Martins Ferry native Jeremy Leonard laughed when he was asked if he'd ever been to the West Coast.
"The furthest west I've ever been is Nashville, Tennessee," Leonard said during a phone interview earlier this week.
That all changed Saturday, however.
Leonard and his fiance Dianna Bookwalter boarded a flight from Port Columbus International for Los Angeles for the Grammy Awards.
The Class of 2000 Martins Ferry graduate won an all-expense paid trip to tonight's show, which will be held at Staples Center in downtown L.A., by virtue of winning the "Golden Voice to the Grammy's" contest, which was an American Idol-type singing contest through WNCI 97.9 in Columbus.
The contest was named in conjunction to the discovery of Ted Williams, who was the homeless man in Columbus, who was discovered by WNCI and proceeded to gain national acclaim in the weeks thereafter.
On his way home from his full-time job as a kindergarten teacher in suburban Columbus, he heard a radio ad for the "Golden Voice to the Grammy's" contest.
Since he re-located to the state capital to pursue his dream of becoming an R&B singer, Leonard was immediately intrigued.
Some of his friends were equally intrigued because Leonard indicated he received several text messages, wondering if he had heard the information for the ad.
"I got home that night and immediately sent a video and a track," Leonard said. "I got a call the next day from a guy responsible of picking the competitors telling me that I had been chosen."
From there, the radio stationed called him and asked him to be one of the 16 contestants for the contest, which was determined by a voting process by the listeners.
The performances were done on-the-air, live and according to Leonard, each contestant knew his or her fate before he or she left the station.
After several days of singing and advancing, Leonard found himself in the finals against a female singer, who Leonard thought was exceptional throughout the contest.
In the finals, which were held on Jan. 31, Leonard sang "Human Nature" by Michael Jackson.
"I knew I had sang well and I thought I had a pretty good chance, but you never know what the public is going to think," Leonard admitted. "Plus, the girl I was against was really good, so I knew it was going to be tough."
After the contest, the radio station accepted the first 101 callers to vote and Leonard reached 51 votes.
"When they told I got 51 votes, I couldn't believe I had just won this thing," Leonard said. "It really didn't hit me for a few days."
The prize package includes air fare, hotel and tickets to the Grammy's.
"We get to go down before the show and check out the celebrities coming in on the red carpet and everything, too," Leonard noted. "We're hoping that we're able to go to some of the parties afterward."
Leonard, an Ohio University graduate, began his singing career when he was young and he always had an interest in performing.
"I remember asking for like a microphone and drums when I was a little kid," Leonard explained. "In high school, I was asked to sing the National Anthem a few times at Ferry games, but I was into playing sports and didn't want to sing."
It actually took a dare from one his buddies before Leonard took the microphone for the Star Spangled Banner.
"People liked it and tried to convince me to go into recording," Leonard said.
After graduating from college, Leonard promptly moved to Columbus to find a teaching job as well as continuing his music career.
Shortly after the first of the year, Leonard released a new album, "Out of the Shadows," which he says has been received really well by the public.
"I really proud of this album," Leonard admitted. "I recorded it in my bedroom actually with my own equipment and then had someone mix it down."
Leonard, who is also a songwriter and writes a new song every two days on the average, has set a goal to eventually be able to do music fulltime.
The former Purple Rider football and track standout comes back to the Ohio Valley to perform quite often.
"I've really gotten a buzz from coming to the Ohio Valley to perform," Leonard said. "The valley has a lot of talented artists."
For more information on Leonard's music, his website is www.jlgotmusic.com
Staskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org