Simon Cowell compared Tamyra Gray's performance of "A House is Not a Home" to Whitney Houston and Celine Dion during American Idol's premiere season in 2002. But the Idol finalist didn't let it go to her head.
"I didn't think it was that good," says Gray from her home outside Los Angeles. "I was telling myself what to do and what not to do. I was trying to be perfect. There was a time I could not stop thinking while I was singing."
That time has passed for the 36-year-old Gray, who followed up her Idol success by appearing in the TV drama Boston Public and with stints on Broadway in Rent and Bombay Dreams. Gray comes to Playhouse Square Feb. 9-21 with the touring cast of If/Then at the Connor Palace Theatre. The contemporary musical follows two parallel life paths of Elizabeth, a modern woman restarting her life in New York City. Gray, who portrays Kate, a schoolteacher and Elizabeth's neighbor, talks with us about the musical, her experiences on Idol and balancing career and family.
Q. What attracted you to your role in If/Then?
A. My particular character follows the laws of the universe — that life is meant to be enjoyed now. It's an interesting story of how the choices we make affect everyone's lives and how intuition will never lie to you. I am the free spirit of the musical. The character parallels with my own life. I've always had the motto of following wherever the wind's blowing.
Q. You finished fourth during the first season of American Idol. What was that experience like?
A. I made some great friendships that I still have today. I've written songs for Kelly [Clarkson], and we've gone on vacations together. [The show] was a huge adjustment for me, and I was afraid it was too much, too fast, too soon. I was away from every single person I knew. I was buckling.
Q. If/Then explores the "what ifs" of life. Do you ever wonder what would have happened if you had won American Idol?
A. I do wonder, but I think the best choice was made. I don't know if I would have been as graceful as Kelly was.
Q. After a five-year hiatus from singing and acting, will touring be a difficult adjustment for you?
A. My daughter, Sienna, is 5 years old and she asked me, 'When are you going to work so I can hang out with daddy?' I've never been in a touring musical before. I'm excited. It will be brand-new and fresh in each city.