Jason Michael Carroll's country music career began in secret. As a child, he had fond memories of listening to Genesis and Toto on a rent-to-own stereo in his family's trailer. Then, when he turned se

Jason Michael Carroll
By Ayala Ben-Yehuda

Jason Michael Carroll's country music career began in secret. As a child, he had fond memories of listening to Genesis and Toto on a rent-to-own stereo in his family's trailer in North Carolina. Then, when he turned seven, his family went "cold turkey": his father, a preacher, would allow only gospel music to be heard at home.

From then on, secular music was a surreptitious treat: tapes from friends stashed under his mattress, a Walkman under the pillow, and musical refuge in the cars of others. "I still remember like it was yesterday, having my friends' parents lean over the seat and say, 'Now Jason, don't tell your daddy what we're about to do,' and change the channel to a country station," the singer tells Billboard.com.

His secret hobby turned into a career the day he entered an over-the-air karaoke contest sponsored by a local pop station in Raleigh. The then-18-year-old's rendition of David Kersh's "Another You" won him first place -- and an invitation to join a local honky-tonk band in need of a singer.

When the baritone-blessed Carroll got serious about scoring a record deal, the group eventually fired him (literally handing him a pink slip of paper). However, an even bigger break came after he appeared on "Gimme the Mic," a reality-show competition on local television that sent him to New York for a national contest.

It was there that he met manager Rusty Harmon, who hooked him up with John Mellencamp producer Don Gehman. With their help, Carroll signed with Arista Nashville, which will release his debut album "Waitin' in the Country" Feb. 6.

The first single, "Alyssa Lies," is at No. 12 this week on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart -- quite a feat for a new artist and particularly for a serious song about child abuse. In the track, a father tells his daughter about a girl in her class who hides her injuries until one day, she dies.

Carroll says he was inspired to write the song reading a poem his friend wrote, by a story he saw on the news and his own experiences with his father -- a strict disciplinarian who sometimes "carried things a little too far," but who also helped families at church who were affected by abuse.

"Being that young, you take everything in," says Carroll, now 28 and a father of four. "I struggled to the point of getting migraines for a year and a half before I finished [the song]."

Carroll, who is now based in Texas, says he has been overwhelmed by the response to "Alyssa Lies." "I've had people email me and say, 'Jason, I am an Alyssa.' That's really where I feel rewarded."

Another reward was his duet with Jewel on "No Good in Goodbye," a soaring ballad recorded after a campfire jam session on rodeo star Ty Murray's Texas ranch. Carroll dreams of someday recording with his idols, such as Aerosmith's Steven Tyler, George Strait and Garth Brooks. Though he knows his major-label career has only just started, "it's nice to have the opportunity to know that maybe someday I will."

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboard

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