February 08, 2012 EditionAlso in this issue...
Lauren Gray goes to Hollywood
Lauren Gray sings with the Mike Gray Band during a performance for the WRHS Class of 1971 reunion in September at the Walnut Ridge Country Club.
Lauren Gray, the 23-year-old singer from Hardy, received the famous Golden Ticket in St. Louis. She earned her place on the "American Idol" stage after a vigorous audition process last summer and appeared on the hit TV show last Thursday night.
The St. Louis audition process was a total of four days, lasting daily from 5:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. She started with several thousand other hopeful contestants with lifelong dreams of their own stardom.
She spent lots of time waiting, but with the help of many preliminary judges, Lauren performed for the celebrity judges and was one of 46 to advance.
I drove over to Hardy to watch "American Idol" on Feb. 2 with her parents at their family business. More than 100 friends and family showed up to support our own Northeast Arkansas girl.
Her younger cousins, as well as nieces and nephews, were beside themselves seeing their relative on TV. Tears and giggles came freely as the group shared in the excitement.
Lauren's father, Mike Gray, graduated high school here in Walnut Ridge in 1970. As the show portrayed him, he has been a musician all his life. Growing up in the Giles Spur area near Walnut Ridge, he played gospel music with his dad, the Bill Gray family band, at their Pentecostal church in O'Kean.
Mike has so much musical history as a rock-n-roll, country, blues guitar playing, bandleader that I could write an entire story on him alone.
In my mind, Lauren's soulful singing style was developed from her roots. Mike got choked up at the line in the program where he called her, "his ray of sunshine."
He shared a story with me regarding an incident when Lauren was a baby. She had gotten choked on some small game pieces. He found her not breathing and already turning blue. With effort, he was able to revive her, and she's been his "Sunshine" ever since.
I'm told they have 12 audition tables with a couple judges at each one. Performer after performer gives it his or her best shot. When it was Lauren's turn, she started singing to the two judges. While singing, she closed her eyes and when she opened them several other judges had come over to hear her.
She got their attention, belting out "Amazing Grace," as well as songs by Aretha Franklin, Adele and even Gloria Gaynor's "I will survive" throughout the process.
Growing up with a father playing guitar and learning songs much of the day rubs off on you. (As a country artist myself, I gave my daughters an earful of music when they were young too.) Lauren first sang with her daddy when she was around age 12. She did some backing vocals on his 2003 Mike Gray Band "Maiden Voyage" recording in Jonesboro.
Before and since then, many others, including dozens of local pickers, have shared the stage with Mike over the years, including his guitar-playing younger brother, Tommy Gray.
Lauren was born and raised in Pocahontas. She was very active in much of the Pocahontas High School music and drama programs, as well as choreographing musicals and also participating in the church choir.
Along with her hardworking and very supportive mother, Debbie Williams Gray, originally from Hardy, Lauren helped operate the family's florist and bridal business in Pocahontas before they relocated to Hardy several years ago.
Lauren then added working with her father's band to her resume. I had the pleasure of singing with Lauren and the Mike Gray Band last September when they played for the WRHS Class of 1971 reunion. It was at the Country Club and held on the same weekend as the Beatles on the Ridge tribute.
I remember asking Lauren to sing backup to, "Knockin' on Heavens Door" by Bob Dylan with me. She was very sweet and gladly rejoined the band to add harmony. I thought we sounded pretty darn good if I say so myself.
If you're already an "American Idol" fan, then you've already jumped on the "Team Lauren" bandwagon. My Facebook friends and probably yours are already posting all the fan club and website information to encourage voting for her, when the time comes.
It's good to have a connection to the show, and root for the home team. The show airs on Fox, so check your TV schedule for show times.
Lauren has so many interviews lined up. It's going to be a lot of work, but worth it. Over 186,000 showed up and auditioned for the 11th season of AI. Around 400 get to go to Hollywood; soon they'll be dropping like flies. They keep the best ones... and I for one am a true fan of Lauren Gray.
She has a lot of that "IT" factor, a quality desired in the entertainment business that you just can't put your finger on. To me, she makes it look easy, something that the great ones do.
To me, her voice has a warm, salty tone that begs for the truth out of every single note. In other words, she believes in herself and will definitely be going for it, with no holding back.
Lauren is a beautiful and wonderfully talented singer, and we should expect great things to happen for this young lady. Like the power of Willie Wonka and his precious golden tickets, I hope Lauren turns her golden ticket into fairytales and fulfilled dreams by becoming the next American Idol.
We'll be voting for you. Good luck, Sunshine!
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