Note: This profile was published in the February 2020 issue of Centerville-Washington Neighbors, which is mailed monthly to 3,661 homes in Centerville and Washington Township. For those who do not receive the magazine, I am posting the cover feature here to read! Photos are by Ashley Mauro of Ashley Mauro Photography.
By Jeff Louderback
In the parlor of her parents’ early 20th century farmhouse, Alexis Gomez sits with a smile at an even older baby grand piano and plays for a casual group of family and friends. Barefoot and wearing weathered jeans, the self-described “Mexican, Hillbilly, Hippie” during her rise to acclaim on American Idol feels right at home, literally practicing what her father has long preached.
Today, she commands an audience with her engaging charisma, “girl next door” look, energy-infused stage presence and powerful vocals. Long before the 27-year-old Gomez reached the round of 16 on American Idol and became a professional musician in Nashville, she was so bashful that she dreaded taking the stage for the family’s band that frequently performed around southwest Ohio.
“For as long as I can remember, my dad encouraged me to sing in front of anyone and everyone, and anywhere, to share my love for music, and to become more comfortable with performing,” Gomez said. “Don’t be afraid to mess up because that really is how you learn. That’s what he taught me at an early age.
“When I was 8, he invited me to join the band at a homeless shelter. I was in the midst of singing “Love’s the Only House,” by Martina McBride, and I was painfully nervous,” she said. “When I got to the bridge, I forgot the lyrics. My dad helped me remember, but afterward I ran off the stage and was so embarrassed. After the song, though, a woman came up to me and said that song was going to change her life.”
That pivotal moment taught an elementary school-aged girl something that remains vivid in her mind today.
“I was always so afraid of saying something dumb that I never talked at all between songs on stage,” Gomez said. “It wasn’t until I started pushing myself outside of my own comfort zone that I started noticing myself getting better and more confident on stage. That also helped me gain an even deeper love for music, and an even greater belief in what I’m capable of accomplishing.”
Alexis Sarah Elizabeth Gomez stands 6-feet tall. She has a voice that offers hints of Dolly Parton and Carrie Underwood, pride for her Mexican heritage, a fondness for restoring classic cars and refurbishing old houses, and a closeness to her creatively gifted family that includes her dad, Solomon, her mom; her sister, Stephanie; and her mother Michael (who is Solomon Michael Gomez II). Beloved by fans who appreciate her vocal and instrumental talents, and her genuine ability to connect with her audience, she is simply “Aunt Lexy” to her three nephews (Easton, 8; Solomon Michael III, 5; and Lincoln, 3) and newborn niece, Mia.
As 2020 has arrived, and Gomez prepares to release new music and pursue an elusive record deal, she remains fueled with resilience and a belief in herself that was cultivated and is still encouraged by her close-knit family.
The story begins with Solomon and Angi. They were high school sweethearts who graduated from West Carrollton in the early 1980s. Angi is an interior designer, and Solomon owned an auto dealership before he pursued his calling as connections director at SouthBrook Christian Church. As a teenager, Solomon developed an interest in music, and to pay for guitar lessons, he worked at a small music shop where the owner was also the teacher. Eventually, the lessons reached an end, and young Solomon received discouraging feedback.
“She said I had no talent and should give up music. It crushed my spirit, so I put the guitar away,” he said. “A year later, I pulled the guitar out of the closet and started over.”
This time, Solomon became immersed in proving his teacher wrong. Solomon and Angi were married, and when Michael and Stephanie were old enough, they formed a family band. Alexis joined the group in elementary school, and – as Solomon likes to say – she “stole the show.”
Alexis plays piano, guitar and even dabbles with the banjo, bass, and drums. She has written music since she was a kid, and her first known musical performance was at a music store at the mall when she was only 3. She put on headphones and belted out the lyrics to Tim McGraw’s “I Like It, I Love it,” oblivious to how loud she was singing.
“My dad taught me to sing and play guitar when I was around 5. He played every instrument under the sun, sang and wrote, so naturally, I wanted to do everything he did,” Alexis said. “I sang my first real ‘gig’ when I was 8 at a coffee shop in downtown Centerville.
“As long as I can think back, having a career in music has been my dream,” she added. “If my dad would have given up when he was told he wasn’t good enough, just think of how different our lives would be. We are a close-knit family, and sharing music strengthens that closeness. When I get rejected, I think about my dad’s story for inspiration.”
Alexis thrived as a three-sport athlete (volleyball, basketball, and softball) at Centerville High School. Before her senior year, she decided to solely focus on music and the family band.
Alexis became enamored with American Idol when she watched the season when Carrie Underwood won. In 2011, while she was attending Wright State, Alexis traveled to Wisconsin for her first American Idol audition. It lasted all of 10 seconds before she heard “no” from producers.
Dejected, she returned home, kept performing, took vocal lessons and then returned the next year. That second time, she reached the celebrity judges. Randy Jackson started laughing 20 seconds into her audition, but Alexis maintained her composure, hearing another ‘no” at the end of the song. “I felt disappointed because my family drove all that way, and I wanted to have good news for them.”
When Alexis returned to Centerville this time, she decided to finish her Spanish education degree at Wright State, work on improving her on-stage performance and vocals, and continue performing anywhere in front of anyone and everyone. In 2014, she received an unexpected call from a Los Angeles-based American Idol producer.
“They told me they had followed me on YouTube, and said they were having an audition in Columbus,” Alexis said. “That was gratifying because they had rejected me two previous times, and now they were asking me to audition again. That reinforced my belief that I was making progress.”
The Columbus audition was a success, and Alexis was invited to Kansas City a week later to perform in front of the celebrity judges – Keith Urban, Harry Connick Jr. and Jennifer Lopez. She sang a spirited rendition of Little Big Town’s “Little White Church” and had Lopez praising her as “the complete package” while Urban said no once more. Connick Jr. called Alexis “very talented,” but he added that “there are lots of very talented country singers in the competition this year….and you are one of them.”
Season 14 started with 70,000 hopefuls auditioning. Alexis made the cut to the final 280 who were invited to Hollywood Week. She advanced to the round of 48 and showcased her Mexican culture with a song from the Band Perry in the show at the original House of Blues in Los Angeles. That catapulted her to the top 24, and then she found herself among the final 16 before her time on the show ended.
“Every day was such a crazy and blessed adventure. You get to see a lot on TV, but there is a lot you don’t see as well,” Alexis said, “Once we reached the final 16, our day consisted of waking up at our 5-star hotel, being driven to the TV studio around 8 am, when we started rehearsals. We worked with three different vocal coaches we worked with there. Between rehearsals, we met with Scott Borchetta (an American record executive and entrepreneur best known for founding Big Machine Label Group), completed countless interviews, met with wardrobe and stylists, and began to work our choreography for our next performance.
“It was fun to get a taste of what it would be like to have the lifestyle of an in-demand performer. By the end of the day though, we were exhausted,” Alexis added. “Our days lasted until 7 or 8 pm, and I returned to the hotel and crashed, hoping to get as much sleep as I could before it started all over the next morning.”
Though she did not win the competition, surely the national exposure from reaching the final 16 on American Idol would lead to a record deal, international tours and unlimited opportunities, or so Alexis thought.
Upon her return to Centerville, Alexis Gomez and the Mad River Band (which includes her dad, her brother, and her sister-in-law) spent the summer performing and opening for acts like Montgomery Gentry, Cassadee Pope and Old Dominion among other established names.
Fame can be short-lived, as Alexis discovered. You can go from an American Idol semi-finalist to forgotten on the national music scene in a matter of months. She moved to Nashville, hoping that her momentum would carry into a record deal, but she encountered more rejection.
“There are times when it’s easy to get discouraged and even want to give up, but I think those times are what really define and separate people who succeed and those who don’t,” Alexis said. “I’ve learned that rough stretches, and rejection, are inevitable in this business. You must have thick skin and maintain your inner-confidence when someone tells you no, and that you’re not good enough. I’m confident that someone will believe in my music, and in me, and tell me yes.”
In 2016 and 2017, she was a Top 10 Finalist in the Nash Next National Contest to find the country music’s next rising star.
“Every opportunity has been so life-changing, and there is nothing I love more than performing live,” she said. Getting to play the songs that I write and see a crowd sing along is a rewarding feeling.”
Alexis splits time between Nashville and Centerville. She performs at the legendary Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, a honky tonk located across the alley from historic Ryman Auditorium, several times a week. You can find her singing at writers’ roundtables, festivals, honky tonks, and churches among other venues. She even appeared with the United States Air Force Band of Flight at the Air Force Museum. She performs solo, with just her and her dad, and with the full family band.
When she is in Centerville, she stays at her parents’ home and has a studio in the adjacent cottage that once served as the workplace for Centerville’s first blacksmith.
Not only is Angi is an interior designer, but Solomon is a skilled carpenter and woodworker. They refurbished a 1940s farmhouse in Washington Township before buying the property that includes the former blacksmith’s shop, the farmhouse, and an old garage.
“There are happy houses, and there are sad houses,” Angi said. “The entire property had fallen into disrepair. They were sad houses that we transformed into happy houses.”
Angi and Solomon meticulously restored the farmhouse and cottage. They fully gutted the interior, salvaged as much as they could and brought in vintage materials to return both buildings to their original grandeur. Alexis is tackling a similar project in Nashville. With her boyfriend, she is rehabbing a historic house originally built in 1907. Over the last year, they have gutted the interior, rebuilt walls, hand-crafted a custom kitchen and refinished the floors.
Alexis shares an interest in some of her family’s other hobbies beyond music and home restoration. She fell in love with classic cars, restoring them with her father and brother.
“I rebuilt my first car when I was 15. We took apart an ’85 Mustang convertible,” Alexis recalled. “The block was cracked, so we bought a new engine and restored it.”
Alexis also helped rebuild a ’71 Torino. She even sold her four-wheelers, another childhood interest, to fund that project.
“I had four-wheelers throughout my childhood, but a ’71 Torino is a dream car,” Alexis said with a smile. “One day, I want to rebuild another Torino and keep it for myself.”
The hobbies are the perfect complement to her ultimate creative endeavor – becoming the first country music star with Mexican heritage.
“As an artist, I want to bring something a little different to Country music,” Alexis said. “This is where I weave some of my Mexican heritage into my music.”
2019 was a year that saw Alexis gain more momentum with new music and promising meetings with producers. She is working with a new manager and performs around the country when she is not in Nashville or Centerville. She debuted “First Date,” a single that was accompanied by her first music video.
“I feel like it embodies who I am as an artist. It’s fun, sassy and sends a good message about the importance of being a strong woman,” Alexis said. “I’m getting ready to release a song called ‘What is Love’
“It’s about learning what love truly represents,” she added. “When you have a beautiful example of what love can be like with my parents, and then you discover that love is not easy, it makes you realize just how special and rare true and pure love is.”
With a schedule that includes Nashville performances along with southwest Ohio and Midwest concerts with the Mad River Band, and appearances at venues across the nation as well, Alexis stays busy living her dream. True to her dad’s words that she first heard when she was a kid.
“I will perform anywhere, whether it is in front of five people, or 5,000,” she said. “It’s all about sharing my music with people who love to listen and sing along.”
Alexis is grateful for the American Idol experience, and she appreciates the disappointments and setbacks along the way, too.
“We all have gifts, and mine is music. It’s what God created me to do,” Alexis said. “The next step (of landing a record deal) will be especially fulfilling because it will represent a new chapter of success beyond American Idol. I learned from my dad’s story that resilience pays off when you have the belief to match your talent and drive.”