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Fans of “American Idol” predicted Phil Stacey would be a star long before his first single hit the airwaves earlier this year. The handsome young singer who joined the Navy to do his part after 9/11 held his own against the competition week after week on the popular show, even lasting through Simon Cowell’s barbs. But he admits the toughest part was stepping onstage night after night.


“The worst part of ‘Idol’ was performing,” says Stacey. “It was frightening…getting up and knowing there are 30 million people watching, and that at some point, you’re going to get made fun of by somebody who’s going to say something negative. Because you’re going to get criticized by Simon at some point. And you’re being told you did poorly in front of 30 million people. I was nervous every time I got onstage.” 


Stacey actually attended the auditions at the request of a longtime buddy whose wedding he couldn’t play because he had a Navy commitment. His friend made him promise he would try out for the show, and Stacey actually missed his second child’s birth when his wife went into labor while he was at the auditions. And at the time, he doubted he had a snowball’s chance in hell of making it, despite being a big fan of ‘Idol.’ 


“I’ve been a fan for five seasons already…I voted every season. I love the show, and as singers, we generally like to critique and enjoy watching other peoples’ performances. I showed up in Memphis with 16,000 people and laughed about how I wasn’t going to make it.”


Luckily his prediction wasn’t on the mark, and although he didn’t win that season, he did land several offers from major labels in Nashville. Stacey, who grew up a preacher’s son in Kentucky singing in church and writing songs, was first pursued by a music business manager when he was just 17. But his parents insisted he finish school first, and his college girlfriend Kendra, (who later became his wife), insisted the same thing about his degree. After college, inspired by the tragic events of 9/11, Stacey signed up for the Naval band and toured for several years as lead singer of the Navy Band Southeast. But country music was always close to his heart, and after ‘Idol,’ when Disney’s Lyric Street Records came calling, he quickly signed on the dotted line. (The fact that Disney was involved made him a big hit with his four-year-old daughter.) “She loves Disney princesses…she tells complete strangers ‘my daddy sings for Disneyland.’ So I’m kind of a big deal, you know!” says Stacey, laughing.


After spending 2007 on a 55-city, cross-country ‘Idol’ tour, Stacey has been hard at work the last few months putting the finishing touches on his debut album. His bluegrass state roots gave him a deep love for bluegrass music, so he wanted his album to reflect his upbringing musically. “I wanted to do something different than what other folks were doing. I listened to a lot of bluegrass growing up in Kentucky and fell in love with it. I started enjoying country as a kid and as I was getting older, and I like elemental, organic music where there’s not a lot of synthesizers. I do like albums recorded with the computer, with all the bells and whistles and stuff, but that doesn’t reflect my upbringing musically, and I wanted something that was more ‘downhome’ and ‘rootsy.’ And though I carry rock influences because of my last four years traveling with the Navy rock band, I really wanted something that was elemental.”


Stacey found a kindred musical spirit in producer Wayne Kirkpatrick, who helmed Little Big Town’s album featuring the hit, “Boondocks.” Kirkpatrick obtained that stripped-down, ‘rootsy’ sound on Little Big Town’s record, and Stacey felt he could do the same for him. “I was a fan of Wayne’s…I knew him from his song ‘Place In This World,’ the Michael W. Smith hit, and he wrote for Amy Grant, another client of my management company back then, and I knew him from the Little Big Town stuff too. They had that organic, pure stuff, and you could tell he was still recording on analog tape…and that makes a difference to me because I love the analog sound compared to digital.”


Stacey, who recently made his debut at the Grand Ole Opry, hopes to become more involved in the recording side of the industry as his career progresses, not only with his own records, but with other artists as well. He worked at a studio in college and has his own home studio set up now to dabble anytime he likes. “I’ve worked with a few Christian artists and had some success independently,” he recalls. “I’ve done a lot of indie projects, and I hope to someday be part of the production of my own records. And I definitely plan on producing other artists someday. I’m always listening when I’m out to the talent around, because you never know when you’re going to find a gem. Wayne Kirkpatrick did with Little Big Town--he produced them and then took it to a label. And the same thing happened with Taylor Swift and Nathan Chapman. So, I’m always keeping my ears open.”


In the meantime, he’s liable to have a hit career on his hands, if the success of his debut single, “If You Didn’t Love Me,” (co-written by Rascal Flatts’ Gary LeVox), is any indication. Currently rising up the charts, it is part of a project Stacey hopes will make a real impression on the country scene. The self-titled CD is slated to hit stores April 29th. “My album brings in gospel influences, and also rock…my goal is to make it different than anything else out there. You’ll hear banjo, steel guitar, but also hard-driving guitars as well. I wanted to do something different. I want to be a valid contribution to the world of country music, and I hope I can accomplish that.”

www.Dishmag.com / Issue 85 - September 2018
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