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MIFFLINBURG — When Aaron Kelly sang in his second-grade talent show, he had no grand plans for a career on the stage. But after starring on “America’s Most Talented Kids” at age 11, and then singing his way into the top 5 of American Idol’s season nine at 16, he’s come to the realization that this is what he’s meant to do.

At 21, Kelly said he did try stepping away from singing for a while.

“I was thinking maybe it’s time to think about other things,” he said, “and is this what I want to do with my life, is this really right for me. But the longer I was away from it, I didn’t feel like myself.

“This is what I was born to do, what I’m meant to do, what makes me happy,” he said. “Being on stage and performing in front of people – the music is what makes me happy, what makes me come alive.”

Born in Sarasota, Florida, Kelly grew up in central Pennsylvania, which he calls home.

“The people here are just more laid back,” he said, adding, “The hometown fans are the best, so anytime I get back in the area and get to perform for my hometown crowd, it’s always good.”

He’ll have that chance this Friday at the Rusty Rail in Mifflinburg.

“We are excited to have Aaron perform on our stage,” said John Rattie, who books talent for the venue. “He is a fantastic singer, has a great voice and brings quite the list of accomplishments and experiences...It should be a great night.”

Kelly grew up singing along with the radio, and said his mom was often approached by people wondering if she had done anything to pursue his talent. But it never crossed either of their minds until after the second-grade talent show.

“People went crazy,” Kelly remembers. And from there, he began performing at local talent shows, karaoke, and bigger shows where he was paid. Since age 9, he has been singing professionally in shows across the world, including Norway, Mexico, Dominican Republic, and the United States and Canada. He’s also performed and opened for acts including Phil Vassar, Charlie Daniels, Loretta Lynn, Martina McBride, and The Bee Gees, among others. He has also performed on television shows including Access Hollywood, The Ellen Show, David Letterman, The Wendy Williams Show, and Good Morning America.

Kelly sang the National Anthem on the ABC network during the Little League World Series 2017 championship game, and has written songs, worked in Nashville, and co-wrote with big names in music including Bobby Braddock, Frank Myers, and Greg Barnhill.

He learned a lot from his time on American Idol.

“Music is such a vast field to be in, everybody is a singer,” he said. “To work close to these ‘big dogs’ in the entertainment industry — they really have some great advice. You can definitely use that to further your career. I definitely learned a lot from mentors, producers, and songwriters — it opened some crazy doors for me.”

Kelly also loves to spend time serving the community, and has performed for causes such as Magical Memories for Children, Serve Inc., American Cancer Society, Relay for Life, and community members who find themselves victims of illness, disease and natural disasters.

“There are so many people out there who need help,” he said. “I believe you should give back any chance that you can and are able to.”