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Local teen singer appears in 'Joyful Noise'

Singer Ivan Kelley Jr., 14, appears in "Joyful Noise," part of which was filmed in Conyers. The movie, starring Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton, opens in theaters on Jan. 13.

Singer Ivan Kelley Jr., 14, appears in "Joyful Noise," part of which was filmed in Conyers. The movie, starring Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton, opens in theaters on Jan. 13.

No matter where he winds up, Lithonia resident Ivan Kelley Jr. will always remember 2011 as perhaps the most pivotal year of his life.

An accomplished singer and dancer, the 14-year-old Kelley (nee Ivan Kelley Cousin Jr.) experienced an incredible year that was highlighted by his participation in the feature film "Joyful Noise" alongside superstars Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton.

But the last 12 months have also been notable for Kelley as he released his debut single and video and had a key role in a North American tour that paid tribute to the late Michael Jackson.

"This has been a big year," Kelley said from his home recording studio a few days before Christmas. "There was a lot going on. With all that I've been able to accomplish, I'd have to say that this has been my best year ever."

And as good as 2011 has been for Kelley, it's a good bet that 2012 will be even better as "Joyful Noise," which tells the comedic story of two hard-headed women (Latifah and Parton) who must find ways to coexist for their choir to compete in a national competition, goes into wide release on Jan. 13.

Kelley, who appears in "Joyful Noise" -- a portion of which was filmed in Conyers -- as the "phenom" of a children's choir in the competition, is also working on his first album and is in the process of putting together a band for live appearances.

"I just signed with an agent and we'll work with her to see what the plan is," he said. "I've got this album and will be setting up shows and just getting ready for the new year."

A native of Chattanooga who has lived in the Atlanta area for most of his life, Kelley is a reliable presence performing on YouTube and has appeared on television on "The Ellen Degeneres Show," "Good Day Atlanta," the NBC News and CTV News Canada, but he said seeing himself on film was a riveting experience.

"It felt kind of weird," Kelley said of his three-minute performance in "Joyful Noise," which was directed by Todd Graff. "I've seen myself on YouTube plenty of times, but I've never seen myself on the big screen. It's pretty overwhelming, but it's also a pretty big motivator to work hard to get to the next level."

Kelley said while he didn't get to spend much time with the principals of "Joyful Noise," he was able to get to know co-star Keke Palmer (who may be best known from TV's "True Jackson"). He said working on a feature film was a most enlightening exercise.

"It was a real learning experience," he said. "We did a lot of practicing for our part -- we worked hard to get it right the first time. I sure don't want to mess up in a movie."

Not surprisingly, Kelley -- who is also known as "Lil Man" -- takes great inspiration from the King of Pop, who also began his career at a young age.

"Just like Michael Jackson, I've learned how to put in the hard work and to carry yourself the way you want the world to see you," he said. "I've put a lot of work into this and I want it to show that I'm serious about my craft. Really, he inspired me to start in music. The first song I sang was 'I'll Be There.'"

Kelley is starting to develop a persona that's recognized in public, an occurrence he's comfortable with.

"Last week, I went to get my other ear pierced at Walmart, and a girl came up to me and said, 'Oh, it's Ivan Kelly' and everything," he said. "And then she asked for my autograph. And after that, I went home. I can still do normal teenage things now."

Away from the entertainment world, Kelley -- who has two brothers and two sisters -- enjoys sports, especially basketball. Just as he listed Latifah, Parton, Palmer, Will Smith, Martin Lawrence and Will Ferrell as his favorite entertainers, he's just as enthused about Michael Vick, Kobe Bryant, Jason Kidd, LeBron James and Chris Paul.

Now home-schooled because of his work, Kelley said he still maintains a relatively normal schedule with his friends.

"I still talk with them and hang out every now and then, but I'm glad (to be home-schooled) because it gives me all the time I need to do my music," he said.

Regardless of where his career takes him, Kelley said he's also got academic goals.

"I'd definitely like to go to college -- my mother would kill me if I said anything else," he quipped. "I'd like to study either music or pharmacy."

For more information on Ivan Kelley Jr., visit www.ivankelley.com.