'American Idol' Season 13: Alex Preston Gets Feedback From His Country-Star Cousin
His famous relative offers critiques of his weekly Idol performances.
The Hollywood Reporter sat down with American Idol's season 13 finalists to give an in-depth look at the top 10, including their earliest memories of music, when they knew music would be their career choice and what led to their decision to audition for the singing competition.
Meet the rest of the top 10 singers here.
Born: May 6, 1993
Born in Boston and raised in Mount Vernon, N.H., Alex Preston discovered music when he was three, thanks to his father’s record collection. “He mostly had classic rock, on vinyl and tapes. Aerosmith and Queen, a lot of music like that,” says Preston. Listening to music grew into playing music when Preston was four. “I started with the violin and that's when I knew I wanted to play for the rest of my life. I have no idea why I picked violin. I thought it was cool. Maybe I saw someone play it and became intrigued. It was fun and I loved it. I immediately started playing shows, recitals at churches and on the beach for money. I was in the church at that age, but I don't think I was very good. I didn't really start singing passionately until eighth grade.”
Preston’s musical knowledge expanded. “I took piano lessons. Then I started playing guitar. I never took lessons, but I really got into guitar and bass and from there started learning other instruments.”
Preston formed a band with some friends but they hadn’t picked a lead singer. He told his friends he would fill that role, which surprised them because they didn’t realize he had that talent. “I had never sung in public before that, just in the shower.” No one else wanted to be lead singer, so Preston got the job.
The group, known as Undertow, performed original songs and Preston was one of the composers. “I wrote my first song when I was 12. It wasn't good. It was called "Fish Food" and it was really simple, like a C chord and C-string chord and E minor.”
Musical talent runs in Preston’s family. “That’s how my mom met my dad,” he explains. “My aunt plays keyboard and my uncle plays guitar and they were in a band together with my dad, who was the lead singer. My mom went to one of their shows and they met there.”
When Preston segues from Idol to a recording career, he won’t be the first member of his family to appear on the Billboard charts. “My second cousin is Jo Dee Messina. She’s my grandmother’s sister’s child. We always went to her shows and kept in touch. When I relocated to Nashville, she said why pay for a place when I could live with her, so I moved to Franklin, Tenn. She lives right near Keith Urban. I told him and he thought that was cool.”
Preston lived with his famous cousin for eight months. “I knew nothing about the music industry before that but she sent me up with meetings, like with the president of BMI and all these record labels, not to plug myself but to learn and network and exchange business cards and I learned more about networking than I did in businessschool.”
While he was in Franklin, Preston wrote a couple of songs with Messina. “She work-taped one of them and it's super awesome. I love the song.”
Preston is staying in touch with his chart-topping relative while competing on Idol. “We text every day. She watches every episode and tweets to all her fans to vote for me. She’ll tell me, ‘This is what you need to work on, this is what you're doing right.’ I want to sing one of her songs at one point and have her come to the show.”
Preston has been watching American Idol since season three and counts Phillip Phillips, Chris Daughtry and Adam Lambert among his favorite contestants. He missed the auditions in Boston last summer and then found out he could audition online. “I sent in an audition tape. I did Ed Sheeran’s ‘The A-Team’ in one take. I thought I wasn’t going to get a callback.” Preston was wrong that count. He was invited to audition in person in any city still on the schedule and he chose to travel to Salt Lake City.
Sheeran is one of Preston’s favorite artists, along with Jason Mraz, Jeff Buckley, Damien Rice and Bon Iver. They will all be strong influences on his debut album, a project he is looking forward to making happen. “I want my first album to be pretty raw, not too produced. Damien Rice's records are like what I'm going for.”