LEWISTON — As a little girl, Abi Hodgson's mom told her, she'd sing to whomever came through the door.
Last week, the door opened wide: Hodgson sang on stage at Radio City Music Hall.
She's one of 37 members of the American Military Spouses Choir, vying now with 15 other acts for the top spot and $1 million on NBC's "America's Got Talent."
The choir is made up of women whose husbands are all active-duty military. It has meant a whirlwind of travel, practice sessions over Skype and stealing moments together at home with her husband, Ben.
The Marine leaves in September for his sixth deployment.
He's already told her, "I'm going to tell you what you tell me every time I leave: 'We love you and we just want you to fulfill your dream,'" said Hodgson, 28.
The musical adventure started with an email in early 2012 saying that Victor Hurtado, founder of the Center for Military Music Opportunities, or CAMMO, was looking to organize a chorus for a Kennedy Center event in May 2012.
Hodgson, a 2004 Lewiston High School graduate living in Holly Ridge, N.C., had sung at her father's church, South Lewiston Baptist, for years. In high school, she sang in Jazz Choir, Concert Choir and Women's Chorale. After college, she's performed in Colin Britt's All Student Theater. (Britt is also in the AGT competition.)
After receiving the email, she sang "Amazing Grace" into her phone, sent the clip, and got in.
"I will take anything that I can sit around any group of ladies that I can share some of the struggles I'm going through," Hodgson said. "I was shocked but I was also very thankful. I would tell everyone, 'I just want to sing,' that's all I want to do."
Married six years, she and Ben have a daughter Charis, 2, and son, Daelen, 4. With his training, Ben has been home less than two months this year.
"I pray a lot and that pretty much just keeps me going, and my husband and I just talk over and over again about what our plan is and how we're going to deal," she said. "If I am stressed out, I can go and sing and it really helps calm down any of the unknowns."
The Chicago auditions for "America's Got Talent" in May were chaotic, Hodgson said. "We rehearsed that night for the first time as a group, then went in that morning."
She saw gymnasts, a man with a tub that she guessed was going to jump into from some height and someone who'd picked through the Dumpster outside the studio to make a dress.
When the choir got the nod for the next round and a standing ovation after "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," "We were in tears," Hodgson said. "We just couldn't believe they wanted to see us more. As we walked off stage, everyone was chanting 'USA.' We sobbed backstage."
For the next round in Las Vegas, producers only wanted to see some of the women; Hodgson figured they were getting the boot. Instead, it was on to the next round in New York without performing again.
"I didn't think I'd ever be close to the stage let alone on the stage" at Radio City Music Hall, she said. "Nerves were flying."
They sang "Hero" on Aug. 6. The next day, results were in: They'd made it again.
"I was shocked when they said our name," Hodgson said. "I knew we sang our heart out, the judges loved us, the crowd loved us, but you just never know — America can vote you out in a second."
At the end of the month, the choir heads back to New York to compete again. They've received sheet music and Skype practice starts again soon.
She said she's made amazing friends and hasn't done any daydreaming about the prize money. "I've just been soaking up the experience."
"The team behind us is great, they already have their brains ticking at what they'd like us to do (next,)" Hodgson said. "Kind of what I've always been hoping for, but never thinking it could actually happen."
This week, she was home for a few days in Lewiston visiting her parents, Bryan and Sue Church. Monday she was anxious for another homecoming.
"(Ben) will be back home next week — we're excited," she said.