American Idol finalists are remembered for one thing. Sanjaya Malakar was the Kid with the Hair. Blake Lewis was the Beatboxer. Last season's Danny Gokey probably would've been Glasses Guy, except that his wife died a month before his audition. So Gokey became known as Guy Whose Wife Died a Month Before His Audition.
A former semitrailer truck driver and church music director, Gokey tried out for Idol shortly after his high school sweetheart, Sophia, died unexpectedly of a heart condition. Before Sophia's death, she had encouraged him to audition.
Gokey's glad he did. With his heart-wrenching story and soulful voice, the Milwaukee native took third place last year — the season that gave us winner Kris Allen and shock-rockin' runnerup Adam Lambert. This year, things continue looking up for Gokey, 29. In December he debuted his first single, the aptly titled My Best Days Are Ahead of Me. Gokey's full album, My Best Days, drops in March.
Last week he kicked off his promotional tour in Florida, stopping Wednesday at Tampa's Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino to play for about 40 radio contest winners and casino VIPs. That's where the Times caught up with Gokey.
I was just listening to your single. It's got a country feel to it.
Yeah, it's soulful country album. I chose country because it's had a huge influence on my life. I like that in country, you can talk about what you want to talk about. You can entertain, yet you can have a spiritual side to you, also an emotional side.
People say, "Danny Gokey — the guy whose wife passed away." Do you accept that people think of you that way?
I do because I think people can relate with it. But I also want people to relate now that bad situations can turn around for the good.
Did you write any of the songs on the album?
I couldn't. I wanted to. I wish I could. One thing about the song that I did not know — I just found out yesterday about my single — is that one of the writers on the song lost his wife tragically to an accident.
How did you know when it was time to quit your truck driving job?
Actually, when I came on American Idol, I had no job. I couldn't go back to work. I was in a state of depression. That was my only hope — American Idol. I said, "This has to work." I couldn't think right. I was in the midst of a tragedy. I basically buried myself in my bed. But it all worked out, thank God.
This is Season 9. Why aren't we sick of American Idol yet?
Because it's real. You're dealing with talent. Everyone loves music, which is a common foundation. And you're dealing with people's life stories, which is a great connector.
Have you been following the exploits of Adam Lambert?
He's a buddy of mine. We text back and forth. He's a learning performer, so he's working on it. He's even said in an interview, "This is new to us. Let me just learn and grow into this. I might not do everything right, but just give us grace."
Have you been shocked by anything you've seen him do on TV?
No, because he's being him.
The other day, (singer) Lisa Loeb said she's coming out with a line of glasses — which you could totally do.
You know, I actually am working on that right now. I had a contract on the table, but the terms weren't where we wanted it, so disregard that. We're working on a new one.
I love that, 'cause you're —
The Glasses Guy. Yeah.
Does that bother you?
Not at all.