"One of the hardest things about winning American Idol is winning American Idol," says Lee DeWyze, the 27-year-old singer-songwriter from Illinois who was crowned winner of Idol's season nine back in 2010.
"There's this perception that if you come from American Idol, in some cases, you can't possibly be a writer, you weren't a singer before you were on the show... That can be rough, especially when you're trying to make a name for yourself doing what it is you love."
Over the past twenty years or so, we've witnessed reality TV devour many an innocent (or not so innocent) soul. It's no surprise when we hear about an artist struggling, often unsuccessfully, to come into his own once the smoke has cleared and the attention deficit-affected masses have moved on. Despite shows like Celebrity Rehab, where the price of fame is made all too visceral, we tend to forget that these are in fact real people, with real lives beyond the producers, beyond the editing room.
That's why it's refreshing when an artist you may or may not have let slip from your memory, in the wake of the millions of other things on the screen, speaks up and reminds us he's in fact a human, and he plans to stick around a while. In the case of DeWyze, escaping the Idol box is still a battle, but his positivity, passion, and crazy work ethic have definitely pushed him to new places.
Before American Idol, DeWyze had a modest solo career performing as the Lee DeWyze Band, but his music career didn't support him like it does now.
"[Music] was my passion, but I had to kinda fit it in with my other jobs," he says of his pre-Idol days. "I always worked. It wasn't like I just sat around the couch and said, 'Yeah, I think I'll play the guitar today.' I always worked and lived on my own, and I was pretty young ... Being able to say that this is what I do, it's still like, you know, sometimes I pinch myself."
As a kid, he wanted to be a fireman, or join the military. It wasn't until he was 14 or 15 that he first picked up a guitar and realized what he really wanted to do. "I fell in love with music," he says.
Scaling fences to sneak into Dave Matthews concerts and getting expelled from high school for fighting, DeWyze was somewhat of a rambunctious youth, but he always stayed focused on the music. Today, he cites judgmental people as one of his biggest pet-peeves, and insists that his latest album, Frames, is his proudest achievement yet.
"Exposing people to the new music will really show people who that guy was up there," he says. "I've spent like two months in the studio on lockdown, overnights, no sleep, just writing and recording and playing all sort of instruments. To finally have it in my hands, you know, this is what I've been working so hard for." For DeWyze, Frames is the album that marks the start of a full career making the music he's always wanted to make.
Winning American Idol has had its ups and downs for DeWyze, but at the end of the day, he remains "first and foremost, appreciative and grateful for the show" and what it's allowed him to do with his career. He also credits Idol with allowing him to find his wife.
"Sometimes I feel like I've experienced 20 different lives," he tells us reflecting on the entire experience. "I've had a crazy kinda life -- I'm only 27, so. It's just kinda broadened my horizons. It's just one of those things I think has carried through to my music."
Lauderdale Live with Lee DeWyze, Indigo Girls, Lyle Lovett, and more. December 6 to 8 at Fort Lauderdale downtown waterfront. Visit lauderdalelivemusic.com.