Catching up with Kentucky’s reality show musicians
For more than two decades, reality shows like American Idol, America’s Got Talent and The Voice have enabled budding musicians to capture a national audience, and Kentuckians have earned their share of the spotlight.
We’re talking to past contestants about how competing on these shows shaped their lives and careers, and what they’re working on now.
2022 AMERICAN IDOL WINNER
During his time on American Idol, Noah Thompson’s cover of Rihanna’s Stay and other performances thrilled audiences and judges alike. He released his debut song, One Day Tonight, during the season finale, which rose to No. 1 on iTunes for all genres and country charts.
Thompson says the experience helped him find who he is and wants to be as an artist, and he loves meeting fans and hearing their stories. He has a band now and has been busy touring, happy that he can provide his son a good life.
Thompson was nominated for a People’s Choice Award last year for Favorite Competition Contestant, and he has released new music like Make You Rich. He’s been a guest on Good Morning America and Live With Kelly and Ryan, and he recently moved to Tennessee to be closer to Nashville.
“Honestly, for the rest of my life, everything I’ll ever get to do, I’ll thank American Idol,” he says. “Every show I get to play—everything.” (Photo: David McClister)
2015 THE VOICE WINNER
2022 AMERICAN SONG CONTEST THIRD-PLACE WINNER
Singer/songwriter Jordan Smith made quite an impression when auditioning for The Voice. His blind audition singing Chandelier went viral and earned the coveted four-chair turn from the celebrity judge panel.
“When it came to auditioning for The Voice, I was a huge fan of the show for many years before I auditioned,” he says.
Smith auditioned the prior year, but didn’t make the cut. Undaunted, he tried again after receiving a call from showrunners. He took the top prize that season and the commercial success that came with it.
Since that time, he married his wife, Kristen, released a debut album in 2016, topped the iTunes charts, was made a Kentucky Colonel and performed with Grammy winners Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith.
This year, he’s writing songs, working on new music and serving as worship leader for a church in Bowling Green.
For his fellow Kentucky musicians chasing their own dreams, his advice is to find your own sound, commit to it and be authentic.
“It doesn’t matter where you come from, it doesn’t matter who you know—it matters that you have the gift inside you and that you use it to the best of your ability,” he says. (Photo: Jordan Smith Music)
BATH COUNTY NATIVE
2017 THE VOICE CONTESTANT
Singer, songwriter, guitarist and Owingsville resident Branden Martin says he’s never been one to enter music competitions, though at the encouragement of friends, he did enter and win a 2014 competition called Hoedown in the Holler.
Martin’s manager thought it would be good for him to appear on The Voice in 2017, and he found himself under the bright lights before a panel of celebrity judges. Though he didn’t win top honors, he says the experience was a good one, and for a while the self-described “recluse, hermit, hillbilly” was recognized on the street in Nashville and, of course, closer to home.
Martin has opened for Confederate Railroad, David Allan Coe and others. After releasing a new album called 001, he’s working on new music and traveling to gigs across the country.
“As of right now, (I’m) just looking to get this next record out and see what happens next,” he says. “I just love to do what I’m doing.” (Photo: Branden Martin Music)
2021 AMERICAN IDOL CONTESTANT
Singer, songwriter and guitar player Alex Miller grew up in Lancaster, belting tunes from age 3 and playing guitar since age 6.
Appearing on American Idol in 2021 at 17, he’s been featured in People magazine, earned a record deal and opened for Josh Turner, Brooks & Dunn, Hank Williams Jr. and Lee Brice; his debut album, Miller Time, was released last spring.
Before American Idol, he had performed at FFA and 4-H events, but never on national television or before celebrity judges.
To calm his nerves, Miller says he made sure he was well rehearsed and treated the judges like normal people. In turn, he says, they seemed to like his music and personality.
“I prepared,” he says. “I knew the songs I wanted to do, how I wanted to do them.”
Miller has played gigs from coast to coast, joking that at age 19, he’s now “traveled more miles than Daniel Boone” and has to look at his own website to see where he’s heading next.
He says he’s happy for the extra attention that American Idol afforded him.
“I like to say the music business is like a house,” he says. “I’ve tried to get in through the window a lot of times, but it was nice to get the key to the door, come in and walk around for a little while!” (Photo: Brandi Hall)
DAVIESS COUNTY NATIVE
2013 AMERICA’S GOT TALENT
A successful Nashville audition led Franklin resident Marty Brown to San Antonio to perform for the panel of America’s Got Talent judges. His wife, Shellie, and audience members wiped away tears while he sang Make You Feel My Love, and he received a standing ovation from judges Howie Mandel and Howard Stern.
From there, Brown went on to the Las Vegas, California and New York rounds before being eliminated in the semifinals.
Brown had seen early career success in the 1990s, writing songs like I’m From the Country, recorded by Tracy Byrd, and others for Brooks & Dunn and Trace Adkins. He’s toured with country royalty Hank Williams Jr., George Jones and Garth Brooks, and has performed at the Grand Ole Opry.
“In the ’90s I was in my 20s and it was really exciting,” he says. “Everything was just happening and all my dreams were coming true, and it was just like a big tidal wave for 10 years,” making records, music videos and touring.
In time, he decided to settle down and get married, and he became a carpenter, though his love of country music didn’t wane.
Brown credits his wife with pushing him to audition for America’s Got Talent. “It did just exactly what my wife wanted it to do,” he says. “It replenished my career and breathed new life in it.”
Now the newly minted Kentucky Music Hall of Fame inductee plays venues every weekend, either solo or with a backup band, traveling as far as Canada, Connecticut, Florida and California. Closer to home, he has bookings in Bardstown and Hopkinsville this year. (Photo: Shellie Brown)
Enjoy music videos from musicians featured in our May 2023 issue—Marty Brown, Jordan Smith, Alex Miller, Noah Thompson and Branden Martin:
There’s a Honky Tonk in Heaven, Marty Brown
Drink to Remember, Branden Martin
Follow your favorite Kentucky musicians online: