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One day after Danny Gokey was eliminated from on American Idol, he was asked what his plan was as a recording artist. It turns out, Gokey’s dreams were loftier than just putting out an album.
STORY: ‘American Idol’: 7 Changes for Season 13
“I remember telling them that I see my music career as a movement — I wanted not just to do entertainment, but I wanted a movement of people’s lives being changed,” the season eight alum told The Hollywood Reporter.
Four years later, Gokey’s goals have converged, as the Milwaukee native is set to release his new single, “Hope in Front of Me,” which is also the title of his recent memoir. Although recorded in Nashville, the song — produced by Bernie Herms — is more soulful than his previous, country-leaning album, My Best Days. Like the book, Gokey’s music talks of the beacon of light that is hope, and how the listener will persevere in the time after their darkest days.
“People know me from my story,” said Gokey, who lost his first wife, Sophia Martinez, to complications following heart surgery for congenital heart disease. He founded Sophia’s Heart, a non-profit organization based in Nashville that helps homeless families in crisis get back on their feet. (Last year, 40 families resided in the organization’s 70,000-square-foot building.) “I walked through a great amount of pain in the loss of a spouse, and since then, people haven’t really seen the redemption side. So with these songs, I am showing the redemptive side of the journey.”
Gokey is releasing his single on Jan. 24, and his full-length album (with tracks produced by Herms and Keith Thomas) will be out in the late spring (and although “nothing is set in stone,” there could be another book tour and live dates in the works). Ahead of his new single, Gokey spoke with THR about his music career thus far, making hope “cool” and possibly returning to Idol:
You have a new sound on the single, “Hope in Front of Me.”
With this record, we really wanted to just capture more of who I am — more of the soul, and more of all of me as an artist. When you go on the show, you don’t have as much experience; you just know that you can sing. And it’s just so cool that through the years, as you get to know yourself and as you work in the industry full-time, you start figuring out things and experimenting. The sound we captured and the producers we are working with are complementing my style, and we’re getting really good feedback. people who are listening to it are really loving it.
Tell us about the themes on your upcoming album.
The record is really sounding epic. It’s got a big sound to it, which I really like. I feel like I have a pretty big voice, and so to be able to match that together and make it fit — what you are hearing with that song is just the tip of the iceberg, because we got some songs on there that people are going to go wild over.
We are really going into songs of hope and entertainment. There is a song we are getting ready to cut that is in the vein of what the fans saw when I was on the show and I did “PYT” (“Pretty Young Thing,” by Michael Jackson). We have been hitting some of the more soulful and entertaining, crowd-pleasing songs. With “Hope In Front of Me,” we are talking about hope in a way that is not cheesy and not cliche: “I might be down, but I’m not dead.” It’s a great lyric, but the sound that it’s wrapped in is a really catchy sound, and it takes the lyric and smoothes it over. It’s like a cool way of having hope. When you write about hope, don’t make it sappy; make it cool, make it adaptable. They want to move to it, but that message is feeding their soul.
Are you keeping up Idol this season?
This is the best time to watch it! The audition process is so funny…you want to see the good singers, but you want to see the people who think they can sing, too. It’s kind of cruel, but it makes for good entertainment. I remember when I was in the top ranking, my heart kind of broke for them, but how do you tell someone that you heard them sing and you know that the judges are playing them — that they are going to make a spectacle out of you?
Hollywood Week is coming up, and Keith Urban has said it’s everyone’s least favorite day. But you are an example of how someone could stand out in that format, like when your group sang Queen’s “Somebody to Love.”
Group Day challenges your endurance — you pull an all-nighter and then you have to perform. I was put to the test and found out what I was made of, because that was such a challenge. Some people at that moment are made, and other people — they break.
It seems like everything is coming together for you.
I just got out of a meeting with my manager, and I got my agent, and everyone is talking to Idol right now, about getting me back on the show. I think Idol doesn’t realize what they did — not only gave me a platform for music, but how lives are being affected in the homelessness arena, just from people who heard my story. Idol had a greater effect than they really understood. We are planning to go back there. Hopefully that door will open up, and I will sing a song on the show.
I’m very thankful, because there is a lot of great talent that came off American Idol, and to say that I am making a second record — not a lot of people get that opportunity. Sophia’s Heart hasn’t been easy. Everyone said I was crazy doing Sophia’s Heart, but these are the things I believe in. I believe in my music. I believe in helping people who are down. I believe I have something to offer…this year is my year, and I feel this is my opportunity to really just show what I’m about.
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