Music man

The 25-year-old Conway resident is traveling the country, writing and performing music with his friend, Kris Allen.

“I remember the moment when it became a real dream,” Mills said. “It actually happened twice for me. The first time, I was watching VH1’s Top 100 bands. It got to The Beatles at No. 1, and it was playing through their music. You could tell how much it had impacted people. At that moment, I knew that’s what I wanted to do.

“Then five to six years ago, God really turned my life around through some hard circumstances. Music was an outlet for me. I was growing back towards God and also throwing myself into music.”

Mills and Allen have been playing music together for four years. The duo first met musically through Chi Alpha at the University of Central Arkansas. A year ago, they started writing and recording together.

Then this little thing called American Idol happened. Mills and Allen tried out together with Kris’ brother, Daniel, but Kris was the only one to pass through all the rounds of auditions, and the rest is history.

When Allen came back to Little Rock in July for the Idols Live Tour, he talked to Mills about the possibility of joining his band.

“I flew out to Los Angeles around early October,” Mills said. “I spent two weeks out there going through the audition process. It was a pretty crazy time being with so many really good musicians. I would go in as a guitarist and be paired up with a drummer and bassist, and we would play the same Muse or Led Zeppelin song over and over again.”

Mills initially auditioned as a guitarist, but he eventually auditioned as a pianist, too, to show his versatility.

“I wasn’t really too freaked out about it,” Mills said. “I just kept thinking that whatever happens, happens. I was focused on just playing, practicing, being myself and having fun. I’m really thankful to have this opportunity. I had a lot of people praying for me back home.”

Mills isn’t just in Allen’s band. He also received co-writing credit for a song – “Is It Over” – on Allen’s debut album.

“That was a funny deal,” Mills said. “We had written a lot of music together before Idol, and our goal was to write some songs together for the album. It was difficult, though, because of his schedule. I had written the chorus to ‘Is It Over,’ but I had no verses. One day Kris was working with Mike Elizondo, who produced a lot of the album. Kris was playing him a verse he had come up with, but he had no chorus. It was the same key as my chorus. Kris put them together, and the producer loved it.

“Having a song on the album is a huge blessing for me. It’s first and foremost what I want to do – write songs. Our long-term goal is to have albums that are completely written by the two of us because people can relate to that.”

For the past few months, Mills has toured the east coast with Allen, playing on The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien and Live with Regis and Kelly.

“Sometimes we’ll grab each other and be like ‘Is this really happening,’” Mills said. “It is a dream come true, but at the same time we realize that our lives can’t be centered on it. People have a glitz and glammer idea of it, but we’re still just living. If you don’t have friends, family and a good church around you, none of it is really going to matter.

“The excitement is in the long run – not so much about being on Conan or stuff like that. We’re excited about being able to make the best music that we can make. Putting out really great music that will be around for a long time and move people is our goal. All that other stuff is fun, but it’s just icing.”

Mills isn’t being seduced by the bright lights of the big cities. He’s still got a special place in his heart for Conway and the 501.

“The scenery here is beautiful,” Mills said. “If you grow up here, you might not appreciate it. When you leave, you get it. After a week in LA, I come home and want to hug a tree.

“I grew up loving dinosaurs, and my girlfriend, Katy Barber, gave me this little orange dinosaur figurine a long time ago. I keep it with me when I’m on the road, and I put it on my keyboard when I play. You could see it on the Conan and Good Morning America performances. It calms me down and helps me remember home.

“I always had this dream. I always thought it was a possibility that something great could happen. I’ve always believed that God has a great life planned for me, however it plays out. I’m a dreamer.”