I spoke with former Buckhead man and season 7 finalist Michael Johns last month in advance of his soulful first album “Hold Back My Heart,” out today. Listen to it at AOL here.
Since I last spoke with him last December at Gwinnett Arena for a charity tennis tourney, he’s been too busy to come back to Atlanta.
And that’s a good thing. He’s gotten to work with David Foster. He got to perform for Muhammad Ali. He’s gotten to share the stage with Josh Grobin, Bon Jovi and Sam Moore. “It’s been a great run,” he said.
The experience, post “Idol,” he said, “is surreal. I just find if you’re willing to work hard, there are so many doors that open, platforms you could be on. If you keep your nose to the grindstone, work, work, work, you can really get a career.”
Did he watch season eight? “You want to stay in touch with what’s going on but I was working so much,” he said. “I didn’t get to sink my teeth into it like I used to do. What I saw, I enjoyed.” He got to attend the finale and popped up on camera a few times.
“It was funny,” he said. “I was walking into the Nokia Theatre. A lady pulled me over and said, ‘I’m Kris’ mom. No way you were voted off because of me. Every week, I just looped up the phone!’ We took a photo together. I didn’t expect that.”
She asked him, “What do you think of Kris’ chances?”
I said, “I think he’s going to win.”
Johns said he’s now two for two because David Cook’s mom asked him the same question last year before the finale.
He said it took some time but he found a label in Downtown Records. Gnarls Barkley (which includes Atlanta’s Cee-lo) and Mos Def are among the artists on the label. They did a 50/50 licensing split. As a result, he’ll get $2 to $3 per record, as opposed to 10 cents if he were on a traditional record label. One of the execs at Downtown used to work at Maverick, the first label he worked with (but never had an album released.).
He said the album evokes a bit of old-school Otis Redding and Joe Cocker. He said they did it in “live” fashion without a lot of over-processing. They left some mistakes on purpose. “Those mishaps make it more personal,” he said. His producer David Cobb is from Atlanta and a former member of the band Tender Idols Cobb told him to leave the imperfections in.
Johns said he feels his vocals are in top form. “I was doing things in the studio I had never been able to do before, stylistically, notewise, range. The music we were doing was the most natural I ever felt.”
I did ask him about how life has been with his wife Stacey. “Obviously this is the first year out. It’s never easy. We’ve had good times and bad times. It’s kind of weird. I was home 20 odd days last year. It’s never easy. She’s my girl. I’m her man.” She’s an interior designer and has a big spread in InStyle magazine next month for Kristen Bell’s home. “She’s pretty busy herself.” Check her interior design work here at www.staceyvudurisdesign.com.
He has been doing a radio tour, trying to drum up support for his lovely first single “Heart On My Sleeve.” Last week, the song was spun 128 times on adult contemporary stations nationwide, ranking #27. “It’s a midtempo song,” he noted. “Not many songs like that on top 40. So we’re building it on AC.”
Johns still has plans to move to Atlanta at some point. “That is 100%,” he said. “Even the misses wants to move there, too. She loves it.” But he feels he has to keep L.A. as his home base while he builds his career.
He re-told his story about how he wears boxers given to him by Ellen DeGeneres and has been caught a couple of times wearing them in public. So last time he was on her show, he brought her Michael Johns underwear. Here he is performing “Heart On My Sleeve” on her show:
Are you a big fan? Check out a great fan site, michaeljohnsonline.com.