For fans of vintage “American Idol,” the name Tamyra Gray resonates.
In 2002, the former Norcross and Stone Mountain resident was the first “surprise” ouster on the burgeoning hit show, leaving in fourth place, behind Nikki McKibbin, Justin Guarini and winner Kelly Clarkson.
Many experts and fans at the time expected she would be competing with Kelly for the win – including a very sour Simon Cowell, who was a fan from day one.
Ten years later, the only genuine star from that first group of ten was Clarkson, who is going headline a Fox Theatre concert in Atlanta Thursday.
After stints on TV, film and Broadway, Gray’s star faded. In 2006, she married music producer and songwriter Sam Watters (Color Me Badd) and had a daughter Sienna Marie in 2010. While being a mother has been great, she said she is ready to get back into the entertainment world.
I caught up with Gray last week in Marietta preparing for a role in a play at 14th Street Playhouse called “Our Time Has Come.” It debuted last Saturday and runs through March 4. [You can buy tickets here.]
Playwright Sylvester Stephens wrote a play in 2001 envisioning America’s first black president in 2008, long before Barack Obama pursued such a goal. Gray plays the president’s daughter and narrator, covering 1949 to 2009, for 10 of the 18 performances. The play is expected to tour several cities in the Southeast in April.
“It’s a fictional story with actual facts,” Gray noted. “We’ll talk about Martin Luther King Jr. Emmett Till. Civil rights leaders who were slain. But the president is fictional. Nobody in 2001 thought it would happen.”
And how about this for coming full circle? When Stephens was putting the play together in 2002, Gray tried out for the role by doing a monologue where she played a teen who killed her baby. She decided to audition for “American Idol” instead. The writer never forgot her and invited her back.
The play, Gray said, is a “call to action. Remember the struggles of history to able to voice your opinion in this upcoming election.” As a Democrat, she plans to campaign for Pres. Obama later this year and become more politically active in general.
She flew in from her home in Los Angeles earlier this month to spend her first extended time in Atlanta in years. (Her mom, an accountant, still lives here.) She hasn’t been able to check out how Atlanta has changedf all that much because she’s been busy learning 16 monologues, two acting scenes and three songs. “I’m putting in 12-hour days,” she said. “In order to tell a story about history, you have to know history.”
When I told her when Clarkson was performing, Gray said that was a night off for her and she plans to be there. (The last time she and Kelly had spoken was right before she had Sienna.) It’s been even longer since she spoke with Justin, who will be in Atlanta next month for “Ghost Brothers of Darkland County,” created by John Mellencamp and Stephen King at the Alliance Theatre.
I asked Gray if could have been Beyonce, going the path of an R&B or pop star. “I don’t think I could have,” she said. “I think everybody aspires to have that type of status…. I think it’s because there’s so much I want to do. I couldn’t be that laser focused.”
Variety works for her, she said. Over the years, she’s acted in TV (”Half & Half,” “What I Like About You,” “Boston Public”), Broadway (”Bombay Dreams,” “Rent”) and film (”The Gospel,” “Rachel Getting Married”). She released one record, “The Dreamer,” which sold a relatively modest 130,000 copies in 2004.
Here she is from a decade ago:
By Rodney Ho, Radio & TV Talk