Colton Dixon’s “American Idol” journey was not initially a smooth one. He auditioned, along with sister Schyler, in the show’s 10th season, but both got cut before the Top 24. And when he accompanied Schyler for her audition the next year, not planning to try out himself, the judges talked him into singing anyway.
His sister got cut in the Las Vegas rounds, but the reluctant auditioner eventually finished seventh, became part of the show’s summer tour and is now a certified Christian rock star whose “Never Gone” hit the top of the Christian singles chart.
It’s been a whirlwind - an unexpected one - but Dixon says he’s just grateful.
“It’s been everything I expect and more, so much more,” says the 21-year-old Tennessee native, who this weekend comes to Cruzan Amphitheatre with Third Day’s “Miracle” tour, sponsored by DateNight Florida, an initiative to get married couples to commit to weekly dates with each other to help strengthen their bond.
“It’s been an honor and a blessing. I wasn’t really wanting to audition (the second time) but once things started going, I kinda felt like this was my last shot at ‘American Idol,’ so I wanted to see where it went. I’m glad they got me to audition! It’s a blessing.”
The singer with the spiky blond hair, whose album “A Messenger” hit the top of the U.S. Gospel and Christian charts and 15 on the Billboard Top 200, made history during “Idol“‘s 2012 tour by becoming the first singer to perform an original song, which Dixon had written. Surprisingly, it was the idea of the show’s producers, not Dixon’s.
“On tour, we’re given a good chunk of time. I was still in the early writing stages, and hadn’t even written the song yet, but they came to me and said ‘We want you to do an original song. We’ve listened to the music you’ve been writing so far, and it would be a cool opportunity for you to give those ‘Idol’ fans a sneak peek,’” he says. “Three weeks went by and I still didn’t have a song yet. But a week before the tour started, I wrote ‘Never Gone,’ and obviously that was the one.”
Even though he wrote his eventual hit at the last minute, don’t think for a second that Dixon was slacking up to that point. In fact, he says, he’d been hustling the whole time.
“I think that no matter what place a contestant gets, if the ones who aren’t still on the show are not already working on something, they’re doing something wrong,” he says. “Immediately after I was eliminated, I started writing, kept hitting the press runs and kept the momentum going. The first record that you put out is so important. You’re seen as a contestant coming off the show, and you want to see the pay-off from all your hard work. So I was gonna suck it up and do it right from the beginning.”
Dixon’s decision to, from the beginning, enter the Christian rock genre, one he’s listened to since he was a kid, was a heartfelt one, albeit one that risked alienating some fans.
“First and foremost, music is music, although the message is a little different,” he says. “The only negative feedback I’ve seen is that some people see ‘Christian’ or ‘gospel’ and automatically tuned it out. I feel sorry for them, because they’re missing some pretty good music. But to me, it’s more about the music. I wanted that to be prominent, to let the music back up what I have to say. I’m happy with the way the record turned out. It’s mine, and I wanted to stay true.”
His current tour with Third Day and Josh Wilson, which ends Sunday in Orlando, has stayed true to what he thinks “a Christian tour should look like. It’s really just about keeping the focus on what’s more important to all of us, the message. Words cut the deepest when they’re keeping people focused on what God’s doing that night to those people.”
The tour also provides a little full-circle symmetry to his “Idol” journey - his sister Schyler, whose audition he inadvertently crashed, is along with him, singing a song with him and one with headliners Third Day.
“She’s having a really great time. I’m so excited for her,” he says. “I’m in her corner.”
Colton Dixon with Third Day and Josh Wilson: Today, 7 p.m., Cruzan Amphitheatre, West Palm Beach. Ticketmaster.com