Path to stardom: RHS graduate finds his passion in performing
FRANKLIN LIVING SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER 2023
“I really didn’t know where I was going to fit in or what my place in the world might be,” explained Avery Guinn, recalling his mindset prior to discovering a passion for performing while a freshman at Russellville High School. From that first foray into performance art, through his graduation in 2021, to today, Guinn has continued along a path to stardom, dipping his feet into a variety of performance styles.
Russellville City Schools theatre director Patrice Smith was the one to encourage Guinn’s participating in the school system’s drama programs. She said she saw something special in Guinn right away. “I could tell there was more to him than just book smarts – that he had creative intelligence,” Smith said. “I saw a little bit of myself in him. I had people encourage me along the way, and I love to be able to do that for my students. So, he got in there, and he was a natural … He’s not only a great actor, but he’s also an awesome singer. He’s a musician, a writer and an artist. It’s wonderful to have been able to see him grow and continue to grow over the years.”
Guinn said while a lot of people are stymied by stage fright when it comes to public performance, that’s not so for him. His first time taking the stage, “all sense of anxiety and uncertainty melted away for me. After doing that a few times, going on stage and being able to take an audience out of reality when they walked through those doors, I realized that performing is my reason for getting out of bed in the morning. I felt like it gave me a purpose, one that I thoroughly enjoyed.”
He said performing is an especially fulfilling creative outlet. “I go on stage, and I don’t have to deal with being Avery 24/7,” he quipped. “I can just embrace my character, or when I’m playing a concert or whatever I’m doing, I can embrace the music. I just really love the idea of people coming to watch performers. Whether they know it or not, it’s a form of escape, even if just for a little while, for the performers as well as the audience. We go and watch performers because it takes us out of reality, and we get to actually enjoy ourselves.”
His first few shows with RCS included “Shrek the Musical,” “Frozen” and “Guys and Dolls.” After graduating from high school, however, he said he has worried about how he would support himself to continue down the path of performing.
“I worked on some backups, just in case, including welding jobs, working behind a desk and working in a warehouse,” he explained. “Doing the exact same thing every day with no creative outlet felt very dismal to me, and so I decided to start doing performances around the Shoals area, the first of which wound up being playing Beast in ‘Beauty and the Beast.’” Guinn said his 6-foot-2 height, long hair and bass voice have led to him “being a villain most of the time,” but that’s something he really enjoys. “Playing a villain or a comedic relief character, you have set rules inside the character for how they might act and what they might say, but with characters like that, you’re really able to let loose and make it your own, and I really enjoy that. I find myself enjoying even serious character roles.”
He has since performed in several plays in the Shoals area, including “Tuck Everlasting,” for which he received a Stanley Award, “The Drowsy Chaperone,” “Side By Side” and “Into the Woods.”
“It was such a pleasure to have Avery perform one of our featured roles in this year’s SummerStock production of ‘Into the Woods,’” praised Christie Britten, executive director of the Tennessee Valley Art Association. “He is absolutely a born performer. He is dedicated to the work and approaches it with sincere openness at each phase of the process.”
Macy Ladner has worked with Guinn as a director, as well as alongside him as a performer, in productions in the Shoals area. “Avery is the most positive, fun and joy of a person to be around,” she explained. “He’s so hardworking, and he was so easy to direct. Always on time, prepared and so much fun as a performer. He’s up for anything, and I’m so proud of him and excited for his future.”
During Guinn’s time at Northwest Shoals Community College after high school, he stretched his skills. “I gave Avery private voice lessons, including helping him learn to achieve the sound he wants without damaging his voice, and he was one of my choir students,” explained Jonathon Howard Romero, NWSCC choir director. “He’s incredibly hardworking, humble, and he goes out of his way to help others. He did the choral part and show choir, and I’d find him in the choir room sometimes, playing on the piano and singing, either some of his original works or some of his own arrangements of well-known pieces.”
Guinn has also embraced some performance opportunities at Arx Mortis in Killen, playing a creepy character with an accordion. He also writes music and plays piano and acoustic guitar, and he sings. He’s been a guest singer for the Kerry Gilbert Band three times, as well as performing with the KGB elsewhere.
“Kerry is one of the first people that ever put me on stage, and he is definitely one of the best people I’ve ever met,” Guinn explained. “He’s a genuine person, and he is just a wonderful, supportive human being, as well as extremely talented. He is crazy talented. He’s not a person that just blows smoke. He’ll tell you stuff straight, and it’s hard to even put into words how great of a guy he is. If I grow to be half the man he is, I’ll be happy.”
People might have most recently seen Guinn performing on stage at the Watermelon Festival with the Velcro Pygmies – not his first time to perform with them. “I sang with them when I was in high school,” Guinn explained. “They came as part of a Reach and Teach program, and they asked some teachers to pick one or two students to come up on stage and sing with them.”
Smith said the band has inspired “tons of kids,” not just to do music but “to be awesome in their own way.” “I think when Avery saw them up close and personal in high school, with the outrageous hair and outfits and all the lights and sounds and everything, a lightbulb went off, and he realized he could absolutely do this – be a performer on stage,” Smith said. “They gave him the opportunity to perform in front of his school, and he was the hero of the day. People that didn’t know his name saw his talent, his spirit and his energy.”
It was an experience Guinn said has made a huge difference in the trajectory of his life, improving his confidence and reinforcing what he had already learned: that his passion is in performing.
“These moments are oftentimes very profound for the student, as was the case for Avery,” noted the band’s lead singer, Cameron Flener. “It gives them the opportunity to see what it feels like to perform on stage, and anyone with the courage to actually climb on stage and perform in front of their peers demonstrates a willingness to do what it takes.
“He’s pursuing that passion,” Flener continued, “and based on his perseverance, I am confident he will realize his dream. Our program is giving students like Avery all across the country an opportunity to explore those outlets and set a course to fulfill their dreams.”
Guinn had stayed in touch with the band after that high school performance. When he contacted them to find out how to get a ticket to a show they were doing in Florence the night before their Watermelon Festival show, they invited him to sing with them again, in Florence and in Russellville the next day. Performing with them for the festival in Russellville brought him some degree of hesitation, as it meant presenting a side of himself a lot of his hometown people hadn’t met yet – but, as he described previously, any anxiety he felt melted away as soon as he started performing.
“The Velcro Pygmies are some of the nicest people I have ever met,” Guinn said. “They’re very supportive of people that want to go down the path of performing. They genuinely believe in you, and if they say they believe you have a future in performing, they really mean it. Not only are they great performers, they’re also wonderful human beings, and they have really boosted my confidence.”
Guinn said their encouragement helped him find the confidence to try out for bigger things. Aug. 23 he found out he’s been selected to compete on this season of “American Idol.” The news comes after he made it through all three rounds of executive auditions, cautiously optimistic about what that could mean. He performed his own arrangement of “Wayfaring Stranger” and Elvis Presley’s “If I can Dream.” “They told me my song choice and singing style were not something they get every day,” he said.
“He’s a natural, and the reason is that this is where he’s supposed to be,” Smith praised. “When you find where you’re supposed to be, it just really fits, and he happened to be one of those people lucky enough and gutsy enough to find it really early. Performing is where he can truly be himself. When you find that place, it’s the most comfortable, magical feeling. You can read on his face that he’s a natural at this. He’s not questioning or doubting, he’s performing. He’s so talented at many different things, and it’s just really neat to see all sides of him as a performer. He’s a phenomenal singer, including as a choral singer.”
“He’s extremely passionate,” Romero agreed. “He lives and breathes music and performing. When he is on stage, he’s able to just shine, and that’s where he’s really in his element.”
Currently Guinn is living in St. Florian with friends from Arx Mortis.
“I’m trying to stay open to any and all of performing because I don’t really want to put myself in a box and close myself off from other opportunities, so if it’s possible for me to do it all, that’s what I’m going to reach for,” he said. “Whatever path this takes me down, I just want to perform. That’s what I really love.”
“Performing has brought meaning to my life, and if I’m able to do that for the rest of my life, I’ll be happy, rich man or not.”