AUSTIN, TEXAS - APRIL 02: Drake Milligan attends the 2023 CMT Music Awards at Moody Center on April 02, 2023 in Austin, Texas.
Renee Dominguez/FilmMagic

'America's Got Talent' Put Drake Milligan on a Path to Country Music Stardom

'America's Got Talent' success in 2022 elevated Drake Milligan's soaring country music career.

America's Got Talent (AGT) viewers had the back of Drake Milligan in 2022, with the Elvis Presley enthusiast's vote total earning him a respectable third-place finish.

Like many AGT standouts, baritone-voiced Milligan was no novice. He'd already starred as his hero Presley in CMT's 2017 series Sun Records. The role required him to relocate as a high school senior from Texas to Nashville, where he sharpened his skills as a singer, songwriter and live performer. He dropped out of American Idol in 2018 to focus more on his growth within the Nashville machine. That paid off with a recording deal with BBR Nashville and a self-titled debut EP from 2021 that was produced by Music City mainstay Tony Brown (Emmylou Harris, Vince Gill, Reba McEntire).

Drake Milligan's AGT Run

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 23: Drake Milligan attends the Build Series to discuss the show 'Sun Records' at Build Studio on February 23, 2017 in New York City.

Daniel Zuchnik/WireImage

In June 2022, Milligan and his band won over judges Sofia Vergara, Heidi Klum, Howie Mandel and Simon Cowell with original tune "Sounds Like Something I'd Do."

Beforehand, Milligan explained that an encounter with an Elvis impersonator as a child set the course for his career.

"When I was about 7, I went out eating with my family, and there was an Elvis impersonator at the restaurant, and I was enthralled. I think that's where I decided I wanted to be like Elvis," Milligan shared. "It was cute at first — I'd go putting on my jumpsuits, I was dying my hair black, but it probably wasn't until one of the first times that I got on stage and sang one of my own songs and figured, 'Man, this is something I could do, you know? I could pave my own way.'"

Because of Milligan's prior success in Nashville, Cowell wondered why the 23 year old was auditioning. Milligan responded, saying, "Back in the day. Elvis had The Ed Sullivan Show and The Beatles [did too], and I see this kind of on the same scale of that, almost bigger, way bigger."

Much like Presley, during his audition, Milligan stopped at times to shake his hips and shimmy. The audience was shown shouting and clapping at the contestant as he sang, "I ain't the kind to settle down/ Or let myself get wrapped around/ Somebody's finger, but if I had you/ Baby, sounds like somethin' I'd do."

Milligan impressed the judges, with Mandel saying, "I think that song is a hit. And I think that you're a hit. You're like the new Elvis of country. I think you're gonna break out from this particular song, this particular moment on this particular night." All judges gave the talented singer a yes, sending him and his band to the next round of the competition.

In the second round, Milligan earned his spot in the finals with another original song, "Kiss Goodbye All Night."

Before the 11 finalists learned who'd made the Top 5 on Sept. 14, 2022, Milligan performed on the show one last time, covering Jon Pardi's "Last Night Lonely" as a duet with the man himself. Better yet, both stuck around to play guitar for Chapel Hart and Darius Rucker's cover of Bonnie Raitt's "Something to Talk About."

Chapel Hart finished fifth in a contest won by Lebanese dance group Mayyas.

For his live finals performance on Sept. 13 , Milligan revisited the song that won judges over in the audition round. This time around, the already rocking "Sounds Like Something I'd Do" got slightly recast as an arena-ready country banger, in the mold of Brooks & Dunn and Dierks Bentley.

An amped-up stage show further drove home an important point for Milligan as he sought, at the very least, free exposure from his AGT run— his song selection and stage presence were already ready for primetime.

Milligan's Career Since AGT

INDIO, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 28: Drake Milligan performs onstage during Day 1 of the 2023 Stagecoach Festival on April 28, 2023 in Indio, California.

Monica Schipper/Getty Images for Stagecoach

Added exposure from AGT boosted Milligan's career. Debut album Dallas/Fort Worth followed in Sept. 2022 and boosted the reach of '90s-style honky-tonk tune "Sounds Like Something I'd Do." A taste of traditional country in a modern context, the album features such guests as steel guitar great Paul Franklin and Vince Gill, the guest vocalist on the Asleep at the Wheel-esque "Goin' Down Swingin'."

"The reason I came to Nashville is because all of my heroes are here," Milligan said of his album (as quoted by NBC Insider). "All the guys who wrote and played on my favorite songs are still so good. They wake up every day and want to write the best song they can. I wanted to learn something from every writer. Writing with those songwriters was a rite of passage for me."

Milligan picked up his first major industry award nomination in 2023 when "Sounds Like Something I'd Do" was in the running for Male Breakthrough Video at the CMT Music Awards.

Read More: Everything to Know About the New 'Elvis' Biopic