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Florida's Michael Ray has a resonant voice and a knack for crafting vibrant, upbeat contemporary country-rock. Although he built a strong grassroots fan base in Southern Florida, Ray also gained prominence as the winner of the CW network's reality television vocal competition The Next: Fame Is at Your Doorstep in 2012. A native of Eustis, Florida, Ray was first introduced to music via his grandfather. A local country and gospel musician, Ray's grandfather taught him how to play guitar and gave him his first performance experience, letting him tag along for shows at various assisted living homes and community centers. Initially inspired by such classic country artists as Porter Wagoner, Merle Haggard, and Waylon Jennings, by his teens Ray was expanding his taste, listening to more modern artists like Garth Brooks, as well as imbibing the eclectic influence of modern radio sounds from rock to hip-hop. By the time Ray graduated high school in 2006, he had decided to pursue his passion for country music. Forgoing a move to Nashville, Ray instead formed a band and began playing a constant grind of shows all around Southern Florida. He slowly built a loyal following, a fan base that widened considerably after a Lakeland DJ for WPCV-97 Country put his music into regular rotation. Soon, Ray was headlining the Orlando House of Blues and selling out shows all over Florida. In 2010, his independently released debut caught the ear of veteran music industry manager Tony Conway, who began helping Ray take his career to a national audience. In 2012, Ray appeared on the CW talent competition The Next, where he was mentored by Big & Rich's John Rich. Ray was an audience favorite on the show and ultimately took home the top prize. After the show, Ray signed a publishing deal with Warner/Chappell Music and in 2014 released the single "Kiss You in the Morning." His full-length major-label debut followed in 2015 on Warner Music Nashville, making it to number four on the country albums chart. ~ Matt Collar