Charley Jenkins</I>

Charley Jenkins went to Ricks College thinking he was going to join the wrestling team. But his mother had other ideas.

"My mom made me try out — really, literally, made me try out — for a performing group in college, kind of like the Young Ambassadors at BYU," Jenkins said. "And I really fell in love with it."

A decade later, Jenkins is about to make his national TV debut. The Roosevelt native and Murray resident is one of 12 finalists on "Nashville Star," the country music equivalent to "American Idol."

That's right. He lives in Murray, home of "Idol" runner-up David Archuleta. So, is there something in the water there?

"If there is, we'll drink more of it," Jenkins said with a laugh.

His rather unexpected love affair with singing and performing continued after he returned from an LDS mission to Chicago. After he received his associate degree at Ricks (now BYU-Idaho), Jenkins loaded up his truck and headed for Nashville. Within a year, he had a "great job down on Music Row at a song-publishing company. And I was just loving life," he told the Deseret News.

But family brought him back to Roosevelt when his father was diagnosed with cancer.

"When my dad got sick, I just left my job and came home, thinking I would just be home for a couple months. And I would have that job waiting for me when I got back."

His father died about a year later, and by then Jenkins had "started dating my wife-to-be, who lived in Murray. And, the next thing you know, here I am in Murray."

Jenkins married Murray High graduate Brooke; their daughter, Preslee (a variation on Elvis Presley), turned 2 on Thursday.

He lives in Murray, but Roosevelt is still home.

"I love everybody there," Jenkins said. "I know most everybody there. They're like family to me."

His friends and neighbors stepped up when he scraped together $15,000 to produce his first CD — which left him "scared to death."

"But I put it in stores out in Roosevelt, and within a month-and-a-half or so, I had all of my money back, just because of the community there supported me so much," he said. "Every chance I get, I tell everybody, 'I'm from Roosevelt, Utah. And I'm proud of that."'

Jenkins was working just down the road from where the contestants were staying when "Nashville Star" premiered in 2003. He became friends with Miranda Lambert, who finished third that season and has gone on to two Grammy nominations and a string of hits.

"I gained a lot of respect for (the show), watching her career take off," Jenkins said.

He tried out in Season 2 and "ended up making it through several tryouts ... but I was pretty green and I got cut."

"And with it being on NBC this year, I thought, 'You know what? I might send in a video and see what happens."'

That video got him invited to the auditions and, several rounds later, won him a spot among the 12 finalists. That, of course, made his wife happy.

"To be honest, when she knew I was going to gone for a while, the first thing she said was, 'Good. My house is going to be clean,"' Jenkins said with a laugh.

Actually, Brooke Jenkins was brought to tears.

"She said, 'Charley's dreams are my dreams,"'he said.

After five seasons on USA, "Nashville Star" moves to NBC Monday night (8 p.m., Channel 5) with a two-hour episode that will introduce the finalists. Billy Ray Cyrus is the host; Jewel (who grew up in Payson), producer John Rich and songwriter Jeffery Steele are the judges. The winner gets a recording contract and will perform at the Summer Olympics in Beijing.

Like "Idol," the "Nashville Star" finalists will be voted off by viewers. But even if he goes after next week's performance, Jenkins still feels as if he's a winner.

"Regardless of what happens, there's 45,000 people that tried out — I'm in the top 12. To me, that's a success," he said. "I'm not basing my career off of this show. This is a huge opportunity for me, and I don't want to blow it, but I've worked so hard for so many years to build even what I have now that if things don't go in my favor, I'll be OK.

"My ultimate dream is to have a successful career. I want to be able to have the opportunity to sing in front of people for many years. I don't want it to be something that comes and goes and that was my shot and I made my millions and whatever it is and now I'm retired. My deal is, I want this to be a real, solid career where I can do this for the rest of my life if I choose."


E-mail: pierce@desnews.com