Adam Lambert and Kris Allen might have gone to the finals, but for much of the 2009 season of “American Idol,” Danny Gokey was right there in the running, eventually coming up at No. 3 on the nation’s favorite singing competition.
Plenty of “Idol” alumni — Carrie Underwood, Kellie Pickler, Kristy Lee Cook, Josh Gracin, Bucky Covington and Phil Stacey, among them — have used “Idol” exposure as a vehicle to a country recording deal. Even first-season victor Kelly Clarkson took a whirl on the country charts when she teamed up with Reba McEntire on a duet.
Danny is now taking a swipe at the genre with his first single in release and his debut album on the way in spring. He performed Monday at the Sony BMG offices in Nashville for Music Row executives and media, and he showed himself to be an adept vocalist who mirrors some of the best aspects of Rascal Flatts vocalist Gary LeVox. He’s a blue-eyed soul singer with a soaring upper register and from-the-gut power. Add in the stand-on-end hair style, his predilection for songs with a gospel/feel-good message and the fact that he covered “What Hurts The Most” during his “Idol” run, and it’s easy to see that country has indeed embraced a guy like Danny before.
Every artist is an investment risk for record companies, but a few years ago, Danny would have been an even bigger risk. Blue-eyed soul has not traditionally been a major attraction in country. But there’s plenty of evidence that it works in 2009. Besides Mr. LeVox, James Otto and Lady Antebellum’s Charles Kelley have a hint of R&B influence in their deliveries. And Jimmy Wayne’s current remake of “Sara Smile” — backed by the kings of rock and soul, Hall & Oates — makes it clear that it’s OK to lean in that direction.
What’s not clear is how many artists in a soul-pop vein country fans will accept or how far they can stretch the genre’s boundaries before they’re literally out of bounds. Danny’s best performance Monday was his finale, “Everybody Wants To Be Somebody,” a churning, upbeat title infused with an electric-organ texture. It goes so far on the blue-eyed soul branch that it sounds much like a Steve Winwood song.
Danny seems to have the best of intentions. He’s already set up a charitable foundation to give out scholarships. And he seems to want to make a difference.
“Do small acts with great love and you’ll accomplish a lot,” he told the audience.
He brings with him a huge potential audience. Millions of folks watch “American Idol” regularly. They know his story, they know his talent, they know his disposition. The biggest questions now are (a) how many of those “Idol” viewers are also country music fans, and (b) how many non-“Idol” watchers will accept another R&B-tinged pop guy on their country radio dial.
Initial indications are good. “My Best Days Are Ahead Of Me,” his first single, tied with the Zac Brown Band’s “Highway 20 Ride” as the second-most-added new release of the week at radio, behind Carrie Underwood’s “Temporary Home,” according to Country Aircheck. Danny, and the label, are hoping the title is prophetic.