I wrote this post on June 4, 2010. If you click here you can read the comments from others who shared how they became fans of Casey James. Almost four months later, my feelings have not changed and, if anything, I feel more justified in my decision to back Casey. Here’s the article:
How did an otherwise rational, mature, well-educated person become such a rabid fan of an American Idol contestant? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself since the show ended and my interest in Casey James and his future career did not. It’s a question that is even more interesting when I realize that I am far from alone in this. What is it about Casey James that has engendered such strong reaction?
I can’t speak for his other fans, but I think I know what it is for me.
The audition: What I took away from Casey’s Denver audition was just how desperate he was to get the chance to show what he could do. Far from being unsure of himself, I saw someone who was supremely confident that given the chance he would impress. He walked a fine line in front of the judges — he didn’t grovel yet he didn’t surrender. He showed a good-natured willingness to do whatever it took — and rather than demeaning himself, as some have hinted, I thought he was saying, none of this matters, all that matters is how do I get to play music for you? He pleaded his case without begging. Just give me a chance. I was touched by the moment. Rather than stripping away his dignity, I felt he was instead baring his soul — showing that nothing mattered to him as much as the chance to play his music.
The early performances: I was mesmerized from the first time Casey strapped on a guitar and started performing. He immediately reminded me of David Cook — someone you see and wonder why they hadn’t been discovered earlier. Casey had it all, the voice, the guitar skills, the presence, the look, where had he been hiding? His voice was radio ready — part rock, part country, part blues. He seemed to have great crossover potential and appeal. You didn’t feel like you were watching an audition, or someone hoping to make it. You were watching a performer who was already there.
The backstory: Okay, I admit it. I’m a sucker for the tragic backstory — so long as it has some relevance to the music. The raised by a single mom story line did nothing for me, but Casey coming close to losing the ability to play guitar following a serious motorcycle accident got to me. The boy who wrote in his highschool yearbook that he wanted to be a famous blues musician almost derailed that dream a number of times in his early life. But it seems that the accident gave him new focus and a new devotion to taking this second chance and making the most of it. It’s an inspirational story and one that should be shared and it is one that gives more meaning to his every performance.
The attitude: I should first say that I hope Casey never plays poker, because he has by far the worst poker face I’ve ever seen. If you look back at any of the pictures from the judging part of the show, you can immediately tell what comments are coming Casey’s way. He purses his lips, his eyelids droop, and his head cocks to one side when he’s getting reamed. Sadly, we’ve seen that a number of times. He looks more rueful than mad, more resigned than upset. I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated watching someone take criticism as much as I enjoyed Casey. I would have loved to hear a running commentary of his real thoughts, because his face was saying (as Ke$ha would say) blah, blah, blah.
I couldn’t help but think, this is a Southern gentleman. This is a boy who was raised right. He only talked back once, briefly and gently, when Simon told him he didn’t have the “grit” necessary to pull off Gavin DeGraw (a ridiculous critique to an amazing performance). But week after week, he stood tall, listened to what they said (despite, as he so well phrased it, not all of it being useful) and let his expression speak volumes while keeping respectfully quiet.
I also appreciated throughout his time on AI just how grateful he seemed to be for the opportunity. He cried only once, after making past an early round in Hollywood, yet you could see in that moment and through every step of the process just how much this meant to him, how happy he was just to have the chance to play, how lucky he knew he was to get this exposure. He acted as if every week on the show was a gift. In this jaded age, it’s so refreshing to see someone so guileless and humble.
The music: I’ve loved many of Casey’s American Idol performances and have written about them in the past. But what sets him apart for me is his love of playing — it’s infectious and reminds you of the early days of music before it became a business. Watching Casey in pre-Idol videos, or jamming with other musicians off the Idol stage, you see someone who is entirely devoted to music. It’s a pleasure watching someone who gets so much joy from what they’re doing — in fact, watching him play guitar almost seems voyeuristic. He connects so deeply with the music and every moment playing seems so important to him. With his looks and personality, Casey could make a living if he never picked up the guitar again (just modeling jeans could probably bring in six figures, easy), but it is clear that all he wants to do is play. Playing isn’t a means to an end for Casey, it is the end. It’s all he wants to do and when you hear him, all you want to do is keep listening.
There has been much talk about his future, how successful will he be, will he get a record deal, all that. I would be shocked if Casey didn’t end up being one of the most successful artists to come out of American Idol. He had a wealth of experience on stage behind him, he is multi-dimensional, he knows music, he sings and plays like an angel, and he has that elusive star power that draws people to him. He has generated quite a bit of buzz, not the least of which came as a result of his duet at the finale with Bret Michaels which totally eclipsed all the other performances that night. It is not surprising that Bret is quoted as saying that he thought Casey was the winner — in a perfect world, he would have been.
What kind of CD should he release? Obviously, one that showcases his many talents and many musical influences. This requires a tough balancing act as the music industry likes labels and needs to put an artist somewhere. But Casey does not readily fit into just one category. What I have found intriguing is that Casey has made me listen to and like music outside my comfort zone (alternative and rock). That is a testament to his talent — he can sell the blues, folk, country (all types of music I’m usually severely allergic to) as well as rock. I think it would be safest and smartest career move if he focuses on the country genre (much as it pains me to admit this) as it’s potentially the biggest umbrella under which to add subgenres later. But I’ll take whatever I can get, because I am a fan, whatever he sings, whatever he plays.