'American Idol' bits: Danny Gokey interview, Phillp Phillips, David Cook

By RODNEY HO/ rho@ajc.com, originally filed Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Danny Gokey will be performing in Atlanta for the first time in years at Marietta's Jim R. Miller Park on Friday at the North Georgia Fair. (Details here.) He has now become a successful contemporary Christian artist after a brief foray into country.

His single "Hope in Front of Me" went No. 1 last year on the Christian contemporary charts, the second time an "Idol" finalist has gone to the top after Mandisa.

"Idol" regulars remember Gokey as the early season 8 favorite whose wife and high school sweetheart Sophia had died of congenital heart disease right before he came on the show. He was still grieving but signed onto the show because she wanted him to. Though people blamed him for "milking" his wife's death for sympathy votes, I would really blame the producers, not him. Danny always struck me as a sincere, positive dude with a fine, soulful voice, who was eventually overtaken by Kris Allen and Adam Lambert, finishing a respectable third. (His attempt to match Lambert on the high notes with "Dream On" didn't quite work out.)

Gokey first tried the country route with modest success. He had two singles reach the lower rungs of the country top 40.

"I really enjoyed being in the country music realm," said Gokey in a phone interview today. "I'm not sure they enjoyed me." He said that with a chuckle, adding, "I may have had too much faith. I wanted to share my faith everywhere I went." (Indeed, he was probably not obsessed enough with bro-country topics like beer, fishin' by the creek and hanging in a flat-bed truck with his lady friend in short shorts by his side.)

It made logical sense for him to pivot and try the contemporary Christian  route although he admits he was more familiar with gospel and praise-and-worship music. His manager Mitchell Solarek, producer Bernie Herms (Casting Crowns, Steven Curtis Chapman) and Atlanta native and producer Keith Thomas (BeBe & CeCe Winans, Amy Grant) helped re-shape his sound for this new market.

As a hopeful person, "Hope In Front of Me," the first single, embodied Gokey's vision. And the sound appealed to the contemporary Christian crowd but with a broad enough message it even crossed over a bit into mainstream adult contemporary. "It was amazing to see," he said. "It wasn't sappy. It was relatable and real."

He said it proved "people are hungry for hope. People know me as a person of hope, who was able transition from losing a wife."

It also helped him start understanding the audience. His second single "More Than You Think I Am," he said, was mildly controversial because people didn't always figure out it was from God's point of view. "I may have been misunderstood," he said. "A lot of people heard it 20-30 times before they figured out what it was all about."

The third single will be another song with a broader inspirational message called "Tell Your Heart To Beat Again." It was featured on "America's Got Talent" by a blind dancer. "I was blown away," Gokey said. "I knew that was going to be powerful and bring healing."

His foundation to help homeless families Sophia's Heart (named after his first wife), he said, continues to do well, moving more than 100 families off the street.

And he is now remarried to a woman in the entertainment business he met via Twitter of all places named Leyicet Peralta. They bonded over mutual admiration for Chuck Norris jokes. The couple married in 2012 and have two kids, a son and a daughter. "I love being a dad," he said. "Best thing I've ever experienced."

I ran out of time and didn't have a chance to ask him about "Idol" but we all know that every former "Idol" will say more or less the same thing, along the lines of "It's sad but the show had a great run and I am grateful for having been part of it."

By the way, North Georgia Fair will bring back season 5 finalist Kellie Pickler on Friday, October 2, 2015. I saw her at the fair six years ago and talked to her then.


HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 16: Musician Phillip Phillips performs during All-Star Saturday Night part of 2013 NBA All-Star Weekend at the Toyota Center on February 16, 2013 in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

TMZ reports that Phillip Phillips last December wanted to leave 19 Entertainment to join John Mayer's ex manager. 19 Entertainment has sued, asking for $4 million to get out of his contract. It also noted that he netted (netted!) $5 million in 2013 and even more in 2014. TMZ marveled that he pulled in as much as he did considering he really has had two genuine hits: "Home "and "Gone, Gone, Gone." His second album didn't do nearly as well as his first. But he toured a lot and pocketed a fair mount of moulah as a result. Good for our Georgia man!



David Cook, season 7 winner, has released his first album in four years "Digital Vein." It came out this past Friday.

What has he been up to? Billboard talked to him. In 2012, he moved to Nashville. (Who hasn't?) He began co-writing for others and even had a top 20 hit with David Nail.

About his newest album, he said it's more pop than anything he has done before:

"I say it’s pop/rock and it’s probably more pop than anything I’ve done but it’s still 60-40 in favor of rock. It’s just me trying to write another chapter of the book. I didn’t want chapter three to read like chapter two."

Here's his first single "Criminals." His first tour dates next month do not include Atlanta but I'll expect he'll be here early next year.

And the reporter had to ask about "Idol" and his answer was pretty much what others have said:

It’s obviously sad. It’s a bummer to see a platform like that go away. But it might be time to step away for a while, reassess and allow people to miss it. Hopefully it could come back and be a platform again. What it’s done for me and countless others, I don’t think that can be quantified.

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About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.