A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Garrard County High School senior Alex Miller receives his golden ticket to Hollywood

By Jacob Perkins
Kentucky Teacher

Garrard County High School senior Alex Miller captured the nation’s attention with his recent American Idol audition. But for his hometown of Lancaster, the moment was years in the making.

The 17-year-old Miller says his singing career began much like other country music artists, by singing in the church.

According to his grandfather, G.B. Miller, Alex Miller and his family attended three churches during his childhood, including Hyattsville Baptist Church in Lancaster.

“My first opportunity to hear him at Hyattsville Baptist Church was (when he was) about the age of 12,” recalled Dan McClelland, the church’s worship pastor.

Garrard County High School senior Alex Miller poses for a photo at the National FFA Convention and Expo. Throughout his school career, Miller has performed at talent shows and FFA conventions. Videos of his performances are shown during the Garrard County Schools opening day ceremonies for staff. (Submitted photo, via Kentucky Teacher)

McClelland wasn’t with the church when Miller began singing around the age of 3 years old. He did, however, see videos of Miller singing in his younger years, and was immediately impressed with how quickly he could read a room and feel completely at ease on stage.

“He would engage the congregation even before he strapped on his guitar,” McClelland said. “It came natural to him.”

Viewers of ABC’s American Idol caught a glimpse of this during the Season 19 premiere, when Miller received his golden ticket advancing him to the next stage of the competition in Hollywood.

In what he described as a “spur-of-the-moment decision,” Miller initially auditioned via Zoom in 2020. After being sent from one producer to another, he eventually was invited to California to audition in front of a panel of judges, including Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan, who was so impressed with Miller he decided to sing a duet with him at the audition.

“Thank you, Jesus,” Bryan exclaimed after Miller performed an original song titled “I’m Over You, So Get Over Me.”

Once the audition was over and the cameras were gone, Miller, with his golden ticket in hand, said he finally had an answer to a question he had been asking himself.

“That just showed me that I do belong,” he said. “I’ve wondered that for a long time.”

Watching his grandson with pride back on his farm in Lancaster was G.B., who said Miller’s only desire is to perform.

“He really doesn’t care about the big money, he just loves to sing,” G.B. said. “I always said the Lord gave him talent, and he was willing to use it.”

From instilling a love for classic country music, to reinforcing the importance of education, Miller credits his grandfather as being one of his biggest personal influences.

After reminiscing about the guitar lessons he helped set up for Miller when he was 6 years old, G.B. said he’s thankful to have had such an impact on his grandson’s life. As for emphasizing the power of education to Miller, G.B. said, “education is important to everybody. We need to at least be able to read and we need to be able to count.”

When Miller isn’t performing or attending school, you probably can find him out on the farm with his grandfather. G.B. said Miller has done a little of everything on the farm, including helping with cattle, setting posts, hanging gates and raking hay.

Sitting at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Lancaster is a small, rural town that Connie Brown describes as a close-knit community.

Brown, who is the mother of Kevin C. Brown, former interim commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Education, taught Miller’s 2nd-grade class at Paint Lick Elementary (Garrard County).

Even at a young age, Brown recalled Miller being outgoing and always being willing to perform.

Every Friday, the class would have show and tell, Brown said. Often, the students would talk about something happening in their life. Miller, on the other hand, would sing for Brown and his classmates.

Alex Miller, left, performs a duet with country music star Luke Bryan during his American Idol audition. Up next for Miller will be Hollywood Week, which will air on ABC in late March. (Photo by John Fleenor, ABC, via Kentucky Teacher)

“Eventually, he started bringing his guitar,” Brown said. “I loved it, the kids loved it and it was just a great thing.”

Throughout her 27-year career, Brown encouraged all of her students to pursue their interests. But by the time Miller walked into her classroom, he already had been performing throughout Garrard County.

“At first he would ask me if he could sing,” she said. After a while, Brown said the question stopped because “we just knew that Alex was going to do a song.”

Throughout his school career, Miller has performed at talent shows and FFA conventions. Videos of his performances are shown during the Garrard County Schools opening day ceremonies for staff.

“They would show videos of him singing and we’ve watched them ever since he was in middle school,” said Troy Watts, principal of the Garrard County Area Technology Center (ATC), where Miller takes carpentry classes.

If music doesn’t work out, Miller has thought about pursuing carpentry as a career, saying he initially took the course to learn how to make cabinets and build other things around the house.

“I’m just a normal kid when it comes to school,” he said. “I do my work and try to get as good of grades as I can.”

As a student, there’s not much of a difference between the Miller on TV and the Miller in the classroom, Watts said.

“He’s always the same,” he said. “I know some people may think when he’s on American Idol that may not be his normal personality, but it is. He’s the same Alex every day. We’re all just so proud of Alex and we’re proud that he’s one of our carpentry students at the ATC.”

Echoing this sentiment, Brown said that even as a 2nd grader, Miller was a leader in the classroom, both academically and socially.

“He was liked by all of his classmates,” she said. “He was very outgoing and had a great personality, and that has not changed. He is still that outgoing, vibrant person who I remember from the 2nd grade.”

When Miller first started on his American Idol journey, his mother, Brandi, texted McClelland to ask what he thought. His advice, “Alex needs to be Alex. Don’t worry about what he thinks they want to hear or look like. Be true to himself.”

“Our world is broken on so many levels right now, and the world needs more Alex Millers,” McClelland added. “Someone who is honest, genuine, transparent, funny, charming and talented. And that’s exactly who he is. We’re all extremely proud of him and are stoked to see what wonderful opportunities the future has for him.”

Up next for Miller will be Hollywood Week, which will air on ABC in late March.

To keep up with Miller, he can be found on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter and YouTube.

As for his classmates and teachers in Garrard County, “I want to thank them for putting up with me for all these years,” Miller said. “I appreciate the education they have given to me, and I’ve learned a lot from all of them. They’ve all been kind to me and I can’t thank them enough.”

This story first appeared in Kentucky Teacher, a publication of the Kentucky Department of Education.

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