SPRING HILL — It might have been a bit tough getting a table at Jersey's Hometown Tavern on Wednesday night. That's because about 30 folks had gathered there to watch and cheer on their friend Curtis Gray as he auditioned for the 11th season of American Idol.
The vibe was good, said Michael Duxstad, who played with Gray in the Haze Band, a classic rock cover group. But it was the Spring Hill resident's soulful version of the Boyz II Men tune It's Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday that wowed the bar's patrons, as well as the show's judges — Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler.
As a result, Gray ended up earning a "golden ticket" and became one of about 300 contestants chosen to appear at the show's "Hollywood Week."
Gray wasn't available for comment Thursday, but the people who know the 28-year-old, who works by day as a server at GlenLakes Golf and Country Club in Weeki Wachee, say he's a pretty down-to-earth fellow and that his music means everything to him.
"He does a lot of karaoke all around here, and he's very humble when people tell him how good he sings," Duxstad said. "But listen to him and you'll instantly know he feels the music."
Gray, who grew up in New Hampshire, told Idol viewers that his first singing experience came with his mother and grandmother in church.
Roseann Latoria, Gray's boss at Glen Lakes for the past three years, said that when residents learned he was going to next round of the singing competition, they chipped in to help pay for his lodging and airfare.
"Curtis has a great personality, and people here like him a lot," Latoria said.
So do the folks at Jersey's, on Commercial Way. On Feb. 18, they have invited Gray to be the opening act for the Nashville Southern rock band Circus Soul Cowboys.
Gray apparently won't have to worry about a scheduling conflict.
Though Fox television doesn't reveal the results of its taped Idol episodes that haven't aired, friends of the singer said Thursday that Gray had indicated to them that he didn't advance past Hollywood Week.
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or firstname.lastname@example.org.