Saying Lee DeWyze is just an ““American Idol”” winner is like saying Peyton Manning plays a little football.
It’s accurate, but just barely.
DeWyze won “American Idol” in 2010 and also won America’s hearts as an earnest young paint salesman from Mount Prospect, Ill., with a gritty voice and guitar strapped to his back.
Millions of people watched and listened, which is good. Many of them bought his album, which is better.
He’s happy he did it and he’s happy he won, but he’s happier now, he said.
“I’m grateful for it and the fans who have supported me because of it,” DeWyze said, “but the hardest thing about coming off ‘American Idol’ is coming off ‘American Idol’.”
After the Idol hype subsided, DeWyze went looking for a new label.
He talked to Vanguard Records and they liked each other right away.
“What sold me about Vanguard was that it was all about the music,” DeWyze said.
The Vanguard Record stables include legends such as John Fogerty and Levon Helm. Their approach was music to the musician’s ears.
“They said ‘Take the next few months and do whatever you want,’” DeWyze said.
A songwriter at heart
Before Idol, DeWyze had recorded a pair of indie albums in Chicago, “So I’m Told” (2007) and “Slumberland” (2010) — featuring folk music slide guitars, mandolins and banjos. He released “Live it Up” in late 2010 after winning Idol.
“I grew up listening to Cat Stevens, Simon & Garfunkel — folk-based acoustic music,” DeWyze said.
He then spent a year writing a new album, which he says is the album he has always wanted to do.
“People have been asking me, ‘What have you been doing for the last year?’” he says.
He points proudly to “Frames,” his new album, and exclaims, “This!”
DeWyze, 27, spent a year on the road performing and writing “Frames,” his debut album with Vanguard Records. The album and label fit he said.
“It wasn’t like I wanted to find a label and then decide what kind of album to make. I knew what kind of album I wanted to make,” DeWyze said. “I consider myself a songwriter. It’s a big part of my life and career.”
‘Like a kid in a candy store’
He spent a little time every day in the studio where he had all sorts of fun. DeWyze played guitar, piano, mandolin, banjo and drums during the recording sessions.
“I had every instrument at my fingertips. I was like a kid in a candy store. I know what I hear in my head and if it’s there, I’ll play it. If it needs a B-3 organ, I’ll play that, or a banjo with three strings. We figured out ways to make it work.”
His live shows are memorable, especially if you like real music played by skilled people having a great time on stage.
“It’s real people playing real instruments,” DeWyze said.
Leon James “Lee” DeWyze was born April 2, 1986. He attended an alternative high school and started performing when he was 16.
He auditioned in Chicago for the ninth season of “American Idol” with the song “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers.
“My experience on the show was great. But for someone like me and the kind of music I make, that only takes you so far. It feels really good to get back to the grass roots of what I’m about.”
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.