Tuesday, January 18, 2005
Roanoke-area guys sing their way through 'Idol' land
Alden Wynn of Roanoke says he'll be in the "American Idol" semifinals. Kurtis Parks of Roanoke County might make it, too.
Roanoke "American Idol" fans may spot a couple of hometown boys during the newest season of the hit show, which premieres tonight on Fox (WJPR/WFXR Channel 21/27).
At least one local Web site reports that Kurtis Parks of Roanoke County made it to the show's semifinal round. Parks, 22, declined to go on record about anything other than that he'd been one of more than 100,000 who auditioned for the show at seven cities around the nation.
In the past, though, "American Idol" contestants have had to agree to not talk about anything about the show until after it runs on television.
Justin Wynn of Roanoke, on the other hand, has ridden the "American Idol" train before and was less weary about the show's lawyers. Wynn, who was one of the top 48 contestants on the second season of the show, eagerly reported that he'd done the impossible: beating out thousands of pop star wannabes to make it to the show's semifinal round for a second time.
Wynn, who's 27 and goes by the name Alden Wynn professionally, said he didn't realize he'd be facing off with a Roanoke-area competitor for the "American Idol" title until Parks introduced himself during an event for the show (an event that will remain nameless because of that whole contract thing). According to Wynn, Parks said, "Dude, you're from Roanoke!"
Wynn felt excited, not competitive, about his Star City rival.
"That's good, dude!" Wynn said. "We've got a double shot of getting Roanoke on the map."
A publicist for "American Idol" declined to either confirm or deny that Parks or Wynn had made it to the semifinal round. If Wynn and Parks did make the cut, though, they should have a big television audience watching them strut their stuff. "American Idol" was the No. 1 rated show of the last season in the Nielsen ratings with more than 25 million viewers.
Parks began piano lessons as a 12-year-old, but after mastering the fundamentals he lost interest.
Parks' father, Terry, planned to start a church in Roanoke and wanted his son to play during services. To keep Kurtis tickling the ivories, Terry Parks gave him $10 for each lesson he attended.
All those Alexander Hamiltons did the trick. Kurtis kept playing.
Lonnie Sisler, Parks' mom, knew her son had a gift when one day his piano teacher said, "It doesn't happen very often, but he has the hands."
From the piano, Kurtis went on to learn how to play four other instruments, form several bands and write more than 800 songs.
After listening to singers such as Celine Dion and Amy Grant as a kid, Parks moved on to music like Wilco and Norah Jones as well as jazz and classical sounds.
"He can get really hard in rock 'n' roll music and then he can get soft on the piano," said Parks' fiance, Sarah Buhls.
Parks compares Temple, the band he formed while a finance major at Virginia Tech, to bands like Switchfoot or Lifehouse, where the members are Christians but the music is modern rock.
"Our lyrics aren't God and Jesus and all that stuff," he said.
Despite all the time he spends with a mike in hand, Parks considers himself primarily a songwriter.
Sisler likes telling a story about a 14-year-old Kurtis sleeping in the back of the van during a family road trip when suddenly he sprang from his slumber demanding a pen. Parks then scribbled down what his mother describes as "the most beautiful poem" about nature. After writing the final line, he promptly returned to the horizontal position and went back to sleep.
Parks proposed to Buhls in November 2003 by singing the first of 25 songs he's written for her, a song called "Waiting" that deals with not settling for anything less than a soul mate.
It was Buhls who encouraged Parks to audition for "American Idol." He doesn't watch the show. "I'm really not into pop," he said disdainfully.
They arrived at the audition in Washington, D.C., at 3 a.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 17. Tryouts wouldn't begin until Wednesday morning, but there was already a line of folks waiting for their chance at stardom.
Not knowing what they were getting into, neither Buhls nor Parks thought to bring a change of clothing, but they had a sleeping bag and plenty of entertainment watching "goobers" sing.
"They have no clue how they sound," Parks said. The majority are there because Mom, just being nice, once said, 'You can sing, honey.'"
When Parks' audition time came around that Wednesday afternoon, he was less nervous about performing than the whole wearing-the-same-clothes-for-two-days dilemma. "I was praying my deodorant wouldn't wear off."
Parks, who's currently interviewing for a finance job and studying for his real estate license, won't reveal anything that happened after it came time for him to meet the judges at the D.C. audition, but "American Idol" fans may not have to wait long to find out. Tonight's "American Idol" will show highlights of the D.C. auditions, according to a publicist for the show.
Wynn had been 25 for just a little more than a month when he drove to Nashville, Tenn., to audition for "American Idol" in the fall of 2002. The show's rules said contestants had to be between the ages of 16 and 24.
Deciding the rule was "bullcrap," Wynn subtracted a year from his age.
Fibbing paid off. Wynn was selected as one of the Top 48 contestants, and though he received the boot before facing down the likes of Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard in the finals, he scored lots of airtime for antics that included getting drunk, chatting up ladies and riding a mechanical bull.
"If you can't be famous, be infamous," he said.
In the two years since his 15 minutes of "American Idol" fame, Wynn has sung at a Richmond NASCAR race and local celebrations and fairs, while writing songs and spending his savings on building a home studio.
To pay the bills, he runs a window-washing business and works as a salesman at Ginger's Jewelry.
He got his second chance at pop-star fame after the producers of "American Idol" upped the age limit to 28 for the fourth installment of the show.
Wynn auditioned in Cleveland in August, the first city where tryouts would be held. It turned out to be his town.
Not only did he get selected to compete in Hollywood, he also received praise from LL Cool J; Wynn said the rapper-actor told him he "had a lot of soul for a white guy."
Wynn couldn't go on record about how he performed at the semifinal round, but he did say judge Paula Abdul told him she was happy to see him again.
Wynn hasn't hung out with Parks since they saw each other at that not-to-be-named "American Idol" event, but said he wouldn't mind getting together.
They probably have a lot in common as both require lots of product for their similar, spiky hairdos. A security guard at The Roanoke Times who'd met Parks earlier in the day called Wynn "Kurtis" when he stopped by the building to be photographed.