Casey James: An Overnight Success Twelve Years in the Making

Part of the myth of American Idol is that it plucks ordinary people from their regular lives and turns them into singers. The producers further that illusion of creating an overnight success by focusing on some aspect of the contestant’s lives unrelated to music. This was certainly the case last year with third place finisher Casey James. When the audience first saw James on the screen, he described himself accurately as a musician. Yet months later, when host Ryan Seacrest was announcing the final four contestants, James, who had built his own house, had suddenly become the “construction worker.”

While it is true that being on the number one rated television show does provide the contestants with instant notoriety, it would be wrong to confuse instant fame with not paying your dues. James has been nothing but a musician ever since high school, honing his skills, playing whenever, wherever and whatever – blues one night, country the next, rock the night after that. Night after night, with some concerts lasting three-four hours, playing till his fingernails came off and had to be superglued back on. James did not take a short cut or easy path to fame.

James’ only goal since he first picked up a guitar was to play music for the rest of his life. Nothing has changed for James since finishing American Idol; he has gone back to what he was before and what he always planned to be – a working musician. He is happiest when he is on stage playing his music for people, and recent photos and videos of him playing have captured the joy, passion and intensity he brings to every performance.

And yet in one significant way, everything has changed for him. James isn’t doing this all by himself, a struggling musician trying to eke out a living on his own with just his voice and his guitar. The days of setting up his own gigs, being his own roadie, arranging his own travel, making his own business cards, recording his own demo are over. What American Idol provided James was a platform – and he used it well and wisely. Given the chance to be seen by millions, he performed every week not for votes, but to show what he could do. He used the opportunity to show his range of influences and his ease and skill playing in a variety of styles. Every week was an audition of sorts, showing his talent as a singer and as a musician for the world to see.

Sony Nashville CEO Gary Overton liked what he saw and what he heard and made the decision to sign James to his BNA label. Since then, James moved to Nashville and has been hard at work on his debut album due out sometime this year. He has been collaborating with seasoned songwriters and musicians, famous stars and hit makers in their own right, and putting together a catalog from which the first album’s songs will be selected. He also put together a band to support him at a number of recent shows, comprised of very experienced musicians who can adapt to James’ eclectic musical taste.

James has been taking some of the new material for a test run, performing songs that may or may not end up on his record at a number of concerts over the last month, including a string of opening gigs for the hugely popular duo Sugarland. One of the songs was so new, the ink hadn’t dried on the paper on which the words were written by the time Casey debuted the song on stage. It is called “Hold On” and was co-written with Sugarland’s Kristian Bush during their Incredible Machine Tour. The others, from the sultry, bluesy “Let’s Don’t Call it a Night” to the propulsive “Drive” have received a very positive reception from fans – old and new, alike.

In recent interviews, James has said that he has some 60 new songs as well as older ones to choose from and is determined to take whatever time is needed to chose the right ones for the album. It may be tough for existing fans to have to wait for the record to come out, but James is in no hurry. After waiting some twelve years to finally be at the point where he is recording for a major label, he is not going to rush it. As Casey James knows, good things come to those who wait.