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Catching up with Colton Dixon, season 11 ‘Idol’finalist, in Little Five Points

Colton Dixon in front of the legendary Little Five Points Vortex. PHOTO CREDITS: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Colton Dixon in front of the legendary Little Five Points Vortex. PHOTO CREDITS: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Colton Dixon may have finished seventh season 11 of “Idol,” but he became one of only three contestants so far to get a record deal. And he smartly took the Christian route.

The Christian music business has been kind of “Idol” contestants such as Chris Sligh, Mandisa and Jason Castro, who has a single on the charts right now.  He signed on with Sparrow Records, home to TobyMac and Mandisa.

Last month, on his 21st birthday Oct, 19, Sparrow released Colton’s single “You Are.” Several Christian pop stations have picked it up, including the one in Colton’s hometown of Nashville. It’s already at No. 25 on the Mediabase 24/7 Christian pop chart.

Fish 104.7, our local influential Christian pop station, has not placed it on its rotation, but the timing of his single wasn’t ideal since the Fish is about to switch to Christmas for a month. The station, which is pretty conservative in adding new songs as it is, has little incentive to spin new singles in November.

Dixon has a chance for a good career. He has built-in base of fans, as evidenced by the enthusiasm he received during the “Idol” live tour. In fact, he was the only non-winner to perform an original song, “Never Gone.”

I was fortunate to be able to spend some quality time with Colton because he had a fairly open schedule yesterday.

I picked him up at Fox 5, after he spoke with “Good Day Atlanta.” That show has gone more hard news and didn’t give him a chance to perform his music, which is a bummer. But he was in good spirits. I drove him and the 19 Entertainment publicist over to Aurora Coffee in Little Five Points, Given his eclectic tastes in dress and hair, I thought he’d get a kick out of the bohemian nature of that neighborhood.

I got him a chai latte and we taped this video first:

Then we talked more in depth about his life. Here are some topics we touched upon:

- Why his album will come out in January: It gives him a bit more time to finish up instead of before Christmas. The album is almost done. He still has some bonus tracks to finish for specific retailers. He’d like it to come out around the time “Idol” returns in mid-January to tie the two together. He also hopes (and I expect it will happen) to perform live on a results show in the spring. (He said Phillip Phillips insisted on his album coming out sooner and got it done.l)

- The write stuff: He had his creative imprint on almost every song on the album, co-writing every one except one. Clearly, his creativity is what helped get him his record deal. He’s not just a voice. The sound will be blend rock and faith, though not every song will be overly explicit in its religious imagery, he said.

- Not a lot of “Idol” time: Each week on “Idol,” he said he had maybe an hour with a vocal coach, then another with the band, to put a song together. “Ray Chew and his band just learn it and record it right there,” he said. And to record vocals for the single? Maybe 30 minutes at most. “We had to work quickly,” he said. The video shoots, in comparison, were relaxed days and a lot of fun. A lot of the work, he acknowledged, goes to the post-production guys who have to put the ads together in a matter of a three or four days.

- Going to the Philippines: The “Idol” tour ended in the Philippines. Jessica Sanchez, the runner up, is half-Filipino, and was treated like royalty. “She was like Madonna over there,” Colton said. “It was insane. When the news reporters were coming at her, you could see the look of sheer terror on her face.” He also enjoyed the huge arena crowds. “A lot of us were spoiled. Phillip will be able to do stuff like that. For those who didn’t win, we’ll have to take a couple of steps back to get to that point.”

- Opening for Atlanta’s Third Day: Third Day lead singer Mac Powell was a fan of Colton from the Show and began following him on Twitter. They began direct messaging. A few months later, he invited Colton to open for Third Day next year. Colton was thrilled. In fact, he said, “my dad was even more excited than I was. he’s a huge fan.”  They’ll make great mentors, he said, on tour. (He’ll be with Third Day at the Fox Theatre April 13.) He’ll have 30 minutes to make an impression with a potential new fan base. He’ll naturally play a mix of new songs from his album and a couple of covers, probably “Everything” by Lifehouse and either “Love the Way You Lie” (Skylar Grey’s version) or Billy Joel’s “Piano Man,” all well-received covers he did on “Idol.”

- His sister Schyler: As regular “Idol” followers know, Colton tried out season 10 with his sister Schyler and almost made it to the top 24. For season 11, his sister tried out again and he joined her for moral support but was goaded into auditioning. And in the end, he ended up in the finals, not his sister. But Schyler, now 18, is trying out again for season 12. (He can’t comment about that.) As for her maturity as a singer, “she’s just been going for it. She sounds so good. Her voice is so soothing. She has something about her that is really cool and quirky.”

- His opinions on the new judges: “I’m not sure about Nicki Minaj, to be honest. I have confidence in Mariah Carey. I’m very confident about Keith Urban. He’s a great dude, very down to earth.”

- On “The Walking Dead”: All his friends are raving about it. He has yet to see it but hopes to catch up on the tour bus via Netflix or DVDs.

- On his hair evolution: He went to a semi-strict private Christian school that required hair trimmed above the ears, the collar and the eyebrows. He was preppy in middle school but started pushing the boundary of hair over time, including a faux hawk. “I wouldn’t break the rules but they’d tell me my hair was too tall. As respectfully as I could, I’d point out in the handbook that I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I still got detention once for my hair. The year after I left, they changed the rules to limit the height of hair. They didn’t name it the Dixon hair rule but I’m responsible for it. Also, your jeans can’t be too tight. I helped out on that one, too.” Why hair? “I just like being different. My class either had preppy kids or county boys. I’m neither of those.”

- Daddy don’t play that:  “My dad doesn’t like the skinny jeans. He thought my hair was a phase. He’s grown into it. He does wish I wouldn’t cut the sides so short. But he knows I’m a dramatic kid. If that’s the way I’m rebelling, it’s not the worst thing in the world.” (He doesn’t drink or smoke or use crystal meth!)

- Best friend on tour: Phillip Phillips. “We share similar interests. He’s also a believer. Also, Heejun [Han.] We’re all believers. Heejun’s a nut. I could see him a sitcom or K-pop. Gangnam Style part two! Phillip and I would hang out. His girlfriend Hannah, too. Great people.”

- Single or not? Sorry, ladies. He’s dating someone he met in Los Angeles before the tour began in June. She actually lives in Tulsa so it’s a long-distance relationship. “She’s a great girl. I hope it works,” he said.

Afterwards, I walked him through Junkman’s Daughter, the clothing/knick-knacks shop renowned for its quirkiness. He even found a black shirt he already owns and wore on tore. He admired bobbleheads and Batman memorabilia. (He loves both.)  He was bemused by a Donnie Darko creepy bunny outfit and the array of Pop Rocks options. But he restrained himself and didn’t buy anything:

Colton Dixon in Junkman's Daughter.  He admired a lot of the clothing (though not the S&M stuff - not his taste).

Colton Dixon in Junkman's Daughter. He admired a lot of the clothing (though not the S&M stuff - not his taste).

We then walked over to Criminal Records, one of the coolest independent record stores still (barely) alive in this day and age. He loved the Batman memorabilia, noted that he purchased a vinyl record player and has a few discs. He looked at a Muse vinyl but was a little turned off by the price: $39.99! I saw a “Piano Man” CD and recalling he had sung that on the show, I had him pose with it:

Colton Dixon shows off a CD from one of my favorite artists: Billy Joel.

Colton Dixon shows off a CD from one of my favorite artists: Billy Joel.

While we walked around, I asked him about whether the tour tried to force him to sing certain songs. He said they wanted him to sing a country duet with Skylar Laine. He refused. He said he’s a rock guy with a Christian bent, along the lines of Switchfoot. (He also loves 30 Seconds to Mars.). He isn’t country. He was forced by Nigel Lythoe, he said, to sing a couple of country duets on the show with Skylar, including “Islands in the Stream,” a song he did not know. (He knew Dolly Parton was one of the singers but couldn’t immediately recall Kenny Rogers.) Skylar, he said, knew it well.

We also talked about contracts. He can’t believe Skylar and Joshua Ledet have yet to land contracts. That, I noted, says a lot about the music business today.

And here we are before I drop him off at his hotel. He was going to hang out with some buddies he knows in Atlanta. (He’s been here several times, mostly to visit Six Flags. He’s a big coaster enthusiast):

Colton and me in front of Junkman's Daughter.

Colton and me in front of Junkman's Daughter.

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11 comments Add your comment

JTesla

November 20th, 2012
12:35 pm

Thank you Rodney, great stuff, and best of luck to Colton.

Harriett

November 20th, 2012
1:04 pm

Cool, interview, Rodney! I loved Colton and was pulling for him last season on Idol. Glad to know he’s making it in the business. He will do well in Christian music. Hope he doesn’t lose his edge, though.

JTesla

November 20th, 2012
1:22 pm

I love how Rodney and Colton just hung out shopping.

Pitchy

November 20th, 2012
2:50 pm

Pitchy

November 20th, 2012
2:53 pm

Well, well, well. I’m back in. Never know when I’m locked out.

G

November 20th, 2012
3:24 pm

Good interview, Roho! One of my favorites to date. Interesting point you made about the music business……….in terms of Idol contestants not signed yet. I thought for sure Joshua and Skylar would’ve been signed by now. Guess this proves: 1) you need more than talent to get a deal; 2) Idol doesn’t neccessarily put you in the front of the line to get a deal; 3) the industry is worse off than I thought.

DanJ

November 20th, 2012
4:28 pm

@G, I find it hard to believe as well that Skylar and Joshua haven’t been signed. Joshua should have tried out for X-Factor instead of Idol!

rebe

November 20th, 2012
5:38 pm

Regarding the others not getting signed, it also depends on how hard you work for it. Colton spent a lot time traveling and promoting, I saw him everywhere. I don’t recall seeing as much of the others afterwards…

david c

November 20th, 2012
8:04 pm

So Rodney Ho figured this manufactured celebrity would feel right at home in the now gentrified L5P.

Deirdre

November 21st, 2012
8:50 am

Wishing all Rodney’s readers a very Happy Thanksgiving!

marygrace

November 21st, 2012
9:29 am

Great interview.