Exclusive: Colton Dixon on new album, ‘American Idol,’ Jessica Sanchez, and more

Colton DixonColton Dixon is a very smart guy. There is obviously the side of him that you know as a performer from “American Idol” season 11, or from some of his tour stops and his original music. But there is also a side to the 21-year Tennessee native that is extremely perceptive not just when it comes to music, but when it comes to his life and the experience that comes with being a star born on reality TV. If there is one thing that is easy to appreciate from an interview about all else, it is honesty; and as you will find below, Colton gives some very thoughtful answers when it comes to his time on the show, the perception of Christian music in the mainstream, and some of his overall life experiences from the past year.

Before we get into the body of the interview, let’s start by saying that Colton’s “A Messenger” hits stores on January 29, and you can pre-order it here. We also have some samples of the music (shared by Colton himself on Twitter this week) at the very bottom of the article.

Cartermatt.com – Let’s start with something simple: in between the show, the tour, and recording this album, you’ve had quite a year. Has there been any time for you to sit back and actually have a life like you had a year ago?

Colton Dixon – At Christmas and New Year’s, there really was a time to relax and get back home with the family. It’s so nice. Honestly, this week is one of the craziest weeks I’ve had since ‘Idol’ with the tour rehearsals and getting everything ready for that. But man, I was so thankful for the holidays. Because you are going 1,000 miles a second and hanging on for dear life and hoping that you end up all in one piece. I’m glad I did. (Laughs.) It’s been a lot of fun, and I’m excited for things to speed back up again.

What I’m always amazed about is how contestants are able to do the show, tour, and still have the time in there to cut an album. What was that like for you? When did you have time to write? I know you were able to at least perform one song [in ‘Never Gone’] on the tour.

I started writing the week after being eliminated, actually. By the time I was finished it was fourteen days later, and I had thirteen songs. That was just the first leg of the writing process, and we used a few songs from that.

Really, it was just getting a spare moment to write at any time that I had, and getting with other guys who had more time than I did and had more time to think (laughs) … We went to the studio in September, October-ish and just cranked them out. They were probably done in a two-to-three week period after we had recorded them, and then it was just getting the final mix together and getting them sent in by the first of December. It was a quick process, but we were happy with it. I don’t think that we jeopardized anything as far as quality goes by being so quick.

Was there any sort of music you listened to growing up that helped you become the artist that you are on the album?

Absolutely. When I was a little [kid], country was really what me and my family listened to. Garth Brooks, Randy Travis, and all of that stuff. I guess because they listened to it, I thought it wasn’t cool growing up. I started listening to Christian music when I was about 9 or 10 years old, and it’s definitely shaped who I am. Artists like Steven Curtis Chapman, Switchfoot, MerceMe, Audio Adrenaline, Casting Crowns. Listening to them and hearing what they do musically and listening to what they talked about helped to shape me as an artist.

A Messenger

One of the things I wanted to ask you a little bit about was the perception that exists out there when it comes to Christian music from the mainstream. I remember going to dc Talk show as a teenager and thinking it was one of the most energetic concerts that I had ever been to, but then you sort of get this impression from some people that they believe the Christian music genre entails sitting down and singing from a hymnal. Is this something that you have found to be the case?

Yeah. I guess one of my biggest pet peeves whether it be Facebook or an iTunes review is when [people] automatically discount Christian music. It’s so disappointing. It’s music, whether they are talking about God or sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll. It’s music. I guess it comes down to ‘are you willing to sacrifice what you are listening to for the lyrical content?’. As a Christian there are some things that I won’t put in my ears, but what’s interesting to me is people who share similar morals who will listen to songs with a good beat, but [whose lyrics] talk about sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll. But they won’t listen to Christian music because they don’t necessarily believe in God.

It’s kind of unfair to discredit something that is good music. Christian music is such a wide genre … it’s not even a genre, it’s kind of a lifestyle. It’s so hard to explain just what [Christian music entails]. That is probably like the biggest thing that eggs me on, that you gave it just one star [on iTunes] because it’s Christian music. Listen to the music and then judge it, and not just my music, but all Christian artists. There are a lot of great Christian artists out there.

There have been some songs within Christian music that have gone on to be mainstream hits, whether it be MerceMe with ‘I Can Only Imagine’ or Switchfoot with ‘Dare You to Move.’ Are you angling to eventually release some singles into more secular formats?

The plan right now isn’t to cross over. If it happens, it’s great and I’m all for reaching as many people as possible. But for right now it’s just about starting with the opportunities that I’ve been given, and if the door opens I’m all for it … I’m not saying that the TV and radio team aren’t trying to get the songs on TV or whatever. I’d pass out if I heard one of my songs on a TV show. (Laughs.)

There’s obviously a great feeling that comes from being on ‘American Idol’ and doing very well, but there’s a very different sort of feeling that comes from actually holding a physical copy of your album in your hands and saying that ‘this is something that my team put hours of blood, sweat, and tears into.’ Do you already have any plans for how you are going to celebrate the release on January 29? Are you going to go to a store and pick up a copy?

I have a show with Jessica Sanchez in the Philippines on Valentine’s Day, so we’re going to be spending much of the release day rehearsing that. It’s a little unfortunate, but still I’m going to take break from rehearsals and go down to where whatever the closest music store is and try to pick up a copy. Hopefully they have my CD, since that would be a little embarrassing. (Laughs.) But yeah, I’ll purchase a copy and hopefully the guy behind the counter won’t recognize me. That would be a little awkward too.

(Note: Colton also has a show on StageIt set up for the release day.)

Jessica SanchezSpeaking of the concert you just mentioned, I know that you were in the Philippines last fall with the tour. The fans there are so passionate, so do you think that experience helped to brace you for what you are going to see this time?

I remember the first day that we were there: it was overwhelming. We stepped off the plane, and there were probably 40 or 50 different publications lined up waiting to interview us. You stand out, especially when you have blonde hair.

But they are really diehard. They love music, especially anything that is American, they love it. It’s cool that I got such a big fanbase there and I never expected that.

Since you are doing the show with Jessica, have you had any opportunities to hear what she has been working on?

I’ve heard a couple of songs, just demo work. While we were on tour she played a couple of different songs, and they are awesome. That’s all I’m going to say because I want it to be a surprise. It’s really great and she’s put in a lot of work, so hopefully I’ll have an opportunity to hear a little bit more when we rehearse.

I’m proud of her. She’s hard at work both in the Philippines and the U.S., and she’s got the ‘Glee’ appearance coming up. It’s awesome. I have to watch that now (laughs).

Your DVR is going to be pretty stuffed with it since you’re also going to be on tour with Third Day. What’s that call to join the tour like? I mean this in a good way, but Third Day has been around Christian music forever. These guys are like legends at what they do.

It was really an honor to get that call from management and they say ‘hey, Third Day has asked you to come on tour with them.’ I grew up listening to Third Day, and my dad is a mega-fan of Third Day, so it’s been really cool for my family. They’re also a cool band and guys I trust; I had dinner with Mac Powell and he’s such a great guy. It’s a great first tour to learn from  … We didn’t quite get a rhythm on the ‘American Idol’ tour because everything’s so spastic. It will be cool to settle in and learn from these guys.

What do you think for you was the part of the ‘American Idol’ tour that really caught you off guard?

The number of hours we spent at meet-and-greets a show. We absolutely loved it, so I hope you don’t take this the wrong way. There were so many meet-and-greets. There’s more than just one that you can buy tickets for, and there were four at any given show. I’d say that they were about an hour on average, and it was a lot of smiling at people.

It was hard at times, especially when you were not having the best day. But you want to give every fan the same experience, and you want to be nice. Hopefully that comes naturally for you (laughs), and there was a lot of time sitting back. I do think it’s important because these are the ones that voted for you and you’re really appreciative. There was just a lot that we didn’t really know going in.

There were some other things, too, like the number of hours we didn’t get to sleep. That was amazing (laughs).

American IdolSo let’s do a few inevitable questions about ‘American Idol’ this season. Are you watching?

I have watched so far. There are a couple of weeks in here that are really busy that I have to get the inside scoop on, but I plan on watching.

Were you bummed at all that [your sister Schyler’s audition] wasn’t really shown last week?

Yeah. I think ‘Idol’ missed out on that opportunity when they didn’t let her through last season. They’ve never really given her TV time. I don’t get it, because she’s done really well. It’s unfortunate, and we almost expected it going into this season. I’m not saying that she did any better or any worse than anyone else, but they’re looking for specific things to show on television and for whatever reason right now, she’s not it.

Again, I’m not saying whether she made it far or not. ‘Idol’ is weird because they can not show somebody for several weeks, and then there they are at the finale. So yeah, I’m a little bummed, but unfortunately that’s just the way they’ve treated Schyler the past three years.

And this season they’ve focused so much time on the judges that … well, that’s a topic for another day. When you watch the show now, are you able to view it the same way you were years ago knowing everything that you know now happens behind the scenes?

It’s impossible. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but most people who watch ‘Idol’ are very naive about how things happen. I was very naive, but watching the show helped to open my eyes … It’s not that it’s bad, it was just very different from what I expected. All the hours you have to put in, and everything that goes on behind the scenes that you don’t see.

All right, so the last thing I have for you is this. We all know that your fans are super-passionate and will all go buy the album. What do you say to the people who may not be familiar with you or ‘American Idol’ to convince them to go pick it up?

I would say that there is really something for everyone on this album, whether you are a rocker or if you like the whole Coldplay vibe. My goal for putting out this record was really for it to be an encouragement for people who need it, but there’s definitely some good jams on the record so there’s [room] for that, too. All of these lyrics are positive and uplifting, and like you said [earlier] they’re not necessarily just [contemporary Christian] worship songs. Some of them do have more of a mainstream appeal. Give it a preview and see if you like it, and if you do, pick it up. Also, be sure to help spread the word about the record and that it’s out. With that, hopefully we can take this thing somewhere.

Thanks to Colton for not only putting out “A Messenger,” but giving us so much time this week to talk to him about it. If you want to read some more “American Idol” news, you can do so as always by clicking the link here.

Photo: Sparrow Records / 19

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