing. But I think wasting away in motels just for a 2-hour show at night over and over again is a bit too much. I'd go nuts.

"I do wish. however, that one of my songs could land with an artist who knew what to do with it. I could use some royalties."