According to the American Idol website, Casey James’ motto is: “Be happy in your situation. It could always be worse.” This is not just a platitude he throws around; from all accounts he sincerely believes this to be true. Just a quick review of some of Casey’s interviews over the past six months shows similar sentiments sprinkled throughout. “I’m the kind of guy that accepts whatever happens and is always happy about it,” he told one interviewer, later adding, “Any situation in life that’s difficult, you just do what you can.”
When asked a question whether he had regrets about the unconventional way he made it past the auditions, he answered, “It’s kind of the same way I look at everything in life. It led me to where I’m at. Had I not done that, I might not be here.” And he told me, quite simply, in our last interview, “I try to look at the positive side of things.”
So where did this positive attitude come from? That was the question I posed to Debra “Bybee” James after reading off to her these and other positive affirmations I had heard him make. She took no time in telling me from where she thinks it emanated — the motorcycle accident in 2004. “The accident completely turned him around.”
According to Debra, “From that point, he was so blessed to feel like he had another chance to live and make good and be the person that he wants to be. It’s a daily journey. We never get to the point where we are there completely. It’s a fight, everyday, to try and be a better person. And that’s what he does.”
She looks back at the accident as “divine intervention.” “He should have died, but instead he had a rebirth.” She said the positive outlook that he carries with him now, started them. “No matter how bad it gets, he’ll rally quickly. ” The psychiatric nurse used a little professional jargon to explain how Casey keeps up no matter what is going on around him. “He’ll reframe his thoughts and he’ll get okay quick.”
While Debra traces Casey’s positive attitude to the accident, it is clear that having a good outlook, not wallowing in self-pity or worrying about how things might be different is in his genes. As Debra told me earlier this year, this is how her father lives his life, how she was raised and what her sons learned. “My dad is very, very much that way. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps, and quit complaining and get on with what you need to do. Not in a harsh way; he’s the most loving, gentle soul. But he is a very wise person about how he sees things, and I think he’s had a tremendous impact on my life as well as my boys. He is very wise, and not a complainer.”
This conversation takes on more poignancy now that Debra’s father is battling cancer. In interviews with all three members of the James’ family, his importance in their lives is clear. Debra describes her dad as the patriarch of the family, who had a significant role in raising both Billy Cole and Casey. “Both of my boys worship my dad,” Debra told me. Both would often mention him in anecdotes and it was clear what a huge presence he had in their lives growing up and continues to have.
Casey told me how the pick guard he used on his second song on American Idol, I Don’t Want to Be, was a present from his Papaw. He also discussed how his love for fixing up old cars came from his grandfather as well. “One of the things we’d always do. My Papaw is very handy and anything that isn’t perfect he has to make it perfect and fix it.”
Billy reflected on the influence his Papaw has on his and Casey’s life when we talked this past summer. “That’s where Casey and I get a lot of our old school, World War II, hard-headed, hatred of computers and most things that are modern.”
As Casey sets off on the road to country stardom, Billy could point to his grandfather as providing the initial exposure to that genre of music. “Growing up with Papaw as our father figure out here, we had a healthy respect for Waylon and Willie and Merle. That old-school, three-chord country. We listened to that a lot.”
Getting to know Casey James through interviews with him and his family has shown the very best of family values — the love, the closeness, the support. Fans of Casey James have gotten to know not only him but his whole family and feel a certain connection to them. We appreciate their positive outlook, no matter what is thrown their way. Right now their lives are a mixture of highs and lows, a sanguine time as Billy would say. On the one hand, they are of course excited about Casey’s success — the contract, the upcoming record, the tour that hopefully will follow. Yet terribly sad that at the same time they are dealing with their grandfather’s serious illness. Happy that Billy is now in Nashville, yet sad that the entire family has to be apart during this difficult time.
During this holiday period, I wanted to express my fondness and gratitude for the James’ family and for all of their friends and fans whom I have met over the past six-plus months. May we all try in our daily lives to adopt the positive outlook they have exhibited and to show each other love, caring and support. And may we stay connected as this journey continues, wherever it may lead.