Colton Dixon, lithe of leg and ludicrous of hair, is the latest in a now-established tradition of Nashville singer-songwriters taking to the American Idol stage. A talented pianist with a bright smile and subtle emo warble, Dixon auditioned in 2010 for Season 10, only to be cut right before the Top 24. He still got plenty of screen time, and this time around finished a surprising sixth — most thought he would get much further.
The Scene caught up with the Murfreesboro native by phone from the Idol Live tour and talked fashion, faith (he has it in abundance) and the fickle nature of competing in a reality show disguised as a singing competition.
You were on Ellen last year and you said, "I just went to audition with my sister and got dragged into it." And of course that was the whole narrative again this year. Come on, is that for real? Did you really have no idea you'd be pulled back into the belly of the beast?
I swear! It was all real. Opportunities were presenting themselves, and once you're in the Idol process you're kind of locked in, and you can't do anything else. [Last season] I got to do the Ellen show, and I'm writing with all these cool people, and I'm wanting to put out a record. And I'm like, "Let's hold off on Idol this season and see what happens. So I went with my sister Schlyer, because she really wanted to do it again. And it was all real — she really poked her head out and said, "The judges want to see you." And I'm like, "Oh, boy. Here we go."
It obviously created a compelling narrative for the producers. It wasn't your average audition.
Right. It made for great TV.
You seem like someone who cares about the clothes you wear. You make "fashion choices." So, what is the styling process like on Idol? Do you guys have a huge closet to rummage through?
The clothes are totally up to us until Top 12. Then the stylists came in and really started working with us. It's so America can see a transformation, and get even more attached. Because it's reality TV. The stylist we worked with is fantastic. Her name is Soyon An. She would come in with options, but you can take it or leave it. She brought some awesome stuff to the table for me.
So you're saying she wasn't bringing Phillip Phillips 16 different gray T-shirts?
She totally was! I love Phillip to death, but when it comes to clothes, he is a hardheaded dude. We love him for it. It's so funny because he went over budget one week and he looked the way he always did. How do you go over budget with a T-shirt?
Because we're talking about the silly stuff, I have to ask you about your hair. How long have you had it this way? It's kind of convenient: If you ever want to go incognito, you just have to shave it off.
Definitely not! I love my hair too much. I went to private high school and they were against crazy hair, so every semester I would try to bend it a little more and shave my sides a little closer. After senior year I kind of went extreme and started messing with color and everything else.
I want to talk about "September," which was one of my favorite performances of yours. The judges hated it! But it was exactly what they always love — they want you to take a familiar song and make it sound fresh and different.
Still, to this day, I do not get it. But again, this is a reality TV show. There are a lot of things that you don't get to see. It was very weird. But it is what it is. I got kicked off that week.
The last couple years the narrative has been that the cute white boys never get voted off. It's always the girls. So I guess it did provide a buzz-worthy moment.
Yeah. It's always a white dude with a guitar that wins, and it's been like that for the last five seasons. It's interesting. But everything happens for a reason, and if I hadn't been voted off when I did I wouldn't have the amount of songs that I do for a record. So it's kind of bittersweet.
Do you think it was a risk to put your faith so front and center? You even sang praise songs, which most people outside of that community wouldn't be familiar with.
You know, it might have been. But I honestly didn't even care. It's who I am. They tell you to be who you are and never to stray from it, so I saw the opportunity and went for it. With the reaction I saw, especially in the Christian community, I think it really helped my fan base. Not that I was going for that.
So, what can Idol do for you in a larger context? You have an interesting perspective: You had a taste of it last year — you got your name out there, your face on TV — and then did it again this year. How did your life change last year? And how will this time be different?
First and foremost, Idol gives you a platform. No matter how far you make it, if you get any TV time whatsoever, your fan base starts to grow. But it's up to us to capitalize on that opportunity. If you don't put anything out, it's your fault. The Idol fans are die-hard. Especially during the Idol tour, you walk outside after the show and you have people screaming your name. It's a cool thing.