When he was 8 years old and living in Oak Forest, Kameron Ross and his family got some free concert tickets from one of their neighbors. So they went to the Astrodome to see country music star Shania Twain, who put on a rousing performance at the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo.
“He was like, ‘Mom, how do we get on that stage?’” recalled Ross’ mother, Bridgette Kalinowsky-Martinez. “I didn’t know what he meant at the time. He wanted to sing.”
More than 20 years later, Ross is still chasing the dream that materialized on that night in 1999. And at 30 years old, he’s closer than ever to realizing it.
Ross, a product of Oak Forest Elementary, Clifton Middle School and Waltrip High School, is a contestant on the NBC reality show “America’s Got Talent.” His twangy vocals, upbeat personality and humble attitude made a good impression on the celebrity judges during an audition that aired July 14, which earned Ross more appearances on the show and some praise from others in the entertainment business.
“America’s Got Talent,” which features comedians, dancers, magicians, musicians and other entertainers, airs at 7 p.m. on Tuesday nights. The winner of the weeks-long competition receives $1 million and, in Ross’ case, possibly a record deal.
It will be revealed on the July 28 episode whether Ross advances to the live shows, which start Aug. 11.
“It’s been amazing,” Ross said. “I’m extremely blessed to have this opportunity. A lot of times I’m left speechless, to see it unfold in front of you. I’ve been at it for so long and trying for so long.”
Beginning at age 16, Ross said he had tried at least 10 times to get on “America’s Got Talent” and similar reality shows for prospective entertainers, including “American Idol,” “Nashville Star,” “The Voice” and “X Factor.” But he never made it to the point where he had the chance to sing in front of a show’s celebrity judges.
Ross said he learned from each of those previous experiences, taking note of some of the feedback he received while fine-tuning his vocals, delivery and song selection. He also remained confident in himself and his singing ability, which he had been honing since shortly after attending that Shania Twain concert as a kid.
“I never gave up on it in that sense,” he said. “I didn’t take it personally if it didn’t work out that time. I knew that if it was meant to work out, it would eventually.”
Ross got a taste of being a performer while growing up in Oak Forest, playing events around Houston and in small East Texas towns when he was in middle school and high school. Among those gigs was singing outside of the former Grace Hart & Co. antique store, which is now AG Antiques, on 19th Street in the Heights.
Ross made a record as a 17-year-old, an achievement that was highlighted in The Leader.
“I was the bus driver through it all. We had some fun, that’s for sure,” Kalinowsky-Martinez said. “We’d load up the car on a Saturday morning, early, hit a gig Saturday night and drive back that night. He has an older sister and a younger sister, and the younger sister would make sure he had hits boots and his hat.”
Ross’ blossoming career hit a standstill, though, and he said he took a hiatus from music for a few years in his early 20s after attending college at Texas A&M. He said he took that time to “figure out who I was as a person,” including being openly gay.
His sexual orientation led to some roadblocks in the country music scene, Ross said during the July 14 episode of “America’s Got Talent,” which also contributed to his break from playing gigs. His mother said Ross moved to Oklahoma and then Dallas, where he resides now, working in the hotel industry and also coaching youth volleyball teams.
Ross started to pursue his country music dream again a few years ago, and now becoming a big-time performer is a realistic possibility. He said he hopes to inspire others to chase their goals, overcome their obstacles and remain true to themselves.
He said he looks up to Ty Herndon, a country musician who came out as gay in 2014, as well as Kacey Musgraves, Keith Whitley and Chris Young. Another one of Ross’ idols is country music icon George Strait, who made his first studio recording in the Heights.
Ross also was inspired by Twain, who he saw as a young boy thanks to some generous neighbors in Oak Forest.
“I would absolutely love to be that kind of (role model) for someone out there like me or in the same situation, to make sure they don’t give up on dreams like this,” Ross said. “I would hope that after people see my story that they can be encouraged to go for whatever they’d like to do and not let themselves or anything slow them down.”