A 2010 graduate of Lee High School, Taylor Ray Holbrook worked as a corrections officer and a lumberjack before posting a video of himself singing a Luke Bryan song online. Contributed photo.
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Lee County native Taylor Ray Holbrook received a golden ticket at the New York City "American Idol" auditions and moved on to the Hollywood round.
Pretty impressive for a young man who, up until about a year ago, said he had never considered a career in music.
But, after being let go from one job and then getting badly injured at his next job, Taylor says he began to look at his life differently.
Taylor, the 22-year-old son of Sandi Brewer and Tony Holbrook, grew up in the small Lee County community of Dot, and says most of the men in his life, including his father and stepfather, were coal miners.
"Everybody worked in the coal mines, but I saw the coal mines shutting down when I was coming out of high school. I didn"t want to leave my area because I love Lee County. I decided I"d go to college and do something different," he said.
After graduating from Lee High School in 2010, Taylor went to Mountain Empire Community College in Big Stone Gap, graduating with two degrees — one in police science and the other in corrections. His plans were to work in the prison system.
"When I graduated from college I went straight into a super maximum prison as a corrections officer. But I lost my job and my life was spiraling downward. I really didn"t know what I was going to do with my life at this point. I was at a low spot. I"ve got these two degrees and nothing I can do with them," he said.
During high school, Taylor worked as a lumberjack and says after losing his job at the prison, he returned to his logging work.
"But one day on the project ... I was by myself ... the other guys had gone to get another load in the mountains. My chainsaw kicked back and I cut my leg almost in half with the chainsaw. I missed my bone by about one-eighth of an inch," he said.
Following a surgery that required more than 70 stitches, Taylor once again found himself not working.
"I was off work for six weeks and didn"t really have anything to do," he said.
While recovering at home one night, Taylor says he stumbled across an app on his phone called Vine. Vine is a popular video sharing service that allows users to record and edit five-to six-second-long looping video clips, and to "revine," or share others" posts with followers. Some Vines are revined automatically based on what is popular. The videos can then be published through Vine"s social network and shared on other services such as Facebook and Twitter.
"I slapped up a video of myself singing "Do I" by Luke Bryan and it went viral overnight," Taylor said.
Taylor says when he woke up the next morning he was a Vine celebrity.
"I had 30-some thousand followers. I had all this support from these fans," he said.
Taylor quickly found himself popular on other social media networks such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instragram. He currently has almost 700,000 followers on social media.
He says it didn"t take long for music producers to see his videos, too.
"They started contacting me, wanting me to work with them," Taylor said.
Taylor also got the attention of "American Idol," the long-running singing competition show that airs on FOX.
"I had no intention of auditioning for "American Idol." But I got a phone call one day from a casting agent with the show and they said they needed a "country boy." The nearest city to me at that time for auditions was New York City. It was a 14-hour drive in a rental car with my dad. That was his first time seeing a city. So, there we were up in New York City, where nobody could understand me or my dad," Taylor joked.
Taylor says he sang "What Are You Listening To" by Chris Stapleton for his audition.
Like last year, this season"s judges are Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick, Jr. The day of Taylor"s audition, however, Urban was away on family business. Former "American Idol" winner Adam Lambert was sitting in for Urban. All three judges said "yes" to sending Taylor on to Hollywood.
"Jennifer Lopez was just the most beautiful creature I have ever seen. She looks like a hologram! She didn"t look real," he said. "That was on a Wednesday and on Thursday night they flew a camera crew to Lee County and on Friday we filmed my house, the area. We filmed where I used to work as a lumberjack."
Although, "American Idol" opted not to air Taylor"s audition, he says he is still grateful for the experience and hopes his fans will get to see more of him during the Hollywood episodes, which will start airing Feb. 4.
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In the meantime, Taylor has been in Nashville, writing songs. One song in particular Taylor is excited about is called "Coal Town."
"It"s a song not just from a coal miner"s point of view, but the people who live in these coal towns and the businesses that are impacted by the coal industry. I can"t wait to get it out," he said.
You can follow Taylor on all his social media accounts by searching for "Taylor Ray Holbrook."