Is ‘American Idol’ winner ready for his biggest crowds yet at the Kentucky State Fair?

·7 min read
David McClister

Last summer at this time, Noah Thompson already had an audience. It was modest in size, but devout and somewhat exclusive. It wasn’t found in a concert hall or honky tonk, either. No, Thompson’s fanbase consisted of his construction crew co-workers who encouraged the 20-year old Louisa native to literally whistle while he worked.

“Yeah, that happened just about every day,” he said. “They would drive me nuts. We would be working but they got me to sing at the same time.”

You could say a solid serving of good fortune has expanded his audience since then.

After winning the 20th season of “American Idol” in May, the Lawrence County singer became an instant sensation. Appearing weekly on the TV competition program offered immediate national exposure, but now career work begins with recording sessions and touring possibilities. The latter offers him his Louisville debut by way of an opening set for fellow Kentucky country celebs John Michael Montgomery and Walker Montgomery at the Kentucky State Fair on Aug. 24. (Thompson will also perform in Hazard on Sept. 17 as part of the Black Gold Festival.)

“I think I’m still adjusting,” Thompson said by phone last week. “At this moment, though, is when I think shows are really going to start happening. Now is when I get to start becoming a touring artist. I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be fun.

“It’s a life change. I’m gone more than I normally would be from family and everything. It’s different, but it’s a good change. It’s for a good reason. It’s for a positive thing. I’m just rolling with it, man.”

From Southern rock to country music

Growing up in Lawrence County brings with it the opportunity to become part of a mammoth music legacy. The region has been producing major name country-rooted artists for generations, from Ricky Skaggs to Tyler Childers.

“Ricky, Tyler and Chris Stapleton (a Lexington native who grew up in nearby Johnson County) … I’ve always admired those guys just because of where we come from. They made it out of there. I’ve always looked up to them in that way. They’re definitely big inspirations for wanting to pursue music. I grew up listening to those guys.”

Much of Thompson’s most direct musical influence, though, was found at home, whether it was through the various musical genres he discovered on his own or the electric sounds his father offered as a working musician.

“I don’t think I had a specific genre that was a favorite as a kid. I grew up listening more to rock than anything. My dad was in a Southern rock band, so I listened to (Lynyrd) Skynyrd and all those guys. Since I grew up with a dad who was always playing music, I’ve always had music in my ear. My dad is definitely one of my biggest inspirations.

“I went over more to country right around the time I started working with the boys on the construction crew back home for the past two years. They were always listening to Eric Church or whoever, so I kind of moved over to that. That’s how I went on to the show as a country artist.”

Auditioning for Katy Perry, Luke Bryan, Lionel Richie

“The show,” of course, was “American Idol.” Curiously, Thompson didn’t seriously consider auditioning until a friend did it for him.

“We were at work and a buddy of mine was going through his phone to see when they were having auditions. He got on and signed me up and we just kind of went with it, seeing what would happen. But we definitely didn’t expect to win it. Everything kind of just happened. He signed me up for it and we just went from there.”

As has been the case with the past few sessions of “American Idol,” initial auditions were conducted online. Then came auditions for the show’s producers and finally the televised competition hosted by Ryan Seacrest and overseen by the all-star judge panel of Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan.

Singing online was a breeze for Thompson, but he admitted his nerves got a serious workout when the transition was made to in-person performances for the judges.

“With the on-line auditions, you just kind of sit there and talk to them over the phone, laptop, whatever, answer a few questions and then you sing a song. If you make it through that, they put you through to another person and you sing for them. It just goes from there. If you make it through all that, then you start singing for the judges.

“Oh man, singing for them was pretty intense. I was definitely a nervous wreck going in there. You sing for the producers to kind of get ready before you go in to sing for the judges. Yeah, it was a big difference from singing over a phone to jumping into a room with three of the most famous people in the world. That was definitely a little more nerve-wracking.”

Recording, touring now his career

Winning “American Idol” serves as a prestigious career introduction. But now, the serious work starts. Initial recordings have yielded the singles “One Day Tonight” and “Stay,” the latter a cover of the 2013 Rihanna R&B hit that Thompson performed early into the “American Idol” competition. Subsequent recordings with producer Jimmy Robbins (whose client list includes Keith Urban, Kelsea Ballerini, Maren Morris and Mickey Guyton) is ongoing. Thompson said the resulting music may soon surface on an EP recording.

And if adjusting to life as an “American Idol”-turned-country star isn’t enough, Thompson is also juggling parenthood. He is the father of a 14-month-old son.

“When your life changes like this in the blink of an eye, it’s going to take a toll on you for a minute. It did for me. When I came home, it took me a minute to say, ‘I can play music for the rest of my life.’ It was actually hard for me to not to wake up and want to go to work first thing, just because that’s what I’ve been so used to.

“I’m still figuring it out. I think I’m always going to be figuring it out for the rest of my life. What I do know is I can really build something for my kid and my family by doing this. I would much rather be doing this than doing construction, that’s for sure.”

Kentucky State Fair

What: The Texas Roadhouse Free Concert Series at the Kentucky State Fair is free

When: All shows from Aug. 18 through Aug. 27 begin at 8 p.m. with gates opening at 6:30. The Aug. 28 performance will start at 4 p.m. with gates opening at 2:30.

Where: Each concert will be held on an outdoor stage in Parking lot L of the Kentucky Exposition Center, 937 Phillips Lane in Louisville.

Tickets: Though all shows in the series are free, each requires admission to the State Fair. Advance tickets for admission and parking are $10 combined. At the gate, parking and admission will be $10 each. You can also buy tickets online in advance.

Online: kystatefair.org.

Aug. 18: Russell Dickerson/Tyler Booth

Aug. 19: Con Funk Shun/Midnight Star

Aug. 20: Black Stone Cherry/Ayron Jones

Aug. 21: The Oak Ridge Boys/Lorrie Morgan

Aug. 22: We the Kingdom/Anne Wilson

Aug. 23: Happy Together Tour featuring The Turtles, Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, The Association, The Buckinghams, The Vogues and The Cowsills

Aug. 24: John Michael Montgomery/Walker Montgomery/Noah Thompson

Aug. 25: Night Ranger/Noah Guthrie

Aug. 26: Trace Adkins/Brassfield

Aug. 27: Niko Moon/Alex Miller

Aug. 28: Lee Greenwood/Darryl Worley