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March 21. 2014 8:31PM

Mont Vernon's Preston continues to impress on "American Idol"


Mont Vernon musician/songwriter Alex Philbrick, who goes by the stage name Alex Preston, has a song featured on a CD compiled to honor victims of the Newtown, Conn. school shootings and will perform at an August tribute festival in Hartford, Conn. (NANCY BEAN FOSTER)

MONT VERNON — Paul Philbrick recalls the moment he and his wife sat down with their son and told him — against all common sense and their instincts — to put college on hold and follow his dream.

"I said, 'Alex, you've got to pursue this,' even though it went against the grain and logically, it went against everything I had been thinking up to that point," said Philbrick, of Mont Vernon.

Philbrick's son, Alex Preston, is capturing the hearts of American music fans as he continues his quest on "American Idol," and is now one of the top nine contestants.

It has been a long journey, but Preston's family is 100 percent supportive of him, as they knew for a long time that Preston was not going to give up on his dream of writing music and performing as a career.

"Every parent thinks their kid is the greatest, and honestly, there were times when we thought, 'holy crap, he is really good,'" said Philbrick. "But at the same time, you shake your head and you tell him to go to college, get an education, go to work and be self sufficient."

After spending some time in Nashville, Tenn., and then returning home to attend school at the University of New Hampshire, Philbrick said his son was still a little bit lost and was beginning to feel the pressure of the norm.

Preston had auditioned for the X-Factor and was not considered, but later competed in the 15 Seconds of Fame competition hosted by Mix 104.1 and took first place, giving him the opportunity to open up for Gavin DeGraw at MixFest last year.

"We couldn't imagine things getting bigger than that," said Philbrick. "That was so surreal."

On the heels of that was the "American Idol" competition — and Philbrick said he and his wife, Alice, knew this was the moment to encourage their son and persuade him to put it all on the line.

And that is exactly what Preston has been doing week after week on the Los Angeles stage, performing his own original work and taking on his own version of big songs like One Direction's "Story of My Life."

That performance took place live on Wednesday, when each of the three celebrity judges praised Preston for his work.

"You just hit the bullseye on the artistry target," Harry Connick Jr. told Preston, adding the 20-year-old from Mont Vernon is leading the pack of contestants and letting the world know what type of an artist he is — consistently each week.

Keith Urban agreed, telling Preston that he made the song his own, and that at this stage in the competition, the artists are really being set apart.

Jennifer Lopez, who danced in her seat throughout much of the performance, told Preston that he evokes greatness, and reminds her of Buddy Holly.

"It is such a huge song, and I wanted to do it justice," Preston told the cameras after taking the stage.

Philbrick and other members of Preston's family intend to fly back to California this coming week to spend some time with Preston, a Souhegan High School graduate whose real name is Alex Preston Philbrick.

"We are itching. We are going crazy," said the elder Philbrick. "I think it is at a pivotal point where they are all getting homesick, so we want to be there to sneak some time in."

While Preston often feels pressure to pick the right song, Philbrick said his son does not feel pressure while on the stage.

"There is something about him that seems to be drawing people in," said Preston's father, who added this amazing journey is just beginning.

Preston has already secured a spot on the show's summer concert tour.

khoughton@newstote.com


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