Tristen Gressett needs to start carrying a Sharpie.
The high-octane singer and guitarist from Alabama has achieved celebrity status over the past few months, thanks to a high-profile run on “American Idol.”
Gressett has been asked to sign cellphone cases, boots, foreheads and other body parts – OK, just “some arms” – and the Pell City teenager says he loves every minute of it.
“I went to the gas station today and got pulled over four times trying to pump my gas,” Gressett, 17, said in an interview with AL.com.
There’s delight in his voice, clearly distinguishable on the phone, as Gressett talks about meeting people who want to take selfies with him, get his autograph or just wish him well.
“There’s been so much love and support,” Gressett says. “Now is the best time. I got off the presses and off the TV screen.
Gressett made the ABC reality series Top 11 this year, leaving just before a cut that would have allowed her to return for Sunday’s Season 20 finale. (Another Alabama contestant, Kezia “Lady K” Istonia, made the Top 10 and is set to star in the three-hour episode.)
But Gressett says he has no regrets for his stint on “Idol,” where he earned accolades from all three judges, increased his public profile and developed a larger fan base.
“I feel amazing about the whole experience,” says Gressett. “The only thing is, I wish I could go back and start all over again.”
Judge Katy Perry, in particular, gave Gressett her stamp of approval, calling her flamboyant performances “freaky-deaky”, “authentic” and “real”.
“My friend, you always bring the drama,” Perry said, praising Gressett’s cover of Adam Lambert’s “Whataya Want From Me.” “You were doing something new, interesting and strange… You keep evolving. You just have the coolest, weirdest, funniest vibe. I’m so into it.
Gressett has cultivated a throwback stance on the TV series — with her rock star theatrics, sparkly capes, Stevie Ray Vaughan hat and statement jewelry — but for now her eyes are on the future. The teenager says he is determined to build a solid career in the entertainment industry song after song and show after show.
“I’m so excited,” Gressett said. “So many things are brewing and happening. So much is in store right now.
He plans to move to Los Angeles in August, for example, and has at least three concerts scheduled this summer in his home country. Gressett’s schedule includes the Pell City Hometown Block Party on June 4, a June 11 date opening for Taylor Hicks at the Alexander City Jazz Fest and a June 24 at the Helen Keller Festival in Tuscumbia. (Another former “Idol,” Cadence Baker from Florence, also plays at the festival.)
Gressett’s 2021 EP, “Act 1: The Poet,” is getting new plays on streaming services and he has new merchandise for sale through his website, including an eye-catching “Tristen Gressett Live” t-shirt.
“I wanted to be a little crazy and spontaneous with the merchandising,” he says.
Gressett is working on a book – “I’m into Superheroes and Fiction” – and is polishing up a new single, “The Show Is Over Now”.
“It’s kind of about my experiences on the show and what I’ve been through,” Gressett says. “It’s a collection of all my thoughts and experiences on the show.”
Although Gressett may seem like a wild man onstage, another side of his personality – thoughtful, humble and composed – is evident during a 40-minute phone conversation. The teenager, soon to graduate from Pell City High School, realizes that he is still a newcomer to the music business, with a lot of dues to pay.
The night he was eliminated from “Idol,” for example, Gressett went to his hotel room and immediately started making calls, trying to line up his next gig.
“The show is kind of its own separate world,” he says. “Basically, it’s a TV show. I feel amazing about the whole experience; it was like a music school. When you come off the show, you really have to start working on yourself as an artist. I feel like it’s time to start going out and doing more shows.
True to his word, Gressett worked on his stage mojo in May. He made an appearance with Paul McDonald at the Panoply Arts Festival in Huntsville earlier this month, headlined a concert at the Pell City Center for Education and Performing Arts and performed at the Creek Bank Festival in Leeds .
“The stage is my home,” says Gressett. “I feel like I was born to entertain people, and now I’m able to do it on a bigger scale. I just want to have bigger shows and release original music, and be myself, and have people engaged because of it.
His mother, Missie Gressett, remains his strongest supporter and biggest fan. (“We trust each other and we’re strong,” Gressett says.)
A move to California is next for Gressett, who hopes for a broad, lasting and influential career. In this regard, he draws inspiration from musical icons such as John Lennon, Tom Petty, Michael Jackson and Bob Dylan.
“Bob Dylan is probably my biggest songwriting influence,” says Gressett. “The poetic detail he gives to his songs is incredible. He’s such a complex thinker, and he can write such a complex song. I feel that something is missing in today’s music.
Gressett also expresses his admiration for Harry Styles, a pop chameleon who went from “X Factor” contestant to boy band phenom to global superstar and unyielding fashionista.
“I think he’s an absolute genius,” says Gressett. “I want to have the impact he had on the world. … I think the most honest artists are those who change, grow and evolve.
If you look at: The Season 20 finale of “American Idol” airs Sunday, May 22 at 7 p.m. CT on ABC. The top three singers – Noah Thompson, HunterGirl and Leah Marlene – will compete for the crown. The season’s top 10 singers will perform celebrity duets on the three-hour program, including Alabama’s Lady Kplanned to sing with Ben Platt.