MTSU recognizes mass comm alumni, students with annual honors

MTSU’s College of Mass Communication celebrated students past and present with its recent Wall of Fame alumni induction ceremony and presentation of student scholarships and awards for the soon-to-end academic year.

Journalism alumna Angie Boyd Chambers, electronic media communication grad Margaret Comeaux and recording industry alumnus Michael Knox joined 75 fellow mass communication leaders on the college’s Wall of Fame, while more than 100 current students were recognized for their scholastic accomplishments.

“There’s a special joy in knowing your son or daughter is successful doing exactly what they want to do,” mass comm dean Ken Paulson told the crowd, which included dozens of parents along with faculty, staff, students and alumni, in MTSU’s Student Union Ballroom.

The program for the celebration, which includes a complete list of all student honorees as well as full bios of the Wall of Fame inductees, is available at http://ow.ly/vpiW6.

The Wall of Fame honor began in 2000 as a way to both honor successful mass-communication graduates and inspire current students to continue working toward their goals.

Each year, each of the college’s departments solicits nominees from faculty, chooses an honoree and submits his or her name to the dean. The Wall of Fame ceremony then becomes a part of the college’s annual Awards Day for students.

Angie Boyd-Chambers

Margaret Comeaux

Michael Knox

Boyd-Chambers recently was promoted to managing director of communications for Saint Thomas Health in Nashville, which employs more than 6,500 associates in nine hospitals.

The 2001 MTSU graduate previously served as the public relations director for Saint Thomas Rutherford Hospital and was responsible for marketing and communications for the 286-bed Murfreesboro facility.

Comeaux, who is senior director of music and events production for CMT, oversees the creation, development and production of music and live-event specials for the network.

The 1995 MTSU grad serves as executive producer in charge of the annual “CMT Music Awards,” the critically acclaimed “CMT Crossroads” series and “CMT Artists of the Year.”

Music producer Knox has worked with some of the biggest names in country music but is perhaps best known for his production work with country superstar Jason Aldean.

Along with forming a production management company, Music Knox, with three of his clients, Knox, a 2001 MTSU graduate, also serves as senior creative director for peermusic Group in Nashville.

During the afternoon celebration, MTSU’s School of Journalism also honored newcomer Dr. Joonghwa Lee with its top teaching award after barely two years at the university.

Dr. Joonghwa Lee, center, a second-year advertising professor in MTSU’s School of Journalism, accepts the Ed Kimbrell Excellence in Teaching Award from the former dean for which it was named, right, and journalism director Dr. Dwight E. Brooks, left. (MTSU photo by Andy Heidt)

“This man, as they say in baseball, is a natural,” said Dr. Ed Kimbrell, the longtime professor and former dean for whom the award was named. “He cares about students. He listens to them. He wants them to be engaged. And they are.”

Lee, who came to MTSU in 2012 after earning his doctorate from the University of Missouri-Columbia, quietly expressed his thanks for the honor.

“My dad also was a professor,” Lee explained, “and I never understood why he loved his job so much and hung out with the students, but now, after starting at MTSU, I understand.”

One of the largest communication programs in the nation, the MTSU College of Mass Communication offers degree concentrations in 14 major areas — ranging from journalism to digital media and media management to recording industry management — and is accredited by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.

The college also is home to the new Tennessee Journalism Hall of Fame at MTSU, which was officially unveiled in 2012 after four years of planning and inducted its first six honorees last year.

For more information about MTSU’s College of Mass Communication, visit www.mtsu.edu/masscomm.

— Gina E. Fann (gina.fann@mtsu.edu)

38 events spice up Alumni Spring Weekend April 10-13

Alumni Spring Weekend 2014 events at MTSU can be found at http://www.mtalumni.com/.

Alumni Spring Weekend 2014 events at MTSU can be found at www.mtalumni.com.

MTSU graduates from the past will have nearly 40 events to choose from when they attend the upcoming Alumni Spring Weekend. Events begin Thursday, April 10, and run through Sunday, April 13.

For a complete schedule, visit the MTSU alumni home page, www.mtalumni.com, and click on the “Spring into Middle” flash item.

To locate parking near the various events, a printable campus map can be found at http://tinyurl.com/MTSUParkingMap13-14.

Music, theater, art, baseball, tours and more are on the agenda. One event, an alumni group outing to Nashville to attend the play “Wicked” at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, is sold out.

However, tickets remain available for the Thursday through Sunday production of “The Drowsy Chaperone,” which opens Wednesday, April 9, in Tucker Theatre. For more information on that production, visit http://mtsunews.com/the-drowsy-chaperone-2014/.

Paul Wydra

Paul Wydra

“Our main goal for Alumni Spring Weekend is to get alumni, family and friends back to campus to see everything that MTSU has to offer and all the changes that have taken place over the years,” said Paul Wydra, assistant director in the Office of Alumni Relations.

“We know that many alumni are extremely busy during Homecoming Weekend in the fall so we wanted to sponsor a weekend in spring where different departments on campus could really showcase themselves.

“We want alumni to come back to campus and see all the changes, the new buildings and learn about all the new programs that various departments have now,” he added.

For more information, visit the alumni home page or call 615-898-2922.

— Randy Weiler (Randy.Weiler@mtsu.edu)

MTSU alumnus Williams leads Peabody Award-winning news team

MTSU alumnus Phil Williams and the “NewsChannel5 Investigates” team have won another George Foster Peabody Award, this time for their ongoing investigative report “NewsChannel 5 Investigates: Questions of Influence.”

One of broadcast journalism’s highest honors, this coveted award based at the University of Georgia marks the third such career honor for Williams, who graduated from MTSU in 1985 and joined WTVF-TV in Nashville in 1998.

Phil Williams

The award, which was one of a record 46 Peabody honors chosen from among almost 1,100 entries, recognized WTVF-TV’s reports about Tennessee officials’ involvement in questionable business deals, including Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration’s awarding of hundreds of millions of dollars in state contracts and his business relationship with a powerful Capitol Hill lobbyist.

You can watch the reports online here.

Williams is the chief investigative reporter for the “NewsChannel5 Investigates” team, which includes investigative reporter Ben Hall, photojournalists Bryan Staples and Iain Montgomery, and producer Kevin Wisniewski. News director Sandy Boonstra and assistant news director Michelle Bonnett supervised this investigation.

In addition to the Peabody Awards, Williams has earned three Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Awards, the George Polk Award for TV Reporting, a National Headliner Award and three IRE Awards, including the IRE Medal, from the Investigative Reporters and Editors organization.

Click on the photo above to see a complete list of the 2014 George Foster Peabody Award winners.

In his days as a print reporter, he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

In 2003, Williams was inducted into the MTSU College of Mass Communication’s Wall of Fame. The Columbia, Tenn., native returns to MTSU on occasion to speak to students and conduct master classes.

In addition to the WTVF team’s win, local-news Peabody recipients announced April 2 included CBS-owned WBZ-TV and WBZ Newsradio for their extended coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings and the ensuing dragnet; KING-TV in Seattle for its revelations about nuclear-waste leaks and mismanagement at a Hanford, Wash., storage facility; and an exhaustive investigation of Louisiana political contributions that combined the resources of New Orleans station WVUE-TV, The Times-Picayune and NOLA.com.

Other Peabody recipients include a pair of high-profile political melodramas, Netflix’s “House of Cards” and ABC’s “Scandal”; “Burka Avenger,” an animated Pakistani series aimed at empowering girls; and two distinctive probes of the dangers of brain injury in professional football, FRONTLINE’s “League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis” and ESPN’s “Outside the Lines: NFL at a Crossroads: Investigating a Health Crisis.”

A complete list of winners is available at www.peabodyawards.com.

Grammy-winning alumnus Luke Laird returns for campus visit

(MTSU photo by Andy Heidt)

Award-winning songwriter/producer Luke Laird listens to a question during a return trip to his alma mater April 2 to talk with MTSU students about his booming career.

Laird’s appearance in MTSU’s John Bragg Mass Communication Building was sponsored by the MTSU student chapter of Nashville Songwriters Association International.

Laird, a 2001 alumnus of the College of Mass Communication’s recording industry program, co-produced Kasey Musgraves’ “Same Trailer, Different Park,” which took the 2014 Grammy for Best Country Album in January. The release also won Album of the Year honors at the Academy of Country Music Awards April 6.

Laird is up for the ACM’s Songwriter of the Year as well. That award will be announced Sept. 9 at the eighth annual ACM Honors in Nashville.

Laird has had 14 No. 1 singles since he signed his first publishing deal in 2002 and has written for some of music’s biggest artists, including Tim McGraw, Eric Church, Lady Antebellum, Jason Aldean, Blake Shelton, Hunter Hayes, Ne-Yo, Carrie Underwood, Luke Bryan, Miranda Lambert, Little Big Town, John Legend and others.

Register now for May 1 Accounting Alumni Appreciation Day

The 23rd annual Accounting Alumni Appreciation Day at Middle Tennessee State University will be held from 7:30 a.m. to 4:50 p.m. Thursday, May 1, in the State Farm Lecture Hall of the Business and Aerospace Building.

The event targets those interested in accounting, taxation and computer training. The fee will be $125 for MTSU alumni and $175 for all others. Net proceeds will be earmarked for accounting scholarships. Lunch will be provided in the Student Union.Dept of Accounting logo web

Participants will earn eight hours of Continuing Professional Education credit and have the opportunity to visit with alumni and former professors and see how the campus is changing. Seating is limited, so participants should register early at www.mtsu.edu/accounting/appreciation_day.php.

Scheduled speakers and topics include:

  • MTSU alumnus Phil Williams, an award-winning investigative reporter with NewsChannel 5 in Nashville, who will speak on fraud.
  • L. Rene Brison, assistant director with the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury, Special Investigative Unit, who will present a session on accounting and internal controls.
  • MTSU professor Paula Thomas, who will present a Financial Accounting Standards Board update to finish the morning sessions.

During the afternoon general sessions, Matt Kefauver with LBMC Technologies LLC will discuss cloud computing. David Tiller with the Small Business Administration will end the conference with a session on “Tennessee Small Business Issues.”

Breakout sessions and leaders will include:

  • Advanced Excel and Microsoft Access — Tammy Bahmanziari, MTSU associate professor.
  • Professional Skepticism — Rebekah Heath, MTSU assistant professor.
  • Issues in Taxation — Kim Honaker, MTSU assistant professor.
  • Governmental Accounting Standards Board Update — G. Robert Smith, chair, MTSU Department of Accounting.

For more information, call the MTSU Department of Accounting at 615-898-5306.

— Jimmy Hart (jimmy.hart@mtsu.edu)

Alumni spring back to campus on ‘MTSU On the Record’ (+VIDEO)

A recent edition of the “MTSU On the Record” radio program highlighted the many facets of this year’s Alumni Spring Weekend, which is slated for April 10-12.

Paul Wydra

Host Gina Logue’s interview with Paul Wydra, assistant director of alumni relations, aired earlier this month on WMOT-FM (89.5 and www.wmot.org ). You can listen to their conversation here.

Click on the graphic above for more details about Alumni Spring Weekend 2014 events at MTSU.

Alumni Spring Weekend is an annual event that welcomes graduates and former students back to MTSU to see how the campus has grown and to revisit familiar venues that evoke fond memories of their own collegiate experience.

“We wanted them to have another chance to walk around campus, look at the new buildings, look at the new scenery and really get a feel for how much their school has changed over the years,” Wydra said.

To listen to previous “MTSU On the Record” programs, go to the “Audio Clips” archives here and here.

For more information about “MTSU On the Record,” contact Logue at 615-898-5081 or WMOT-FM at 615-898-2800.

A video clip of the interview is available below.

MTSU grad plans more career excitement after ‘The Voice’ exit

MTSU grad Austin Ellis isn’t letting an early exit from the NBC singing competition “The Voice” slow his career path.

The 2009 recording industry alumnus already has a Kickstarter campaign underway for a new album after his reality-show experience ended in his first “battle round,” ironically singing Pharrell’s ubiquitous “Happy” with fellow contestant Josh Kaufman.

Austin Ellis

They were two of 12 singers chosen by Maroon 5 frontman/judge Adam Levine to be mentored as part of his “team” for the show’s sixth season. The “battle rounds” force the mentor to cull his team by choosing only one of the singers, but the show’s other celebrity judges can “steal” the one not chosen for their teams.

The judges praised Ellis’ vocals and enthusiasm — Blake Shelton called him a “solid singer” and Usher enthused over his “powerful” voice — but Levine ultimately chose to keep Kaufman.

NBC The Voice graphic web“Celebrating an incredible moment! So much to look forward to! Thank you @NBCTheVoice for giving me the stage to launch my career. All Love!!” Ellis tweeted minutes after the decision aired Monday night.

He then tweeted, “We are launching a KickStarter Campaign to raise funds for my new album! I’d really appreciate the support!”

The episode was recorded last fall; live performance shows don’t begin airing until later in the season. You can watch Ellis and Kaufman perform here.

Ellis, a native of Maryland, focused on commercial songwriting with a minor in entrepreneurship during his MTSU tenure and was on the Dean’s List. He’s continued his music career since graduation, becoming a finalist in the Mountain Stage Newsong Contest and Mid-Atlantic Song Contest and touring the United States and making some international stops to support his independent CD releases, “Coming of A.G.E.” and a self-titled EP.

He made his “The Voice” debut March 10 singing Dobie Gray’s classic “Drift Away” during the show’s first “blind audition,” when the celebrity judges can only hear, not see, the contestants. You can see Ellis’ audition for “The Voice” here and learn more about him at his website, www.austinellismusic.com.

This marked the second year that “The Voice” has chosen an MTSU alumnus from among thousands of hopefuls to compete for $100,000 and a recording contract.

Kris Thomas

Kris Thomas

Kris Thomas, a 2008 MTSU graduate with a degree in psychology, surprised the celebrity judges during “blind auditions” for NBC’s “The Voice” fifth season with his smooth tenor rendition of the Whitney Houston classic “Saving All My Love for You.”

Thomas made it to the show’s top 10 in 2013 before he was voted out by the viewing audience. The Memphis native returned to MTSU last fall to sing the national anthem before MTSU’s football game against the University of Memphis.

Curtis Holland

Jonathan Allen

Ben Briley

Another MTSU alumnus, advertising/public relations grad Ben Briley of Gallatin, Tenn., made it to this season’s top 11 artists on Fox’s “American Idol” before the audience and judges sent him home March 13.

MTSU vocal performance major Jonathan Allen sang himself into the 2013 semifinals of “America’s Got Talent” at Radio City Music Hall before that opportunity ended.

Recording-industry major Curtis Holland tap-danced his way past hundreds of other hopefuls to make the Top 20 of Fox’s 2013 “So You Think You Can Dance,” but a shoulder injury eliminated him from the competition.

— Gina E. Fann (gina.fann@mtsu.edu)

MTSU alumnus Austin Ellis, left, sings “Happy” with fellow contestant Josh Kaufman during a “battle round” on NBC’s “The Voice” airing Monday night. (Photo courtesy of Tyler Golden/NBC © NBC Universal, Inc.)

‘MTSU On the Record’ focuses on Nobel winner Buchanan (+VIDEO)

A recent edition of the “MTSU On the Record” radio program examined the family history of Nobel Prize winner and MTSU alumnus Dr. James M. Buchanan.

Dr. Reuben Kyle

Host Gina Logue’s interview with Dr. Reuben Kyle, retired professor of economics, aired earlier this month on WMOT-FM (89.5 and www.wmot.org ). You can listen to their conversation here.

Kyle Buchanan book webKyle is co-author with Dr. Kevin H. Cason, an adjunct professor of history at MTSU, of “From Nashborough to the Nobel Prize: The Buchanans of Tennessee.”

It takes a look at the ancestors of Buchanan, who won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 1986 for his “public choice” theory of how governments make fiscal decisions.

The book chronicles the Buchanan clan from the Scotch-Irish pioneers who settled in the Cumberland Gap to Elizabeth Buchanan Bradley Whorley, former director of Homer Pittard Campus School. The family also includes the only Rutherford County native so far to become governor of Tennessee, James and Elizabeth’s grandfather, John Price Buchanan.

“It’s really a remarkable family from the beginning until today,” said Kyle. “They’re independent thinkers. They’re very hard-working people. In just about everything the Buchanan family has done, they have excelled.”

James M. Buchanan, a Rutherford County native, was a 1940 graduate from Middle Tennessee State Teachers College and a World War II veteran.

He passed away in January 2013, and in May 2013, his family presented the Nobel medal and his Bronze Star to MTSU along with a special $2.5 million gift to the University Honors College. Other memorabilia related to Buchanan and his grandfather will be coming to MTSU for display in the Buchanan Reading Room at the James E. Walker Library.

To listen to previous “MTSU On the Record” programs, go to the “Audio Clips” archives here and here.

For more information about “MTSU On the Record,” contact Logue at 615-898-5081 or WMOT-FM at 615-898-2800.

Jeff Whorley glances at a photo of his late uncle, Nobel laureate and MTSU alumnus James M. Buchanan during a special May 2013 celebration of Buchanan’s life. (MTSU file photo by J. Intintoli)


A short video excerpt of the interview may be seen here:


MTSU grad Briley vows to continue career after ‘American Idol’ ride

MTSU alumnus Ben Briley almost made it to the “American Idol” top 10.

Ben Briley

The 2013 MTSU advertising and public relations graduate had to sing for his professional life March 13 after judges criticized his live performance for a second straight week and audience votes left him in the reality show’s “bottom three” contestants.

Even revisiting “Stars,” a song he’d sung twice before on the show, to try to convince the celebrity judges to save him wasn’t enough.

“I will not be outworked,” Briley tweeted about two hours after the show aired locally March 13.

“Look out Nashville bc when I come home I’m kicking doors in. Thank you all for the support and kind words.”

Briley offered a new sound in his live performance March 12, covering Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets” and playing piano.

Pegged as a soulful country-rocker in baseball caps and boots, the Gallatin, Tenn., resident appeared with slicked-back hair, a velvet jacket and a posh waistcoat to perform “Songs from the Movies” among the Fox reality show’s 11 finalists.



The “American Idol” celebrity judges, however, were more concerned with his sound than with his new look.

“I’m a little bit confused because you were so country last week, and this week it’s Elton John … I’m trying to figure it out,” judge Jennifer Lopez told Briley on the March 12 episode. “I think you’re trying to figure it out too, but that’s part of the competition. I thought it was a good vocal performance; I don’t know that it suited who you are, even though it was a song you grew up with.”

Judges Harry Connick Jr. and Keith Urban were more blunt.

“It felt kinda like a lackadaisical walk through the song,” Connick said as Briley listened closely. “It didn’t feel like it had a purpose.

“Another thing is I never know if we’ve really heard the real Ben. There seems to be a slight affectation to your voice, a very throaty sound, and I’m just looking forward to the week when we can hear you where it doesn’t sound like a play.”

Urban continued the critique.

“What I’m struggling with, Ben, what I loved about you in the audition was this easy authenticity about your performance and the way you sang,” Urban said. “It was easy, it was effortless, it was believable, and now it seems to have all these things around it that don’t feel authentic. I’m just wondering who you are as an artist.”

The voting audience apparently had similar questions.

“Let me tell you how tight this vote was,” host Ryan Secrest said March 13 in the show’s final minutes. “.07 percent separated these last two (Briley and contestant Majesty Rose) in that vote last night.”

That dwindling audience support and his final performance seemed to convince the judges.

“Ben, we love your voice. We’ve loved it from day one,” Urban said. “What we’ve gotta see is a kind of artistic growth, and we don’t collectively feel like we’ve necessarily seen that as much as we’d wished we had at this stage. We love you, man, and unfortunately we can’t use our ‘save’ on you tonight.”



Unfortunately, the loss also marked the end of Briley’s “American Idol” connections for this season. The top nine finalists join the newly crowned “American Idol” winner for a national concert tour each year.

Secrest told Briley he would “have an incredible future,” adding, “you’ve been so fun to have on the show, my friend,” before presenting a going-away video montage of the singer-songwriter’s adventure.

“We’re gonna miss him,” Secrest added as the episode ended. “A class act.”

Briley made an impression early in the season 13 competition, wearing a blue Middle Tennessee ball cap and belting out Amos Lee’s “Arms of a Woman” a cappella in his Atlanta audition last summer, leaving the judges agog.

“If you sang a capella on the radio right now, I would pull to the side of the … I might crash my car,” Urban told a smiling Bailey after that audition, which aired as part of the Jan. 23 episode. “I just really love the sound of your voice.”

As the competition continued, however, the judges began to warn Briley not to let his “entertaining” side overcome his artistry.

Briley and two fellow contenders, also country singers, called themselves “Backstreet Cowboys” and harmonized on the Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way,” complete with a bit of boy-band choreography, on the Feb. 6 episode. He soloed on Grace Potter’s “Stars” that night, too, after initially performing it in a cattle-call performance in Hollywood soon after the auditions.

MTSU alumnus Ben Briley, right, and fellow “American Idol” contest Neco Starr react Feb. 13 after learning that the TV audience will choose which man goes to the show’s Top 30 semifinals. Briley won that audience vote and continued into the top 11 finalists. (Photo courtesy American Idol/Fox Network)

Briley wound up competing for the first time for an audience vote Feb. 13 when the judges couldn’t decide between him and another contestant to round out this season’s top 30.

“I just had a feeling I’d be here, the last one,” Briley, 24, murmured on the Feb. 13 episode, shaking his head. “It’s really my future, my career, here that’s on the line. … This show is the ultimate test to show how good a musician you are.

“I want to pursue a career in music because I believe I’m good enough where I can make a career out of it for the rest of my life.”

A taped montage of interviews and performance preparation during the Feb. 19 episode included a conversation with “American Idol” mentor and former judge Randy Jackson, who asked Briley about his musical heritage.

“It started with my great-grandmother; she was one of the first women on the (Grand Ole) Opry,” Briley told Jackson, referring to Kitty Cora Cline, who played dulcimer on the historic radio show from 1928 to 1934, “and my mom (Tribby Graves Briley) sings and plays. She was kinda the Taylor Swift of the ’70s.”

Briley then walked out live onto the “American Idol” stage and confidently boomed out the old Allman Brothers favorite “Soulshine,” showcasing his picking skills with an electric guitar solo.

“You’ve got a great voice,” Urban told Briley as the studio audience cheered that night. “I think that’s your strongest suit. And that’s gotta be the first shredded solo we’ve seen on ‘American Idol.’”



On the Feb. 26 episode, Briley paid tribute to Johnny Cash on what would have been Cash’s 82nd birthday with a raucous uptempo cover of “Folsom Prison Blues.”

Connick called Briley’s high-speed rockabilly version of Cash’s classic “unquestionably the best song of the night,” even though Briley was only the fourth of the 13 semifinalists to perform in the first 40 minutes.

After joking that the tempo was “particularly brisk,” Urban was balanced with his praise for Briley.

“You’ve got such a good voice. You have real artistry,” Urban told the 24-year-old Briley in that episode. “All I ask of you is that you be careful when you try to do ‘entertaining.’

“Don’t ever sacrifice your artistry in the midst of it, because there’s always a fine balance between a performance coming off as a bit kitsch or you having fun and owning it artistically. You’ve got the ability to do that.”

“Every gig I’ve played, I’ve opened the show with it (‘Folsom Prison Blues’), and this is a gig, the start of my career, and this is how I wanna start it,” Briley said before that live performance.



Briley sang David Nail’s “Turning Home” March 5, fulfilling the week’s theme in an appearance in the episode’s last half-hour that also featured footage of his Tennessee roots.

Lopez applauded Briley’s performance, telling him, “The feeling was there. You had me. That’s what I’ve been looking for all night.”

While continuing to praise Briley’s voice, presence and potential, Connick’s and Urban’s opinions diverged from Lopez’s view.

“I did not connect with it, and it felt shouted to me,” Connick told a concerned-looking Briley as several audience members booed.

“We don’t need to belabor the fact that you’re talented; everybody in this room is talented. I’m just waiting for a knockout performance from you, and I have not really seen it. And I don’t think everybody disagrees with me. It was okay. It wasn’t great.”

Urban sandwiched his constructive criticism with slices of praise.

“The hard part, Ben, is that you have an incredible voice and you have an incredible ability to be in charge of it and take it where you want to go,” Urban said. “That’s a blessing and a curse, because where you take it and what you do with it will affect me or not affect me.

“In the case of that song, there was so much on the technicality of the notes and the range and everything else, I lost the story. I lost the emotion from you. My advice to you is (to) worry a lot less about the technicality. You’re so good that you could lean into that mic, close your eyes and not move a muscle and you would hit me way more, because you’ve got that kind of a voice.”

Appearing slightly embarrassed but still happy, Briley thanked them and shared a platter of deviled eggs, brought out by Secrest, with the judges. Briley earlier had said one of the things he missed the most about being “home” is deviled eggs.



Briley’s segment on the Jan. 23 episode also featured footage of him and his wife, fellow MTSU grad Courtney Sanders Briley, at home and outside Atlanta during the auditions.

Courtney Sanders Briley

Courtney Briley received her bachelor’s degree in recording industry in 2012, and the couple married shortly after Ben’s graduation. Ben repeatedly praised Courtney for her support of his musical career, explaining that she’d convinced him to audition for “American Idol.”

Briley’s talk of his wife and Tennessee, along with his caps, was pinpointed in his fellow contestants’ affectionate parodies in a behind-the-scenes video that aired during the March 5 episode. Connick also often teased Briley, who wore an MT Baseball cap during his audition, with the nickname “Brother Gumbo.”

“Some things in life you just can’t pass up, and this is one of those things,” Briley said of the reality show opportunity.

“American Idol” airs locally on WZTV-Fox 17. Each season’s initial shows winnow thousands of hopefuls down via auditions in several cities to 10 to 60 contestants from each town, sending them to sing in more performance rounds in Hollywood and Las Vegas. Up to three dozen contestants advance from those rounds into the semifinals and, ultimately, to a group of finalists who perform live weekly for audience votes.

The winner of “American Idol,” usually announced in late May, receives a major-label record deal and a management contract and performs on tour with fellow finalists.

You can watch Briley’s audition and his “Backstreet Cowboys” trio via Dailymotion videos below. The complete episodes also are available at the “Idol” website.

— Gina E. Fann (gina.fann@mtsu.edu)




Memorial service set for George Gardner, MTSU alumnus and supporter

Funeral arrangements have been announced for longtime MTSU supporter George Gardner, who died March 3 at age 83.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday, March 15, at First Presbyterian Church in Murfreesboro with the Rev. John A. Hinkle officiating.

The Murfreesboro resident and MTSU alumnus conceived the Tommy T. Martin Chair of Insurance at MTSU, organizing and leading the campaign to generate funds for the newly created chair in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

New inductees into the Robert E. Musto Tennessee Insurance Hall of Fame at MTSU display their honors during an Aug. 2 ceremony at Embassy Suites Hotel in Murfreesboro. Dr. Kenneth W. Hollman, left, the Martin Chair of Insurance at MTSU, is joined by inductees Ray Thomas of State Farm Insurance Co., Christie Reeves of Arthur J. Gallegher & Co., George E. Gardner of State Farm and John Major, chair of the Hall of Fame Selection Committee. (photo courtesy of Ken Robinson)

In this August 2012 file photo, new inductees into the Robert E. Musto Tennessee Insurance Hall of Fame at MTSU display their honors during a ceremony at Embassy Suites Hotel in Murfreesboro. Dr. Kenneth W. Hollman, left, who holds the Martin Chair of Insurance at MTSU, is joined by inductees Ray Thomas of State Farm Insurance Co., Christie Reeves of Arthur J. Gallegher & Co., George E. Gardner of State Farm and John Major, chair of the Hall of Fame Selection Committee. (Photo courtesy of Ken Robinson)

An Indianapolis native, Gardner was very active in the MTSU Alumni Association, serving as president and board member, and was named a distinguished alumnus in 1989. He and his wife, Charlotte, also established a leadership scholarship at MTSU.

“He was a longtime friend and tireless worker for MTSU,” John Hood, MTSU director of community engagement and support, told The Daily News Journal. Read the full story here.

Gardner was responsible for raising $200,000 of the original endowment for the Martin Chair, which has risen to more than $1.4 million. To date, the Martin Chair is the only one of its kind in the state and one of only a handful in the entire country.

Gardner spent his entire 36-year insurance career with State Farm Insurance. In 2012, he was among three insurance professionals inducted into the Robert E. Musto Tennessee Insurance Hall of Fame at MTSU.

Gardner was also recognized for his avid support of the Discovery Center at Murfree Spring in Murfreesboro, where he served as president, board member and fundraiser and was personally responsible for raising over $1.3 million for the new building on Broad Street, according to his obituary.

Gardner is survived by his wife of 57 years, Charlotte; sons Phillip and Carl Gardner; daughter-in-law, Lidia Gardner; granddaughter, Anna Gardner; and a brother, Richard Gardner.

The family requests memorials be made to the MTSU Foundation, Office of Development, P.O. Box 109, Murfreesboro, TN 37132 or to The Discovery Center, 502 S.E. Broad St, Murfreesboro, TN 37130.

For more information, contact Woodfin Funeral Home at 615-893-5151 or visit www.woodfinchapel.com.

— Jimmy Hart (jimmy.hart@mtsu.edu)