Things have changed dramatically in the world of John Wines. When we last spoke to the guitar teacher from Dorset he'd already gone viral on TikTok and Instagram as Old Grey Guitarist, playing classic guitar solos from the likes of Queen, Randy Rhoads and The Eagles. But he's found himself at a whole new level now as a contestant on America's Got Talent with his first audition given a rare feature on the show with its video receiving 2.6 million views in a week and counting. "I knew it would go a bit crazy," he tells us. "But I didn't think it would get this mad!" And it's all because of one of his students.
"I had a student who was incredibly nervous," explains John, 59, who has been teaching guitar to children and teenagers in local schools for two decades since he switched careers from working as an electrician. "And I said I don't worry and all that." and And she said, 'Well, that's alright for you to say – you don't get nervous anymore.' And you know, it kind of plays on your mind."
It lead to John throwing himself into the deep end of nerve-wracking scenarios for a guitar player that would see him performing to a global audience estimated at 50 million people. Seeing an advert for remote auditions for a new season of America's Got Talent he filmed a submission and didn't think much more of it. Until the show's team got in touch.
Fast-forward to May 2023 and John – with his Charvel guitar fitted with strings from longtime supporter D'Adarrio and trusty pedalboard with Dept 10 overdrive units provided by Blackstar – is auditioning in front of a live audience and judges including Simon Cowell and Heidi Klum in Pasadena, California.
What happened next is like something out of a movie; an unassuming-looking John stepped out with his wife Julie handing him his guitar. He plugged in with the audience initially wincing at the sound of feedback he then proceeded to blindside everyone in the room with an instrumental performance based on Queen's We Will Rock You – finger tapping and all.
"They say you should put yourself in the shoes of your students. Well, I did that, and then some," John reflects with us. Luckily the crowd, as you can see, went absolutely crazy for it."
They were shouting for an encore by the end and Cowell voted John through to the next round with a "one million per cent yes". John aced it. But in typical self-effacing manner, he isn't getting big-headed about it at all.
"You know, it wasn't perfect by any means," he notes. "At the end of Q1, I was certainly ahead of the beat. But that was because I was absolutely… you just want to get it over with."
All this just makes John's performance all the more endearing. He spends his days teaching pupils from three different schools how to play, but this was a world away and it's hard to imagine the kind of nerves involved in this kind of performance – especially as John hadn't played live for some time. He even forgot to put on his glasses so couldn't see properly while he was playing. But his personality and talent soon shone through.
"When the crowd started going, when I hit into the fast part, that just lifted me," he remembers. "So then I kind of relaxed into it a little bit more, you know, and had a bit of a laugh with it. But I didn't know what to expect. I mean, I haven't even got anyone I can ring up and ask, 'When you did it, what was it like?' It's the unknown. Total unknown.
"I remember just before I went out, I spent probably a good five minutes in front of the mirror, just saying… 'You've just got to go out there. Try and calm down, you know, you can do it.' I've never done that in my life. Trust me, but I was trying anything just to get rid of the nerves. But that's why, hopefully, fingers crossed, if I go back I think I'll just sort of enjoy it then. Not that I didn't enjoy it but you know what you're going to expect and hopefully sort of relax into it and have a bit of fun with it."
John will find out in the coming weeks if he's one of the contestants to be selected to go further in the contest. Judging by the reaction to his first audition he's got a good chance, but he already feels like a winner regardless just for getting to this point.
"I think whatever happens now, I've achieved what I wanted to achieve," he tells us. Because there's no guarantee that you get air time. I'm lucky – I got what, six and a half minutes. It's surpassed my hopes!"
As a teacher of pupils aged 5-16 over the years, he's also had many former students congratulate him. But there's also the feeling he's flying the flag for the often unsung heroes of guitars.
That's one of the best things, in all fairness," he says of his past students getting in contact again. "That and people who say, 'I'm going to start playing again, or I'm going to take the instrument up. That's job done for me that's the best part of it. Which is great."