From mastering the video game Guitar Hero to performing at the Grand Ole Opry (with a glowing review from Simon Cowell on “America’s Got Talent” mixed in) — Ryan DeMers’ musical journey has been off-the-charts spectacular.
And the Canton High School graduate’s dedication-fueled ascension in the ultra-competitive music industry is busting through even the loftiest ceilings.
DeMers is a guitarist/harmony singer for Drake Milligan, the chart-topping, skyrocketing country performer who placed third in the 2022 season of America’s Got Talent — and even earned rare praise from Cowell, who has developed a reputation for his, um, candid criticism of young talent.
“I absolutely love what I’m doing,” said DeMers, during a 20-minute Friday afternoon phone interview from Columbus, Ohio, where Milligan’s popular tour was stationed that day. “There’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.
“If I’m doing this same thing 20, 25 years from now, I’ll be incredibly grateful.”
DeMers’ voice is coated with genuine exuberance when he talks about his current success, the endless hours of practice that fueled his unconventional career, his family and the days of his youth growing up in Canton and Plymouth.
Refreshingly, he takes nothing for granted and is one of those on-the-rise stars who probably pinches himself every day when he wakes up, thankful for the opportunity to live his dream.
And to think it all started with the video game Guitar Hero, on which players use a guitar-shaped game controller to simulate playing lead, bass guitar, and rhythm guitar across numerous songs.
“Once I started playing Guitar Hero when I was 8 or 9, I was hooked,” DeMers said.
“I really don’t have time to play it any more, but one of my favorite party tricks is I can play ‘Talk Dirty To Me’ by Poison — with my eyes closed.”
Words of wisdom
The best advice DeMers embraced as a young musician was offered by renowned southeast-Michigan guitar teacher and player Nick Behnan.
“Nick was the one I could always turn to when I was trying to figure out something I didn’t know,” DeMers said.
Toward the end of guitar lessons, Behnan would give DeMers a stack of CDs and tell him: “This is your homework.”
“The way I got better at playing the guitar was by developing the discipline to listen to these records with an extremely critical ear,” DeMers said.
“Music is a language and if you want to speak it fluently, you have to be around people who speak the language in its native form — and spend hours listening to people who speak the language with the correct dialect.”
Following Behnan’s guidance, DeMers would spend long hours in his room listening to the CDs and picking up the nuances of the bands’ guitar players.
“The best advice I’d give to young musicians who want to get better is to work at developing a sharp ear and to teach yourself to transcribe what you’re listening to,” he said. “There’s no easy road. It takes hard work.”
Beginning in middle school — and throughout high school at the three-school Plymouth-Canton Educational Park — DeMers would perform in talent shows with various bands.
He praised Salem High School Choir Director Jennifer Neumann with helping him develop musical skills and confidence as a teenager — and he even had a brief encounter with another future star who attended P-CEP.
“After I played at a Salem talent show at the park, a student who was a year or two older than me asked if he could borrow my guitar for a minute because he wanted to sing a song for the crowd,” DeMers recounted.
The student requesting the loan was fellow Canton student Andrew Bazzi.
“A few years later, I heard that Bazzi’s song ‘Mine’ was No. 1 on the Billboard charts,” DeMers said, chuckling. “I thought, ‘Wow, that is so cool’.”
DeMers earned a music-related degree from Nashville-based Belmont University after graduating from Canton in 2017.
Hard work pays off
DeMers’ talent caught the eye (and ears) of Milligan in 2021 and he’s been an instrumental member of the singer’s band ever since.
Milligan performed “Sounds Like Something I’d Do” at his AGT audition — and the song went to No. 1 on the iTunes charts before he even appeared on the popular NBC show.
In addition to playing guitar for Milligan, DeMers sings harmonies — a talent he honed in Neumann’s choir classes.
“For me, the singing is almost as demanding as the guitar playing,” DeMers said, smiling. “Drake is such a fantastic singer, I have to have my A game every time we walk on the stage to keep up with him.”
DeMers has performed multiple times at Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry — country music’s biggest stage — and is soaking in the excitement of a lengthy nationwide tour that started in March.
“At first, I wasn’t prepared for all the traveling — I didn’t know what to pack, all that stuff,” he said. “But the more you do it, the more you figure it out … like when to take a half-hour nap, when to hit the gym.
“Before I board the plane, I’ll put on a hoodie, a hat, some good noise-cancelling headphones and I’m ready to go.”
DeMers said his success was made possible by the support of his parents, Steven and Laurie, neither of whom have musical backgrounds.
His younger sister Hannah recently graduated from Central Michigan University, where she raked in several academic and gymnastics honors.
His brother Brett, a senior at Canton High School, sings and performs in theater.
Talent and success abound in the DeMers household.
But only one member of the family has used Guitar Hero as a springboard to national entertainment prominence.
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