It was only two years ago when Peter “Rocky” Ajoku performed during UCR’s Homecoming Week and now the former Highlander is performing on the nationwide singing competition “American Idol.” Billboards, including one featuring Ajoku, readied viewers for the beginning of the show’s 14th season, which premiered last Wednesday at 8 p.m. on Fox.

Ajoku told the Press Enterprise that he had “uncontrollable tears of joy” after discovering that he would be highlighted on an “American Idol” billboard in Azusa. In the billboard, he is seen holding a golden ticket, which indicates he auditioned and won a ticket to the Hollywood portion of the competition.

Graduating with a biological sciences degree from UCR in 2013, Ajoku did not face an easy upbringing. Growing up in Nigeria, Ajoku supported his family at a young age, while tilling soil for 18 hours a day and putting himself through school. Ajoku and his brother were later given the chance to move to the U.S. with their father who eventually left them to fend for themselves.

Fast-forward to their present: Ajoku made it through community college in Fontana, graduated from UC Riverside and is now living out his singing dreams on “American Idol.”

Director of the College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences Undergraduate Advising Center Barbra Wallace recalls Ajoku, who would often come by the academic center on a regular basis. “He always had a smile on his face and even when things weren’t going well for him, he would always try to cheer other people up,” she said.

Whether it was at the Bell Tower or at the local donut shop on Blaine Street, Ajoku made his presence known around campus by singing and playing his guitar, while touching the lives of those around him.

Fourth-year public policy major Bola Adeniran, who noticed Ajoku’s passion for music which ”danced in his eyes” when he performed, described him as “passionate in his singing” and “crazy smart.”

“People often made fun of him or laughed at him whenever he’d come out and perform but who’s laughing now. He’s out there living his dream while all the rest of us wish we were actively chasing ours, myself included,” she said.

When hearing about his breakthrough into “American Idol,” Stephen Fong, a 2013 UCR alum and former guitarist in Ajoku’s band, wasn’t surprised. “Peter always talked with conviction and really believed that he was going to achieve something like ‘(American) Idol,’” Fong said. “I’m very happy for him and he continues to be an inspiration for myself, especially in this tough craft of being a musician.”

On his Facebook page, Ajoku expressed gratitude to and provided an update for all of his followers on the first “American Idol” airing. “Hi Everyone!! Thank you for all your support. “American IDOL” starts tonight! I auditioned in San Francisco, so you may not be able to see my audition until January 22, according to the rumors I am hearing,” said Ajoku.

“American Idol” judges, traveling through Nashville, New Orleans, Long Island, San Francisco and Minneapolis, held a series of auditions to find its next contestants. As of press time, auditions from Nashville and Kansas City have only been shown during the first week of the season.