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Hometown celebrates American Idol hopeful

Payton Taylor returned home to her native New Jersey to take part in a watch party detailing her time on American Idol in Hollywood

Payton Taylor, the Top 40 American Idol hopeful brought some of that Hollywood magic back from California and serenaded her hometown of Gloucester Township with a few songs for the American Idol watch party. (ELDON GRAHAM/The Sun)

Turnersville native Payton Taylor made her way back to her home state of New Jersey after spending several grueling weeks on “American Idol” for Hollywood week. Taylor made a pit stop at her alma mater, Wedgwood Elementary School, before heading out to Camden County College to take part in a recent “American Idol” watch party at the Dennis Flyer Theater.
This was a coming home of sorts as Taylor is very familiar with the area having been a part of Mainstage Center For The Arts by participating in Summer Stage at a young age.
Many of her fans and well-wishers came to the theater to not only see Taylor but find out how far she would advance on the show.
Taylor first appeared on the show last year playing guitar for her sister. Both sisters impressed the judges enough to advance in the competition, but dropped out rather than compete against one another. Taylor came back again this year to follow her dream as a country vocalist.
Taylor’s talents have taken her all the way to the Top 40 of “American Idol,” something her hometown fans were anxiously waiting to see Sunday night. As the show opened, the first person you saw was Taylor. The audience cheered every time they got a glimpse of Taylor on the screen.
Taylor described her time being on “Idol” as something as simple as going to a summer camp if everyone there could sing and play an instrument.
“The ‘Idol’ experience felt like one big summer camp for all these adults that all love music,” Taylor said. “Summer camp where the stakes are a lot higher. I would say that would be the best description of the ‘Idol’ experience.”
This being her first official Hollywood experience with “Idol,” the 22-year-old country singer was in disbelief that she got a second chance to follow her dream.
“When I got the gold ticket, that was wild because that was the second time I got one,” she said. “I thought they were going to say the second time I walked in the room, ‘are you back?’”
She said she thought it was more of an affirmation the second time than the first because she did an original song this time and sharing the songs she writes makes her nervous. To win a ticket on a song like that was very special for her.
You could not tell Taylor was nervous during the watch party, even performing a few songs for her adoring fans. Songs like “American Born,” for which she gave a powerful performance that the audience felt, and “Rhinestone,” the song she sang for judges Katy Perry, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie that gave her a ticket to Hollywood. She detailed how she wrote “Rhinestone.”
“Normally my process is co-writing with a bunch of different people in a room and we all toss around ideas. But this time it was just me, and I just had to get this feeling out,” she said.
Taylor wasn’t having the greatest of times writing by herself and she had to power through that adversity.
“I just needed to sit down and put my thoughts on paper, and eventually just put it to some very simple chords because I didn’t ever think that this song will see the light of day. It ended up being the song I auditioned with the second time around,” she said.
Taylor actually sees some parallels between her time at Mainstage and her time on “American Idol.”
“At Mainstage, it is just a bunch of people who love music altogether in one room creating something,” she said. “The only difference here at Mainstage is we all are collaborating to create one final product, while at ‘Idol’ we are competing against one another. Honestly we forgot we were competing against one another for most of the time because we spent so much time together laughing and learning about one another and just doing jam sessions in the hotel rooms.”
Reality set in for Taylor during that time when the cuts started to come in, they realized they could be gone at any second and their next performance could be their last.
“Here at Mainstage, we all stayed together as a unit, and unfortunately with ‘Idol,’ you had to see your friends go home,” she said.
Taylor’s time at Mainstage has had an impact on her career, including the people she has met along the way. Taylor’s first acting teacher at Mainstage, Anne Marie Weaver, was delighted to see her and to see how well she was doing. She spoke highly of her famous former student and saw big things in her future even at a young age.
“I knew whatever Payton chose to do she was going to succeed,” she said. “I didn’t obviously know the age of 9, 10 or 11, that this was the direction that she was going to take because at those ages they are heading in a multitude of directions. What I knew about her was that she was determined, she was focused, she was extremely hard-working and she was very kind.” Her former teacher believed no matter what direction she took she was going to be successful, and being a top 40 member of “American Idol” is very successful compared with the thousands who try out.
Weaver went on to say, “When you see a student like that grow in that field, it makes you feel like you’ve touched somebody. That’s awesome!”
When asked what sets Taylor apart, she said has a “big heart.”
“There are a lot of very talented people in the world who either don’t succeed at all or they succeed short-term until people realize that they are not kind and people don’t want to work with people who are not kind,” said Weaver.
Upon hearing about her big heart, Taylor was at a loss for words. The first thing thing that came to her mind was, “wow, that really means a lot.” She gathered herself and said, “I work really hard on music and if there’s any kind of legacy I could leave behind, aside from music, it would be that I was a kind person and I hope that is something that I can try to leave behind no matter what I do.”
After making it to the “American Idol” Top 40, the spotlight is firmly on Taylor and she knows it.
On the thoughts of having someone look up to her, like she’s looked up to people in the past, she said, “I would sure like to hope that someone saw me as a role model. I said up on stage when I was coming up here as a child, Erica Harr was my very first director and I remember that when I was in sixth grade that I told my mom that when I grow up I want to be just like Erica Harr because she’s incredible.”
The thought of her coming back and being that same inspiration for someone else has crossed her mind and she acknowledges that she will probably have some big shoes to fill.
When Taylor performed, she told the people in the audience, “what the real gold ticket is, is putting in the work and being kind to people, that is so important. Mainstage was always such a safe place for me to find out where I fit in.”
Taylor will be returning to Gloucester Township on June 24 to be in a concert with fellow New Jersey native Megan Knight for the Sounds of Summer Concert Series in Veteran’s Memorial Park.
Tune in to “American Idol” on Sunday and Monday at 8p.m. on ABC to see if Taylor can make it into the Top 20.

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