Another Modesto native makes it to “American Idol’; shares dramatic weight loss story

Watch Modesto’s Ryan Hammond at 2015 Valley’s Got Talent competition

Valley's Got Talent grand prize winner Ryan Hammond of Modesto sang a cover of Sam Smith’s “Lay Me Down” (excerpt)
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Valley's Got Talent grand prize winner Ryan Hammond of Modesto sang a cover of Sam Smith’s “Lay Me Down” (excerpt)

For the second year in a row, a Modesto-raised singer will compete on “American Idol.”

Modesto native Ryan Hammond will be a contestant on the 17th season of the hit reality singing competition. The new season starts Sunday, March 3, on ABC.

Hammond graduated from Modesto High School in 2011 and won the Valley Talent Project (then called Valley’s Got Talent) in 2015. Since then the 25-year-old has continued to pursue his singing dreams while going on a dramatic weight-loss journey.

Since 2017, Hammond has lost 170 pounds. He underwent gastric bypass surgery two years ago, and through that and exercise has transformed himself. He said that journey plays heavily in his initial audition in front of the celebrity judging panel of Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan.

“It’s really completely changed my whole life. Before I did sing; I always loved to sing,” he said. “But I remember telling ‘Idol’ about being insecure and not wanting to make it in music while I was overweight. I didn’t want them to take a picture of me and put in on an album cover. Looking back I wish I hadn’t let looks hold me back as long as I let it. But I worked hard and I did lose the weight.”

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Modesto native Ryan Hammond, 25, will compete on the 17th season of “American Idol.” Julie Delgado Courtesy Ryan Hammond

Hammond started singing as a child in his parent’s Modesto church, Celebration Center, along with his three sisters. Over the years he has performed at the Gallo Center for the Arts and other events, but said insecurity about his weight held him back from doing more. At his heaviest he weighted 331 pounds.

He has now refocused his energy on his singing career. Last year he released the EP “Tragedy to Triumph,” a six-song album of Christian music. This year he has released three singles of more mainstream pop, which are available for download via iTunes and other digital platforms. Hammond said his sound often gets compared to British soul singer Sam Smith.

He sang Smith’s hit “Lay Me Down“ during his winning bid at the Gallo Center talent show.

Hammond moved to San Jose four months ago, but still works in real estate in Modesto. But his family all still live in the valley and he visits frequently. He said his goal is to ultimately move to Los Angeles to pursue a career in music.

His audition in front of the judges, which was filmed in L.A. last November, will not be shown in the season premiere. But it should air sometime in March. ABC representatives said the exact date has not been determined yet.

VTP past winner
Grand prize winner Ryan Hammond sings the Sam Smith song “Lay Me Down” during Valley’s Got Talent at Gallo Center for the Arts in 2015. Andy Alfaro Modesto Bee file

This is Hammond’s third time trying out for “Idol.” His first time was when he was 17 and still in high school, then again in 2015 after winning the Valley Talent Project and then California Idol.

Last year, Modesto native Effie Passero (who formerly went by the name Francesca Bavaro while performing locally) made it to the Top 24 before being eliminated. The two met through the Valley Talent Project and have been friends since. He said she’s given him valuable advice and encouragement about “Idol.”

“She said stay away from the piano and to just stand there and sing with your heart and give them all you got. Let loose,” he said. “And she said, ‘If you think life will go back to normal you’re definitely wrong. Your life is going to change forever.’”

Another valley musician, Manteca resident Matthew Grant, accompanied him on piano for his audition. He called it a “surreal experience” to sing in front of music icons like Richie, Perry and Bryan. Hammond joins a handful of locals to compete on the show since its debut.

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Modesto native Ryan Hammond, 25, will compete on the 17th season of “American Idol.” His before-and-after weight loss journey will be discussed on the show. Courtesy Ryan Hammond

They include Passero from last year, 2002 Beyer High graduate Alexis Lopez who made it to the semifinalist/wild-card round of the show’s breakout first season, and former Ripon Christian High School student Maddy Hudson, who made it to the showcase round in 2015.

“I grew up watching ‘American Idol.’ I remember the first season there was a girl from Modesto named Alexis. I’ve been watching it from the beginning and being a part of it was a surreal experience,” he said. “No matter how far I make it in the competition I know my weight loss story will help someone.”

For more on Hammond visit his website at www.ryanjonhammond.com.

Marijke Rowland writes about new business, restaurant and retail developments. She has been with The Modesto Bee since 1997 covering a variety of topics including arts and entertainment. Her Business Beat column runs midweek and Sundays. And it’s pronounced Mar-eye-ke.
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