First Posted: 2/14/2008

ELIDA — Garrett Haley has always enjoyed singing. Pursuing a career in music has been a dream. It’s now a dream the 17-year-old from Elida is living.Haley, a junior at Elida High School, is among the top 24 singers in the “American Idol” competition. He is one of 12 males and 12 females who made it through “Hollywood week” of the Fox reality show. Next up for the contestants: packed theater performances and live results show featuring America’s vote.“I’m just enjoying every moment,” Haley said. “It’s been an opportunity of a lifetime. I’m just soaking it all in.”A member of jazz choir and chamber choir at Elida High School, this was the first year Haley was eligible to audition for the show. He wasted no time, auditioning in San Diego, the first city to hold auditions for the seventh season of “American Idol.”“I walked in and my nerves went away,” Haley said of his first audition before the show’s judges. “Before I went in, I was very nervous. Once I started to sing the nerves turned into adrenaline.”Emotions ran high during “Hollywood week,” Haley said. All the contestants were feeling the pressure of battling for the two dozen spots. It was more than worth it when he heard the news, he said.“It’s a yes, dude. You’re going on, dude,” judge Randy Jackson told Haley in a clip from the show posted on YouTube. “Be happy, stay happy, baby.”Haley beamed as the news was delivered.“When Randy told me, it was like an unbelievable feeling,” Haley said. “I was so happy. I had a permanent smile on my face after that.”Haley said he’s been singing since he was between the ages of 5 and 8. The Elida teenager agrees with the judges’ assessment that this year’s top 24 is the most talented yet.“Like Simon (Cowell) said, it’s the strongest 24 they’ve ever had. We definitely have a lot of talent,” Haley said. “But, we’re all very close. We’re all like one big family now.”It hasn’t taken long for Haley to pick a favorite judge among Jackson, Cowell and Paula Abdul.“Simon,” he said with a laugh. “He’s brutally honest.”Word of Haley’s accomplishment has spread quickly. There are already fan sites dedicated to him on Web sites like MySpace. He’s also had plenty of support on his “American Idol” contestant page.“We are so excited back here in Elida,” a poster identified as ETownMom said. “Wishing you the very best. See it … Believe it … and become it! The next American Idol!”Haley said he has one piece of advice.“Be true to who you are. If you have a dream, pursuit it,” he said. “I’m enjoying every moment pursuing mine.”

Elida teen following dream, lands in ‘Idol’ top 24 Elida teen following dream, lands in ‘Idol’ top 24