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The Golden Ticket

Alyssa Wray’s journey from small-town Kentucky to Hollywood.
Arturo Minera

ABC/Eric McCandless

Magnetic on stage. Star sparkle. Like a seasoned pro. 

These are just a few of the compliments that Alyssa Wray has received during her time as a contestant on ABC’s “American Idol.” 

Earlier this week, the 19-year-old Northern Kentucky University freshman became one of the Top 12 finalists. 

So, what’s it like performing on a hit TV show? Whether Alyssa is covering Bruno Mars’ “Grenade” or Whitney Houston’s “The Greatest Love of All,” it’s all about being in the moment. 

“I always do a little prayer at some point before I perform. I kind of like to breathe and make sure that I’m present,” she says. “Sometimes it’s really hard to be present, but I’m in the moment as much as I can be. I have cherished every single moment so far. Things like this don’t happen for someone every day.” 

"It’s really special to me to touch someone through the TV screen and impact them with my love and passion. No matter what I’m doing, I want to make people smile and feel important."

When Alyssa auditioned via Zoom last fall with “Idol” producers, they invited her to California to sing in front of celebrity judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan. 

“After my Idol Across America Zoom audition, one of the producers said, ‘You know, you might want to call your mom. You’re going to perform on the show, and you’re going to perform well,” she says. 

Alyssa first auditioned for “Idol” when she was a sophomore in high school, so having a second chance to get on the show was a dream come true. 

“I was so starstruck,” she says of her in-person audition. “It was like walking into heaven.” 

The judges were starstruck too, and all three gave Alyssa a standing ovation. 

“How lucky are we to say we knew you back when, and that we had something to do with it?” Richie said after her acapella performance of “I Am Changing” by Jennifer Hudson. 

You could say Alyssa is used to being in the spotlight—just on a smaller scale. In her hometown of Perryville, Kentucky, where there are roughly 750 residents, she was a 6-foot-2 star player on the Boyle County High School basketball team.

But when she wasn’t shooting hoops, she was singing for her church choir and performing in several musicals—including “Little Shop of Horrors,” “Frozen,” “Sister Act” and many others. 

Alyssa recalls that her love of being on stage started when she was a child. 

“I went and saw a production at a local community theater—Snow White and the 47 Dwarves. The girl who played Snow White was a mixed Black girl and looked like me,” she says. “At 6 years old, that was huge for me to see myself represented. Shortly after that, I performed in a play at the same community theater. I loved being on stage—whether at the theater, at church or in the talent show.” 

When Alyssa decided to attend NKU, it was no surprise that she declared musical theater as her major. She already knew several students who were in the university’s School of the Arts, and she made great connections during her first semester here.

“I knew NKU was the place for me. I found so much support,” she says. “It’s really special to have relationships with people who aren’t a family member or a friend. I found that in a lot of the connections I’ve made with my professors, and I will always be thankful for that.” 

Now, while living across the country and filming for the show, Alyssa is making different kinds of connections. 

“Being in [Los Angeles] and with the other contestants on the show has helped me grow,” she says. “I’m learning from other people from all different walks of life. Experiencing this with them has changed me as a performer and as a person.” 

It’s safe to assume that Alyssa’s exposure on “American Idol” has changed her life and taken her career to new heights. 

“I love to perform and entertain and make people happy. I receive messages every single day from people who say how much I have impacted them and helped them feel seen,” she says. “It’s really special to me to touch someone through the TV screen and impact them with my love and passion. No matter what I’m doing, I want to make people smile and feel important. I want to be that person for someone.” 

Watch Alyssa perform on Sunday, April 18, at 8/7c on ABC. Sunday's show will take the Top 12 to the Top 9. 

About This Article

Lizzie Kibler
Jayna Morris
Editor, NKU Magazine
Published April 2021
Photography provided

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