Payton Riley: Just A Kid At Heart

By: Ruben Borjas, Jr., Columnist, Montgomery County News
| Published 05/01/2024


MONTGOMERY, TX -- On the way to national stardom, Payton Riley, 15, who calls Montgomery home, when not rehearsing or performing … is just a kid at heart. Riley is a Freshman at a local private school, and is generally not known for her music on campus. On top of that, at the recent Montgomery Music & Mudbugs Festival, Payton sang The National Anthem, and when walking around with her best friend, festival goers started recognizing Riley from her American Idol appearance, which amazed her friend. “Oh yeah, I forgot you were famous,” she said.

Riley gets interviewed a lot, from local television and radio stations, statewide newspapers, music trade publications, to different podcasters, so she doesn’t get to let her hair down that much. Payton appreciates the dedicated school hours that separates herself from her music life. In fact, athletics are still important to Riley, and she still runs track at her school, although when Payton was younger, she participated in just about every sport the school offered. But as the young singer started doing shows she had to cut back on athletic commitments, but even today she still excels in hurdles and in relay races, having made it to the regional meet this season.

Payton was active in the theater scene at the Crighton when she was younger, and performed in a starring role in Rockin’ Robin Hood, The Nutcracker, and other short plays; but as she aged, her fondness for Miranda Lambert grew. Payton appreciated the established singers’ stage presence and songwriting, which gave her the confidence to start writing her own songs.

Just recently, Riley was approached by Spring, Texas, author and screenwriter, Bob Gunner, about a role in an upcoming film, ‘An Almost Perfect Day.’ The movie is an action/romantic comedy currently in pre-production with scheduled filming locations in Houston, Spring, The Woodlands, Houston and Montgomery County. Payton is scheduled to play the lead character, Deana, with her opposite, Kasey Lansdale, being asked to portray her mother in the film. Lansdale is an author, musician and singer from East Texas.

Payton’s songcraft is not limited to the music stage. She writes and sings songs like ‘Love Heals,’ for organizations such as Conroe’s ‘Love Heals Youth,’ but also for ‘Coalition For Kids,’ a Johnson City, Tennessee charity that benefits vulnerable youth. She wrote and sang ‘My Happy Place,’ which was released recently on YouTube. CFK provides a daily nurturing faith-based environment for kids that help them develop into successful individuals. And just this past Friday, she performed at the Woodlands Kiwanis Club Community Prayer Breakfast, where she met local Olympic legend Laura Wilkinson, and other local dignitaries.

In reference to Payton’s American Idol appearance in which she sang a personal song in front of judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry, and Luke Bryan; which is quite an accomplishment in itself. Riley chose ‘Fireflies’ because she wanted to offer more than just a voice in her candidacy. The original song stems from a break-up with her boyfriend whom she cared about.

“I really wanted to showcase my writing skills,” said Riley. “It meant a lot to me because it came from a topic that was close to my heart.”

Riley also used the opportunity to express to girls her age who go through heartbreak, and present music that people can relate to, and heal from. Payton was touched by so many from across the nation who backed her over the judges’ decision for her to return in three years.

Payton gets ideas for her songs from numerous sources, and not just life experiences.

“If I hear one word, I can create a story from that,” Payton told MCN. “Or I might hear a conversation that sparks something in my mind.”

Before she records, Payton makes sure to hydrate and get a good night’s sleep. She meets with her producer around an hour and a half before they go into the studio. They go over, and double check the songs, then she and producers meet with the band to make sure they understand Riley’s vision for her work. Lastly, Payton takes some time to pray to God that everything goes swiftly and smoothly.

Riley started out recording herself in the family game room with by all standards nowadays, rudimentary equipment. She has recorded with Stormy Cooper in Houston, and also in Nashville. Payton will be traveling to Steel Records in Grand Cane, Louisiana soon, to explore the possibility of incorporating rock n’ roll into her songs.

“My goal in music is to be a light in other people’s lives,” Riley noted. “If my music brightens their day just a little bit, because you never know what they are going through. It’s worth it.”

When it comes to close friends Payton doesn’t promote herself as a musician, but focuses on relationships and all the importance of still being a kid while she is able too. But when she is working, she is inspired by singer/songwriters Laney Wilson, Kelsea Balerini, and Ingrid Andress; for their abilities to tell a story. She wants to mirror their abilities to close her eyes, and imagine a story from the moment.

Payton recently obtained her learners permit, so like any 15 year old, she is driving under parental supervision. On one occasion while driving with her mom near her grandfather's ranch, her mom pulled over so Payton could get behind the wheel. Riley got in and drove, turning slowly into the drive towards the ranch gate. Mom was nervous as they approached the entrance gate, saying, “OK, Payton, now stop, stop, stop,” with increasing intensity, causing Payton to press on what she thought was the brake pedal, when it was actually the gas, sending the car flying through the gate. The funny thing was her grandfather had just installed the automatic gate. Needless to say that Riley now receives her driving lessons under her dad’s tutelage since mom is a little afraid to drive with her at this point.

Riley’s recent songs ‘Mascara Doesn’t Lie,’ and ‘Not As Much As I Used To,’ have done well, getting many requests at radio stations. And her newest release ‘Fireflies,’ which premiered on American Idol on March 17th, is set to release on May 3rd. Payton will also be performing locally at the Red Brick Tavern on May 11th, and Dosey Doe BBQ in The Woodlands on June 15th.

To download Payton’s music, and ‘Fireflies,’ go to: (Fireflies)

For show information or tickets on her local events, go to:, or

Ruben can be reached at:

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