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A Buffalo native who now works as a police officer at West Virginia University has a shot at being the next “American Idol.”

Carlton Smith, 26, won a golden ticket to the next round in Hollywood after auditioning in Boston for the 13th season of “American Idol.” He was one of 25 people sent to Hollywood from the Boston try-outs.

Smith lived for most of his childhood on Highgate Avenue on the East Side, where his grandmother and sister still live. He graduated from Sweet Home High School, then graduated from West Virginia University in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in criminology, according to an article about him written by Candace Nelson of the University Relations/News department. Smith told Nelson that he studied criminology because “I wanted to make my parents proud, and I knew I needed a strong footing. I always watched shows like ‘CSI,’ ‘Law & Order,’ and I love the satisfaction of putting together that puzzle.”

Smith drove for 10 hours from Morgantown, W.Va., to Boston to audition for the show on Aug. 2, singing pop, gospel and R&B tunes all the way, he told Nelson.

Getting on Idol “would just be a dream come true,” Smith told Nelson. “I couldn’t not take that opportunity, so I packed up and hit the road.”

In a video interview posted by “American Idol,” Smith said, “I decided to audition today because first of all, my brother told me that he wouldn’t speak to me anymore if I didn’t show up and audition. And I honestly do believe that I have what it takes to go far in this competition, and to even be the next American Idol.”

Smith called his older sister, Akia, his “biggest musical inspiration.” He said, “She’s the reason I started singing when I was younger, her and a couple other girls at church, it was mostly them that got me into loving the way that singing sounds, the way that music sounds, and then from there I just grew up just really into music. I had no choice after that.”

At the time of his audition before judges Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban and Harry Connick Jr., Smith no doubt believed that the “golden ticket” guaranteed him a trip to Hollywood. But Idol producers have added a twist this season – a new “Hollywood or Home” round in which contestants are challenged to earn their trip to Hollywood. According to Idol, “Some of the singers will be asked to perform one more time for the judges – and for some, this will be their last performance. It’s a tough decision for the judges, but even tougher for the contestants, because those who don’t make the cut must head straight home.”

Auditions will be televised through Jan. 30; the “Hollywood or Home” round will be aired from 8 to 10 p.m. Feb. 5 on Fox.

The only Western New York native to make the finals of the singing competition show was John Stevens, who placed sixth in season three, in 2004.

email: aneville@buffnews.com