In her first public performance, the tiny 8-year-old girl belted out a Martina McBride song at a Centerville, Ohio, cafe and got a standing ovation. Then she burst into tears.
Her second singing gig was at Target Dayton Ministries, a church for the poor and homeless.
“I forgot all the words. I was terrible,” she recalled.
Today, Alexis Gomez is about as far from terrible as one can get. The recent Wright State University graduate is an “American Idol” contestant and has advanced from Columbus to Kansas City to Hollywood.
“It’s really, really exciting,” said Gomez. “Those judges are so accomplished in music, so the fact that they are willing to give me a chance and see potential in me is something that I’m blown away by.”
“Lexy” grew up in West Carrollton, Ohio, the daughter of a mother who is an interior designer and a father who was a rising star in auto sales. The family spent two years in East Lansing, Mich., when he bought a dealership there.
But they returned to Ohio when he decided to use his business skills in a different calling. He is currently executive pastor of SouthBrook Christian Church in Miamisburg.
Gomez learned how to play piano and guitar at a young age from her father and loved to tag along with him and her older brother and sister as part of the family band Grow. She soon became a member, and the group is now called Alexis Gomez and the Mad River Band.
“We played anywhere we could, and it evolved into bigger and bigger things,” she said.
Gomez also fell in love with cars, working on them with her father and brother.
“I rebuilt my first car when I was 15,” she said. “We took an ’85 Mustang convertible apart. The block was cracked, so we had to buy a new engine and then put it all back together. When me and my dad hang out these days, we often go work on the car.”
She also likes to go four-wheeling on the trails of her family’s four-acre property in Centerville.
“Growing up I always had four-wheelers,” she said. “It’s so much fun. In the wintertime, we hook a sled to it.”
Gomez attended Centerville High School, where she played volleyball, basketball and softball. But she reached a sports/music crossroads when she was 17.
“I felt like I could always play sports for fun and really wanted to focus on music,” she said. “So my senior year I started really doing more music stuff, getting involved with my family band.”
“American Idol” began airing on Fox in 2002 and has become one of the most successful shows in the history of American television.
The goal of the singing competition is to find new solo recording artists, with the winners ultimately being determined by viewers who vote by telephone, text or on the Internet. The show has launched the careers of stars such as Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Daughtry, David Cook and Clay Aiken.
Gomez auditioned for “American Idol” in Columbus during the show’s bus tour in July. Then there was a two-round audition in Kansas City in August, when she sang the country song “Little White Church” by Little Big Town. The second-round audition was broadcast on Jan. 14.
Gomez advanced to Hollywood thanks to judges Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr. That episode will air the first week of February.
The field will continue to be pared down until about 30 contestants remain. They will perform on the live show, with viewers picking the winner.
It’s Gomez’ third try at “Idol.” She didn’t make it past the first round on her initial try. The second time she made it to the celebrity judges, but not Hollywood.
“If I look at that, I see progress,” she said.
She decided to come to Wright State because she wanted to be close to her family and continue to sing with the band and work on her music.
Gomez, who is Mexican and whose grandfather still lives in Tijuana, elected to major in Spanish.
“Spanish was something as a kid I was so intrigued about and developed a huge passion for,” she said. “So at Wright State I wanted to get in touch with my heritage and my culture even more.”
Gomez graduated in May with a bachelor’s in Spanish. She eventually plans to get her master’s degree and teach Spanish.
“I’ve always cared a lot about my grades and my schooling,” she said. “I’m the first person in my family to graduate from college. I’m really proud of that accomplishment.”
Gomez, who lived both on and off-campus during her Wright State days, says the environment was what she loved best about the university. She says there were other musicians living on the floor of her dorm, and they would all get together and write music.
“Wright State for me was just the perfect fit,” she said. “It put me in a place where I could focus on my grades, but I could still have music as a part of something I was doing with school. It was great.”
For the time being, Gomez has put her future schooling on hold to focus on “Idol.”
“Right now, every single day, I’m just trying to practice,” she said. “I think of songs I want to do.”
At the same time Gomez is keeping up with her Spanish. She is currently tutoring two home-schooled children and one from Centerville schools.
Gomez says being a singer and songwriter is her number one dream right now.
“At the same time, I’m a realistic person; I know how big that dream is,” she said. “So if in three or four years I can walk away and say ‘I gave my all to music and I tried my hardest and hey it didn’t work out,’ then I’m going to be thrilled, ecstatic to come back and be a Spanish teacher.”
Wright State is engaged in a $150 million fundraising campaign that promises to further elevate the school’s prominence by expanding scholarships, attracting more top-flight faculty and supporting construction of state-of-the-art facilities. Led by Academy Award-winning actor Tom Hanks and Amanda Wright Lane, great grandniece of university namesakes Wilbur and Orville Wright, the campaign has raised more than $110 million so far.