Until a few months ago, Tyler Grady of Nazareth wasn't even the lead singer in his own band.

But on Wednesday, Grady won a spot among the top 24 contestants on the nation's biggest show, ''American Idol.''

That makes Grady, 20, the only contestant from Lehigh or Northampton County ever to make it this far and, therefore, the first to perform live on ''Idol.''

Grady has positioned himself as this season's rock singer, and his front-man swagger and penchant for 1970s polyester shirts have given him frequent screen time.

But in a phone call Thursday from California, Grady said his success ''honestly hasn't sunk in yet.''

''And I am glad for that, because I'm afraid that if I actually realized I'm in the Top 24, I might get nervous before the performance,'' Grady said, laughing. ''So I'm just kind of living minute to minute here.''

During the interview, squeezed into his tight ''Idol'' schedule, Grady talked about growing up with musician friends in Nazareth, playing bars and clubs in the Lehigh Valley and his best moment yet during his ''American Idol'' competitions.

Grady moved to Nazareth with parents Vanessa and Derek when he was 10. His sister, Laken, now 9, was born soon afterward.

He became friends with Travis Hobbie, who played guitar. In middle school, they formed a band with bassist Josh Zullo. Grady played drums. They took the name Wailing Waters.

''Honestly, I had, basically, zero musical experience,'' Grady said.

''We were very young and pretty inexperienced, so we just went around and played whatever open mic we could get into, basically,'' he said. The band played mostly original songs.

The group's first ''real'' show was at Crocodile Rock Cafe in Allentown with several other bands. Later, they opened there for national acts for which their '70s rock was a good fit, club manager Tom Taylor said.

''They were ahead of the game since Day 1,'' Taylor said.

He said Wailing Waters had the look -- performing in suits -- as well as musical chops. In 2007, the group competed at Croc Rock against more than 15 acts in a battle of bands. Wailing Waters not only won but was so good that competing musicians voted for them, Taylor said.

The band first played folk-rock, but later transitioned to '60s- and '70s-inspired rock.

''All of my favorite front men from bands have basically come out of the '60s and '70s,'' Grady said. ''I mean, Robert Plant [of Led Zeppelin] is my idol; he has been for years. So vocally, performance-wise, I've taken a huge influence from '60s and '70s rock and from watching a lot of old concert footage.''

Learning to sing an aria

Kelly Rocchi, choral director at Nazareth Area High School, said she enjoyed having Grady in her class.

''He's a very, very good singer,'' Rocchi said. And ''everything he does on TV is exactly like he was in high school -- his arms flailing and the way he moves…it's not something he made up for TV.''