Northern Kentucky University student Alyssa Wray said Los Angeles feels like "an alternate universe" to her hometown of Perryville, Kentucky.
"It doesn't feel real," she told WCPO from her hotel room in Hollywood, where she's been staying as a contestant on the ABC series "American Idol." She'll appear on the show this coming Sunday and Monday nights as one of its final 24 contestants.
"I feel like I'm in a movie, and I know that sounds so cheesy," the 19-year-old, first-year musical theater major said. "I'd watch movies growing up, for so long, of Los Angeles, and I'd never been. And I said I never would because I never wanted to ride a plane, but now that I'm here, it just feels like a different life."
But the potential for stardom was enough to get her on that plane.
WCPO spoke with Wray Friday afternoon via Zoom about her Kentucky roots, her professional ambitions and upcoming performances, and being an aspiring performer finding her way in the midst of a global pandemic.
WCPO: Talk about your hometown, Perryville. What was it like moving to the Cincinnati area?
AW: I'm from Perryville, Kentucky. It's a super small town. It's in the county of Boyle County.
Perryville has under 800 people in it, super small town. Not many things there, a lot of churches. It's also a super lovely community. Everybody knows each other, so you walk down the street and you're probably waving at your first-grade teacher. A cute, little, quaint town. I love Perryville.
I haven't gotten to experience Cincinnati in its fullest yet, since I'm coming to college in COVID, of course, but back in August, when I first got there, me and my friends would try to walk around in the city. Oh my gosh, it's such a contrast from my hometown.
I love the Cincinnati-NKU area because I feel like everything is so close, like you can drive 10 minutes down the road and go to the movie theater on the river, you know. It's a super cool area, and I love going to school up there.
WCPO: Describe a day in the life of a contestant on "American Idol."
AW: I somehow made it to this crazy round, and I'm taking it day by day, singing, doing some voice lessons, doing some filming. It's been a wild ride.
A normal day, I would say... We get COVID tested, because we get COVID tested every two days, and then we check in... Usually after that we go and we check into a "bungaloo." And most of the contestants just sit and wait around, and we have lots of fun. We wait for voice lessons; usually we'll do a voice lesson in the middle of the day.
Some days we'll go to a different location and rehearse with the band. Some days we'll go with the social media team, and they'll take pictures of us for social media. On big days, we go to wardrobe and get all dressed up and we perform for the judges, so it just depends. But usually those things happen in a typical day.
WCPO: You're appearing on the show this weekend. What can the audience expect to see?
AW: So, the past few weeks, we've been seeing all the contestants sing, but this Sunday, the audience can look forward to not only seeing the contestants sing but also celebrity duets. I think that's going to be a lot of fun.
WCPO: Can you say whom you're singing with?
AW: I can, but I can't tell you what song. I'm singing with (2006 "American Idol") runner-up Katharine McPhee. Love her. She does Broadway and TV and music, so kind of the same that I want to do. She's awesome.
WCPO: As a young performer, what does making the final 24 signify to you for your career?
AW: It just really makes me feel like I can do whatever I put my mind to because, you know, we always work super hard for the things that we want to achieve, but some things are just meant for certain people. I feel like this is something that you can only work toward to a certain extent, and then everything else is just about fate and letting the cards lay out.
WCPO: So, you were at the right place in the right time, ready to work.
AW: Exactly, right... You know, there's so many people in this world that work just as hard as me, that are just as talented, that could be here.
WCPO: COVID has taken such a big hit on the performing arts. What's been your experience being a performer during a pandemic?
AW: Being on a performing arts show in this crazy time in our lives is honestly such a blessing. I kind of, like -- I'm getting all teary-eyed thinking about it because, you know, people don't get to perform in front of audiences every day. They haven't for well over a year.
(But this week we) got to have a live audience. It was different: little pods with their immediate family members, but we got to have an audience, and I got to sing without a mask and just perform and do what I love. And we are a very small group of people out of our nation getting to do that, out of the world that's getting to do that. It's just a really big honor. I'm super blessed, and I hope I get to keep doing what I do and stay here a little longer and keep singing.
I honestly feel like I got my life back a little bit, you know, like things just started picking up again because they just stopped for a long time, and I think a lot of us probably felt hopeless at times. And being on that stage and singing just felt like the ball was rolling again and that I had my chance and I had my love, my passion back.
WCPO: What does it mean to your friends, family and professors that you've made it this far into the competition?
AW: I call my mom everyday, I feel like, and I call my nanny every day. And I'll talk to my siblings on the phone.
To have me out here, it's like a dream to them, too, because where I come from, not a lot of people get to do this kind of thing, so I feel like a lot of them are kind of living through me, my family are, and that's really special to me that I get to give them a piece of my experience, too.
I worked so hard for this for so long, but so has my mom and my grandmother, you know, taking me to rehearsals and different stuff that's gotten me to this point.
(My professors) were super supportive before I left, and I talked to them for weeks before I was leaving to come out here, and they were just so happy to have me here. I was asking how we were going to work around my schedule, because it's going to be super busy, and they were just so wonderful. They were so lenient; they just wanted me to come, you know, chase my dream.
WCPO: What's next when you get back home?
AW: I have no clue what I'm going to do when I get back. I feel like, with COVID and this pandemic, and so many doors about to open for everyone, I think there are going to be a lot of paths I'm going to be able to choose from, and I'm just excited to see those choices.
Wray will appear on "American Idol" Sunday and Monday night on WCPO 9.
Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and format.