Fourteen years ago, former Norcross resident Tamyra Gray was an early favorite to win the first season of "American Idol."
But shockingly, the Stone Mountain High School grad finished fourth instead, ceding the crown to Kelly Clarkson. Her music career after that never quite took off though she did some acting. In 2010, she had a daughter Sienna Marie with her husband Sam Watters of Color Me Badd fame, who is now a successful producer and record executive.
For several years, Gray focused on raising her daughter, wanting to stay near home. She only took local theater jobs. But earlier this year, she had the itch to break out a bit. She nabbed a major role in the national production of the musical "If/Then." So for the past six months, she has been traveling across the country, ending the tour in her hometown of Atlanta August 9 through 14 at the Fabulous Fox Theatre. She has even gotten to bring her daughter along for a portion of the tour, including Atlanta.
"I miss Atlanta," she said in a recent interview from Kansas City. "A lot of of my high school friends are there. My mom is still there. It's going to be really really great. It's the first real show I've done in Atlanta since 'Idol.' "
In "If/Then," Gray plays Kate, a friend of the lead Elizabeth (Jackie Burns). The play involves Elizabeth rebuilding her life in New York City and living parallel lives based on different choices she makes. Kate encourages Elizabeth to live out her dreams. "It's ultimately about life and choices we make that affect not just us but everyone else around us," Gray said. "It's about moving forward, not regretting the past."
In April, she was able to work around the tour schedule and perform during the series finale of "Idol" and enjoyed every second of it. "You get to reconnect with so many people you had met when their careers were just starting. Now you have your own career. You're in a different phase of life. It's not a competition. It's a celebration."
"To be part of its inception and to say farewell was a great honor," she added. "It did so much for my career and life in general. I will be eternally grateful."
I noted that her performance of "A House is Not a Home" is still considered one of the best ones in the history of the show. She recalled being especially stressed that day. "My stress was able to completely transform into that performance," she said, "which is a blessing in disguise."
After "If/Then" ends, she would love to join a national touring cast of "Hamilton." "I'm working on making that happen," she said. "I saw it in January. It blew me away. It's so innovative. It's so energetic. It's changing the game of musical theater. There's rapping. They break the fourth wall. It's like being at a concert. And you get a history lesson as well."
August 9-14 (various times)
Fabulous Fox Theatre
660 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta
NBC has renewed "America's Got Talent' for a 12th season in 2017. No surprise. Ratings have been strong, the highest in five years. And the slate of judges, including the return of Simon Cowell to TV, will remain. Nick Cannon will be back for a ninth season as well as host.
You can certainly say the Cowell factor is in play, pulling in more viewers than Howard Stern.
According to the press release: "Summer to date, “America’s Got Talent” is averaging a 3.0 rating, 12 share in adults 18-49 and 13.6 million viewers overall with its Tuesday edition. The Tuesday “Talent” is maintaining 100% of its year-ago rating in 18-49 and is up +9% in total viewers, making this its most-watched season in five years."
And Cowell himself still enjoys mocking Ryan Seacrest six years after leaving "Idol.' He compared Cannon in much more favorable terms as a host to the New York Daily News. “If you’re judging them based upon sincerity, Ryan is about a two, while Nick is a nine-and-a-half,” Cowell tells The News’ TV Editor, Don Kaplan. Ouch!
“Uber won’t take him off of the road! beware NYC,” Aiken wrote on Twitter, posting a photo of the offending cabbie’s license plate.
He ultimately deleted the Tweet.
The show has highlighted music from five-year periods between 1980 and 2005 and is hosted by Arsenio Hall and Kelsea Ballerini. Among folks who have performed so far include the Backstreet Boys, Boyz II Men, Seal, Kenny Loggins, REO Speedwagon and current acts such as Fifth Harmony (created by Cowell on "The X Factor") and Little Big Town.
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