Jody Miller and the Aviators
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Jody Miller and the Aviators

Band Rock Country


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"The Road to Nashville"

The Road to Nashville

Jarod Grubb performs an original song, "The Montana Song," for judges during auditions for the 28th Annual Colgate Country Showdown at the Kalispell Center Mall. The top 25 performers will advance to a show at the Majestic Valley Arena on March 27 and 28. - Lido Vizzutti/Flathead Beacon

By Keriann Lynch , 03-23-09
Jody Miller’s first taste of performing live was last year on a temporary stage in the Kalispell Center Mall. Underneath a sign for JCPenney, he strummed his guitar and belted out a Gary Allan tune as shoppers stopped to listen and judges marked his score.

It was the first step toward hopefully making it to a stage in Nashville.

Samantha Guier digs into the vocals on "Born to Fly" by Sarah Evans during the Colgate Country Showdown auditions at Kalispell Center Mall.

“It’s a funny thing, being in the middle of a mall singing,” Miller, last year’s local Colgate Country Showdown winner, said. “But I figured I was playing all the time anyway, I may as well give it a shot in front of people.”

Each year, hundreds of Flathead Valley country music hopefuls like Miller converge on the Kalispell mall to audition for the Colgate Country Showdown, a national music talent search. There are contestants of all ages and types – soloists and bands, songwriters and cover artists.

Julie Bowerman, 15, leans on her guitar while waiting the audience before performing "White Horse" by Taylor Swift for a panel of judges during the Colgate County Showdown auditions.

“It’s a pretty casual atmosphere,” said John Michaels, a local radio personality with 106.3 FM The Bear, one of the event’s sponsors. “It’s not like ‘American Idol’ where they cut them down – we have to live with them.”

Twenty-five of those acts are chosen to advance to the final stage of the local competition, where they perform in front of more than 1,000 people at the Majestic Valley Arena. This year’s finals will be held on Friday, March 27 and Saturday, March 28. Up-and-coming national country star Katie Armiger will give a guest performance Friday night.

“For the first time, we get to have two contestants move on to the state level,” Michaels said. The state final will be held Aug. 1 at the Montana State Fair in Great Falls.

Similar events are playing out in other malls and at fairs across the country.

In its 28th year, the Colgate Country Showdown is country music’s largest talent search. Each spring, more than 50,000 people enter and compete in about 450 local talent contests like Kalispell’s. Winners advance to their respective state competitions where they perform at fairs and expositions for a $1,000 prize and the opportunity to advance to one of five regional finals.

Elijah Westbrook, 12, strums his guitar behind the stages set up at Kalispell Center Mall before performing an original song with his father, Ken Westbrook, and others during the Colgate Country Showdown auditions.

After months of narrowing down the contestants, the Showdown culminates with a televised national final at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tenn., where five acts vie for a $100,000 grand prize and the title.

It may not have the flash and following of reality TV contests like “American Idol,” but the Showdown’s list of former local, state and regional winners includes now famous performers like Brad Paisley, Garth Brooks, Tim McGraw, Martina McBride, Billy Ray Cyrus, Sara Evans and Miranda Lambert.

Kalispell has produced some of its own notable contestants, Michaels said, including one man, Michael Ulvila, who made it all the way to the finals and now plays professionally.

While Miller’s Showdown bid ended at the state finals last year, he still has plans to make it to Nashville.

After graduating with a business marketing degree from the University of Montana last year, Miller is working in Missoula and continues to develop his guitar playing and songwriting. He has recorded about a half-dozen of his own songs and, before his Showdown appearance, made it to the final 16 in Country Music Television's online music competition “Music City Madness.”

When his fiancée Katie Davis, also of Kalispell, graduates from UM’s pharmacy school, the couple plans to make the move to Tennessee together.

Gary Sweeney, left, performs "For the Good Times" by Ray Price for a sea of people during the Colgate Country Showdown auditions at Kalispell Center Mall. Visiting the Flathead from Vermont, Sweeney said he found out about the auditions the day before performing.

“I’m going to go and give it a shot, because otherwise, ‘What if?’ is something I’ll always have to think about,” he said.

But this year’s Kalispell Showdown contestants won’t have to worry about competition from Miller: His wedding is scheduled in Maui, Hawaii for the same week as the state contest.

“I wish everybody luck and wish I could be there, but I’ve got a pretty important commitment,” he said.

Colgate Country Showdown
Majestic Valley Arena, Kalispell
Friday, March 27 & Saturday, March 28
Doors open at 6 p.m. and the event starts at 7 p.m. both nights. Ticket prices at the door are $10 for adults, $8 for children 12 and under and seniors - Flathead Beacon

"Kalispell Native Makes Top 16 in National Contest"

Kalispell Native makes Top 16 in National Contest
Rising Star_Jody Miller

It’s not everyday you hear a story like this. Many musicians work their entire lives constantly taking lessons, practicing, and trying to get discovered. Well this hasn’t been the case for 20-year-old Jody Miller of Kalispell.

Miller who attends the University of Montana, majoring in International Business, has played very little in his life compared to other musicians. In seventh grade he recalls taking approximately 6 months of piano lessons but other than that, nothing. In high school he joined his church praise band at the Methodist Church in Kalispell and began playing guitar. He took a few lessons here and there from the band instructor but was self-taught.

“I have a good ear for it,” says Miller about playing. “I’m not much for structure learning.”

When Miller came to college, he didn’t even bother bringing his guitar. In fact he didn’t bring it until fall semester of his sophomore year. Being a little rusty, he re-taught himself and began writing music and lyrics. One day a friend called him up and told him to check out the Music City Madness contest on It required contestants to submit a video of them singing a song. Miller set up a video camera and recorded himself singing and playing a song he wrote earlier that semester. Out of 600 contestants, Miller was chosen as part of the top 64.

At the end of February the first round was open to fan voting. Miller passed the first round and was now in the top 32. Again an open online vote was conducted and Miller made it to the Top 16. He was eliminated this round but still received national exposure for a contest he decided to enter on a sudden whim.

“It was a cool opportunity with a lot of exposure,” says Miller.

Miller has taken a break from playing right now to focus on school but plans on playing this summer and getting a demo cd together. Friends and others constantly ask him if he has a demo out. A lady from Nashville, where the contest was held, is also asking for him to get a demo out.

Country music is his passion. He looks to artists like Dierks Bentley, George Strait and Rodney Atkins for influence. At a Dierks Bentley show last winter, Miller had the opportunity to meet Dierks and tell him that someday he hopes to sing on stage with him.

Until something happens, Miller plans to finish his education and keep the music fun. He believes that “you can’t force yourself into the music industry, it just needs to happen.”

Good Luck Jody!
- Flathead Living Magazine


On This Train LP



The Aviators are a group of musicians with varied backgrounds. A rock lead guitarist, hip-hop drummer, country front man, and a funky bass player creating their own style of music.