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Interview: Colton Dixon talks changing musical direction, considering giving up music and American Idol

Colton Dixon rose to fame on Season 11 of American Idol where he reached the Top 7.

Following his time on the show, Colton has released four studio albums and established himself as a force in the Christian music market. Now signed to Atlantic Records, Colton has changed direction musically for his forthcoming self-titled EP, which is released on Friday 15th May 2020.

I caught up with Colton to talk about the EP, discuss his doubts following the end of his American Idol deal, and to find out how he’s feeling about becoming a father later in the year…

Your self-titled EP is released on Friday. Sonically it marks a big change in direction for you. Why did you decide to do that with these songs?

Three years ago, the American Idol deal ended, which meant the label deal ended as well so it was an uncertain time for me in my career. A few months went by and I didn’t really know if music was still going to be in the future or not and then the Atlantic Records deal came to the table. I was signed to a Christian label and Atlantic, as we all know, is a mainstream record label. It just meant, right off the bat, a very different approach to what I do. With that said, I love Christian music, I grew up on it and still love it but I love the opportunity of stepping outside of the box for a second and exploring new things and new sounds and even new things to talk about. I think we came up with something really beautiful and authentic that still goes in line with what I believe and my morale but at the same time it opens the door for even more people to relate and to appreciate what I do. That’s why it’s so different than things we’ve done in the past.

You can still hear that base in faith in the lyrics, which links these songs to what you’ve done previously. Was it important to stay true to yourself even though musically this is new territory?

Yeah, that was really important to me. It’s not like I’ve quit my faith or anything like that. I still believe the same way. We just saw an opportunity to include some more people. We want to include as many people as possible and and not everyone believes the way that I do and I’m cool with that. My goal with my music is to leave people better than they were when they came to listen to my music. That’s with anything in life, you want to leave it better than it was when you got it.

Miracles is a big song and it demands to be played loud. Why did you choose to have that as the lead single for the EP?

That one seems to play both markets well, both Christian and mainstream. I wrote the song with busbee and a guy named Michael Jade. Busbee started the production and after he passed his assistant finished out the song, so it obviously meant a lot to us. Having such a legend work on the song, it fits right in with everything else that I hear on pop radio. We just thought it met our needs well, as far as this is a really pivotal song and very important song to tell the world like what this (EP) is going to be. We’ve been working the song at Christian radio and it’s been doing really well and we’re hoping to use that momentum. When the EP drops on Friday, there’s actually a song on there called Can’t Quit You that Atlantic’s really excited about for the mainstream side. The more momentum we have going into this project the better and we felt that Miracles not only said what we want to say but also had the sonicness, I don’t know if it’s a word (laughs), to back it up.

Given that we’re in the midst of a global pandemic, Miracles seems so timely. It’s the kind of song that will give people hope during this difficult time and help them through…

It’s so funny, even just the way the song was inspired was during that season of uncertainty not knowing if music was it in the future or if I needed to find a nine to five. Coming out of that place and just realising that even in the season where we’re kind of forced to slow down, there are so many things I consider to be the miracles that happen every day that I took for granted or overlooked because I was so busy, and now here we all are in basically the same season. It’s crazy but we’re really thankful to have a song like this just to give people some help, because it’s gonna be get better.

It’s really surprising to hear that you ever thought that music might not be in your future. You just need to listen to your voice to know this is what you were born to do. How serious were you about stopping making music?

Man, it’s really funny the last record I put out was called Identity and it’s basically about putting your identity in the right things versus the wrong things. When that label deal ended, I realised really quickly how much my identity was wrapped up in my career and music. I consider myself a creative in everything that I do, not just music, I love to express myself that way. It’s just an extension of who I am. It doesn’t define who I am. Having to actually live that out was challenging. It’s easier to write about than it is to live it out sometimes. It was probably a total of two weeks that I was just mopey. My wife was like, ‘alright, we need to think of this differently. I know this looks like a setback, but maybe this is just God’s way of setting you up for what’s next?’ and we started to stand on that and it changed the game for us. It was scary, I’m not gonna lie to you. It felt like I lost my job. I’m really thankful that it worked out but even if it didn’t, I think just knowing that having a record label or having a career in music, or not, doesn’t define who I am as a person. That was a big lesson learned regardless of the outcome.

When you’re part of a juggernaut such as American Idol, I imagine your life wasn’t your own for some time afterwards. Did this moment of uncertainty allow you to really think about what you wanted to do?

American Idol is amazing but if you don’t have a very clear vision, they will create that vision for you. That’s kind of their job to do that. I had a fairly clear vision of what I wanted to do in the beginning, doing Christian music is what I grew up with, so that was great. Even breaking outside of the Christian music bubble just for a second, it was a new opportunity, a new beginning, and fresh start. If I wanted to change anything, or if I wanted to tackle something in a different way, how would I do that? That season of those few months, I learned a lot about myself and grew a lot as a person, spiritually, musically and vocally. I just dove in, tried to write a few songs a week and work on them. It was really cool what came out because it was true to who I was as a believer and as a musician up until that point. I just felt like the limitations were off. There was no expectation.s I wasn’t writing these songs for anyone other than me and what I was going through so it was very genuine and raw. Miracles was one of the songs that was inspired by that season. It’s not certainly fun during the season but you look back and go, ‘man, I wouldn’t trade it for the world because I grew a lot’.

Having longevity after American Idol isn’t guaranteed. Past contestants and winners have disappeared quickly after the show has ended yet here you are 8 years later with a record deal and still making music. That’s pretty incredible really isn’t it?

Man, I’m so thankful. I got some great advice from another contestant on the show, Chris Daughtry. He told me, ‘man, nothing’s guaranteed. The real work starts after the show so as soon as you can start writing songs. It’s all about the song’. I’m so glad he told me that because when you’re on the show, it feels like a lot of work and it is but it’s the fun work. You’re in the spotlight and it’s 15 minutes of fame for some people. I remember as soon as I got voted off the show, I wrote 13 songs in two weeks, which was the most songs I’ve ever written in that amount of time. It was just crazy. Some of my first singles that I ever had came from that period of time so I’m glad he told me that. I’m one of the fortunate ones.

Like you said earlier, it’s so important to know who you are before going onto a show like that because the public can see through facades. That’s the key to your longevity I think and your voice is incredible. I couldn’t imagine having a voice like yours and ever doubting that music was for me…

Oh, man, that’s very kind. It’s a scary thing. My parents own an airbrush face painting company. I know that’s so random and kind of odd but they paint faces at big sporting events. That’s the only job I’ve ever had apart from music. It was a scary time. Music is what I love to do. It’s my favourite thing to do. It can be a scary thing when you put your identity in something and it goes away for a time.

You’ll be having a big change in your personal life later this year when you and your wife welcome twins. I imagine you never thought you’d be doing that in the middle of a pandemic so how are you preparing for it and coping with it?

We obviously hate what’s going on in the world right now and our thoughts and prayers are with those who have been directly affected by it. It’s actually been a really sweet season for my wife and I. She’s just now six months pregnant. We have two identical twin girls coming mid-August so it’s a very exciting time in our house right now, but it’s also just been great for her and I. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been home for this amount of time. It’s been so nice just to cook dinner, or Annie cooks dinner while I’m in the studio, and then we go to bed in our bed and we wake up in our bed, seven days a week. It’s really nice and it’s definitely something that I’m going to miss doing when touring finally becomes a thing again. It’s actually been a really sweet season for us, despite everything that’s happening outside.

You get to experience this whole journey with her. I imagine that is incredibly special and something you’ll be able to look back on in the future?

I’m so thankful that she’s not here on her own. As we’re getting ready for bed, I have in the back of my mind that I’m going to get up out of bed and get her at least one thing, a glass of water or something. I’m so glad that I get to be here to do that. If everything was normal, I’d be on the road right now so it’s a very special time.

Is your new EP a pre-cursor to a new album or are you going to put it out and see how it does before making any more decisions?

You know, that’s a great question. We don’t really know yet. We haven’t fully had the album discussion. We wrote between 60 and 70 songs for this EP so there are songs to make up two or three albums that I would love to put out. There’s a lot of great material to choose from this project but we picked the five that stood out to us as being ready and timely. I think these five were the right move for right now. We’re going to see how it does. The market right now is different. Last time I put out a record, records were slowly phasing out. It’s become a singles market, people want to hear your latest song and then they move on to whoever else’s new song. Most people don’t sit and listen through an entire record anymore. This kind of fills both sides a little bit. For the people who just want to hear the newest stuff, it’s only five songs, but the people who love to listen to stuff as well have more than just a couple songs to listen to. We’re going to try this and see how it does. I would love to put out more music. I don’t have a timeline on it yet, but we definitely have some songs to choose from.

When you’re able to get back out on the road, will you be making plans to come over to the UK?

Man I would love to. We had a layover in London. My wife and I took a cruise late last year to Italy and it was my first time to Europe. It was fantastic. Unfortunately, we didn’t really get a chance to explore London so I would love to go over to the UK and play some shows. It’s always fun for me going to new places, especially with music because different regions respond to music differently. I feel like America is so saturated. I’m not sure about the UK because I’ve never been there but I would love to go.

Colton Dixon’s self-titled EP is released on Friday 15th May through Atlantic Records and it’s available to pre-order now at Watch the music video for Miracles below:

Pip Ellwood-Hughes
Pip Ellwood-Hughes
Pip is the Editor of Entertainment Focus and the Managing Director of agency Piñata Media.

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