Interview: Danny Gokey on
'Rise,' Audience Diversity, and American Idol Revamp
Danny Gokey has reinvigorated
his career path to newly substantial levels. Originally a finalist on season
8 of American Idol, coming in third behind Adam Lambert and
winner Kris Allen, the Gospel-influenced singer/songwriter became so
amid the loss of his first wife, Sophia. From initial trials of tragedy to
eventual triumph, Gokey has continually crafted a pop sound all his own,
comprising what he calls "entertainment mixed with hope."
In fact, Gokey's
return-to-form album, appropriately titled "Rise," retains the
nuances of this sound - anthemic vocals and synth hooks, spiritual and
personable themes, and a wealth of melodic focus. I caught up with Gokey to
discuss his recent happenings, including the resonance that the album has
provided, the growing diversity of his fan base, and among all things, his
thoughts on the revival of the American Idol show. Ultimately, an
equal emphasis on faith and drive is what empowers him toward present career
The title track reached
the top ten on Billboard's Contemporary Christian Music charts. And the
second single, "The Comeback," hit the top 15 as well.
won the K-LOVE Fan Award for Male Artist of the Year. Can you tell me a bit
about that, as well as the success you've
been experiencing now?
K-LOVE is a large station in [Contemporary Christian Music]; well, it's
actually the largest. That station alone has about 15 million listeners.
They've been doing the Fan Awards for the last five years. I was up for a
few awards, but I'd won Male Artist of the Year. The fans spoke, and I was
honored to have earned it.
It's interesting. I went on
American Idol in 2009, signed a record deal that year, and ended up
getting dropped two years after coming off the show. Then, I didn't do much
after that. I kind of remember just being really disappointed. There were a
lot of people that were like, "Well, what are you doing now?" There was a
lot of pressure to deliver, especially after that show.
It was sad, but I just kept hope, my faith in God, and in 2013 I signed a
new record deal. When I signed, there wasn't a whole lot of faith in me from
the record company. They told my manager in secret that I would at least
break even. But the fact that we're here now, it's like a huge comeback for
me. It's a huge celebration and I love it. I'm glad to have been able to do
this, because I don't know anyone else on the show who's done this kind of
thing, you know?
On the topic of faith, how has that element
worked hand-in-hand with your ambition
to perform and write music?
I think my music carries a lot of different
messages. What I remember about American Idol was that it opened me
up to a demographic who maybe never set foot in a church or shared the same
faith. But there was a mutual respect.
Everybody wants good entertainment, you know? My faith has always been
the catalyst of where my hope comes from. It's really helped me persevere
through the hard times - the loss of my first wife, Sophia, the loss of a
record deal, and pain that I had to endure since the show itself. With my
music, I don't try to construct walls where people can't come in; I create
something that everyone can join in and appreciate.
Your song, "Rise," has proven
to be the fastest charting single of your career.
Were you surprised about its having a rapport with such a diverse audience?
I mean, I love it. It creates a
merging of two worlds - the American Idol world, and those who tune
in to my music on the radio. I love how I get to express myself and who I
am, you know what I mean? We just finished a big tour in the spring, and now
I'm ready to do my summer shows. The new dynamic I'm taking with them is
kind of cool. I've been influenced by a lot of Latin music lately, so I
can't wait to create a little Latin part of my show.
I just love to be able to be diverse, you
know? When I was growing up, I listened to country music, Christian music,
gospel, Motown, funk, soul, pop - all those things. Then I met my first
wife, Sophia, at 17 years-old. She was Hispanic, and introduced me to
different sounds like bachata, salsa and merengue. So, it would be really
cool to bring that into my music, and to have fans show their appreciation
messages have always been about empowering not only yourself, but others as
well. What is it about your latest single,
"The Comeback," that brings the album's "themes to a whole new level?
Hope is obviously an
element in it, but it can become cheesy after a while. So, one of the things
I'd been able to do is create music around the lyrics, and sentiments that
aren't too generic. An entertaining sound that would actually, in my
opinion, make hope seem more relevant, if that makes sense.
For instance, "The Comeback" is an intense, upbeat pop song. It
embodies what I've gone through - a major downfall, then a career again
after years of silence. We'd wrapped pop messages in the album, with
anthemic structures and big vocals. I did duets, one with Jordin Sparks
and another with Kierra Sheard, a gospel singer who won a Stellar
award at 14-years-old. The goal is entertainment and hope, all mixed
live performance of
Contemporary Christian Music hit,
worked with a team of writers for this album, is it a closely collaborative
process where you're given room to experiment
with different feels?
that's actually a big factor. I have this producer who I've worked a lot
with on my first and second album. We do experiment, and I love that we took
chances on this album. I notice that I've been developing over time and
getting better at my craft. As I'd told you earlier, I'm influenced by so
many different types of music. And I know that, in our culture, we like to
put music in certain boxes, you know?
How do you feel about current pop music always
somehow sounding the same,
and the need for diversity in it?
I think those artists have a comfortable
place in a safe zone where they know what will work. I'm real conscious of
that as well when I go to make a record. I think what makes me a bit
different is how careful I am with my lyrics, and I'm particular with what I
write and how I express it, you know? Because I know my name - I know my
call, and that's important. I don't want to be second best; I want to be the
best version of myself that God created for me.
Danny Gokey is a survivor. When he sings, there's an authority
and conviction that comes from life experience. He's been through so many
challenges, yet hope was always a part of his journey. These days Gokey is
in a sweet season. He's remarried and he and his wife, Leyicet, have
a beautiful son, Daniel Emanuel, born January 20, 2013. Gokey
chronicles his life in his autobiography, also titled "Hope in Front of
Me" and in the songs on his albums.
Coinciding with your
comeback is that of American Idol. Are you excited to see the show back on
the air again?
I actually am (laughs)! I was really, really happy to hear that the show was
coming back on. Originally, I was hoping for the original judges to return.
I thought, "What if Simon, Paula, and Randy come back," but
Simon had already said no and I was like, "Aww, man!" Maybe it was the
originality of the show that I miss. There's something about those first
three judges that makes you feel a certain way when you tune into the show.
I wonder if, now, they're going to be able to replicate that feeling of the
show at its peak.
(Note: Katy Perry has been announced as one of the new judges.)
Especially since the show has received a lot
of criticism in its later years, do you feel that freshness should be a
I really do. I mean, people
are going to have their own opinions, and are probably mad about my
saying that. They probably even like the judges of the later
seasons. But part of me wants Paula, Simon, and Randy back; that's
very personal to me. There was something organic about the show back
then, because not only were the judges new; everyone was new. Both
the judges and the singers became massive stars. I'm hoping with the
new judges, they're able to create symmetry. But I don't know if
that's possible because' when the focus is on the judges, that
somehow eclipses the talent.
You've benefitted tremendously from your
progression in the show. Do you think it came down to every bit of luck as
it did talent?
I'll tell you this. That's a good question. I'd say it's talent, but here's
the thing. I remember auditioning, and hearing the most amazing singers I've
ever heard, and somehow, they didn't make it. If you put it down to luck, I
guess you can, you know? I think they're looking for that possible 'it'
factor. When I look at myself and think back to my audition, I didn't think
I had it deep down. Now, as a stage performer, I'm just a very different
person, mainly because someone believed in me. I'm thankful that I even made
it past that first round. There were probably almost 12 thousand people who
had simply tried out. Maybe it is a bit of destiny as much as talent.
There's a girl in our format, Lauren Daigle, who tried out for
American Idol, didn't make it, but her record just went platinum! For
those who tried and didn't make it, it doesn't mean that's the end of the
road. I think that's what I love about our faith so much. God has different
plans that we have yet to see. You might get your break somewhere else, and
it could happen, you know?
Lastly, anything you'd like to say
to your fans?
First of all, I just want to thank
them for their support. The support through the lows, and even through the
highs. The reason why I do this is because my music has a message:
entertainment mixed with hope. A lot of the time, you'd use entertainment as
an escape; we all have these issues we're going through. But I've been able
to use entertainment as a catalyst for hope. I believe these people I reach
will share their stories of what they want to accomplish. Honestly, I'm just
grateful that I get to see this through - that I get to meet with them, and
that they support me as much as they do. It keeps making me want to be a
better artist, lyricist and performer.
~ from musicexistence.com ~