American Idol’s Season 11 finalist Colton Dixon’s powerful and iconic voice quickly earned him a loyal and enthusiastic fan following among the shows 20 million viewers that kept him from placing in the bottom three until his last week in the competition. Following a shocking early elimination, Colton hit the road with the other Idol finalists for the American Idol LIVE! Tour, where he performed in front of over 360,000 fans across the country.
Colton’s musical journey has been a long time in the making, beginning with piano lessons at 7 years old. A lifelong fan of Christian music, he remembers his first concert at age 13 performing “I Can Only Imagine” by MercyMe. That’s when he knew he had found his calling. With a humble spirit, he answered the call. To be a messenger for a purpose greater than himself.
I caught up with Colton at a recent festival to talk about American Idol, the fast rise to fame, and keeping a mind on Christ.
Colton: A Messenger, yeah.
John: And you are the messenger?
Colton: Well, I mean, it comes from John 13:16. It says that “No servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.” So I called the record A Messenger just because it’s not … I don’t want it to be about me. You know?
Colton: God chose people to write down His Word, so His message is already out there. So now it’s just up to us to carry it to my generation and generations to come. And it’s so important, so I just wanted people to connect with that and realize that God’s the priority here, you know, not me. So that’s where A Messenger comes from.
John: Mm-hmm. You’re probably sick and tired of answering this question, but what does your sister feel about all of the success that you’ve had since American Idol?
Colton: That’s a great question. Man, my sister, Schyler, is so mature and so cool.
John: Yeah, I’m sure.
Colton: So she’s really proud and really excited for me. It’s funny. We normally have her out with us whenever we drive and have space. You know?
Colton: We were a little crammed in the van this time, but we bring her along, and she loves it.
John: Yeah. I’ve heard she’s been on stage with you guys a few times.
Colton: Yeah, so she loves meeting artists, just like I do. I was just hanging out with Matthew West a little bit ago, and it still blows my mind. You know? It’s crazy. So she’s loving it, and she’s riding coattails and enjoying it just as much as I am (laughs).
John: Good. Great deal.
John: That’s great. Just a little bit about the idea of going to quote-unquote “Hollywood” and living to tell about it. What was that like? I mean, everybody who is within the body of Christ kind of looks towards the entertainment community and goes, “Wow, it would be really tough to be a believer, an outspoken believer, within that type of culture.” What type of pressures did you experience while you were with American Idol, on tour, with any of those guys? I mean, was it something that was hard to deal with, or …?
Colton: Honestly, it’s like … Let’s take religion out of it for a second.
Colton: Or my faith. It’s like with anything. If you think a different way from somebody else or whatever, it’s about being polite and respecting what they do, and in return, hopefully, they’ll respect you back. Now, let’s plug faith back into it. It should be the exact same way. You know? Don’t get me wrong. I came across people … my heart just broke for them knowing that they’re missing out on something bigger, but the thing I had to realize, too, is some of these people will never crack open a Bible. They’re never going to go to church, so I’m the only Bible that they’re ever going to see just by the way I’m living.
So just realizing that and that I really have to watch everything I say, everything I do, not that I’m necessarily doing or saying anything bad, but just being set apart, which is what Jesus called us all to, in our actions and our speech and everything in between. So that just made things difficult, just that you’re under a really fine microscope. Then, when it finally gets out there that you’re a Christian, like the papers have a heyday, and it’s like Tim Tebow. People are waiting to see him fall, and I’m so thankful he hasn’t. You know? He’s really representing us well.
But he was an inspiration for me while I was on Idol. It’s like, man, if he can do it, I can do it. You know? It’s possible. With God, anything is possible, so … Yeah, I think that was the hardest part, just realizing that, not only if I slip up, Hollywood and the press or whatever are going to have a heyday, but that the people looking at me, it’s like I may be the only Bible that they see. So, God let them see you and me. You know? Let’s use this opportunity for that.
John: Yeah. Would you give the same answer, Colton, to somebody who’s in high school or college that just kind of feels pressure to kind of give in to the world? Maybe they feel like they’re all alone in their faith or in their walk towards Christ. How do you speak to that person who’s not in the limelight, per se, but certainly feels kind of all alone? I mean, they’re here in culture, but they’re just having a hard time living out their faith among people that are so contrary to them.
Colton: Yeah, it’s the exact same thing.
John: Is it the same thing?
Colton: You know, there were definitely times where I felt alone or whatever, and not just in my faith, but in general (laughs) while on the TV show. There was little communication to anybody except for the other contestants and …
Colton: And after a while … I mean, they’re all phenomenal people. Don’t get me wrong, but you miss your friends and family from back home after a while, so that’s that. But as far as feeling alone in your faith, something that really was a light-bulb moment for me--and it inspired one of my songs called “Never Gone”—is knowing that God’s with you the whole time, and He’s all that you need. You know? Contrary to belief, God is really all that you need to get through a situation. So I would just encourage whoever it is who feels like they’re alone to open their eyes a little bit more, you know? Focus your mind on God, and He’ll reveal to you that He promises in His Word that He’d never leave us nor forsake us. So He’s been with us the whole time. So that was a light-bulb moment for me on the show, and I’m glad I was able to write that song because of it, to answer that question.
John: Let’s change tracks a little bit. Go back to when you were five, six, eight, 10 years old or whatever. Did you ever dream that this is what you would be doing?
Colton: That young, no.
John: (Laughs). At what point in your life did you say, “Okay, I think God is doing something here in me. I kind of want to pursue this.”?
Colton: Yeah, it’s actually younger than most. I was 13, and I knew without a doubt that this is what I was going to do. I didn’t know that Idol was going to be the door, but…
Colton: I sang in public for the first time when I was 13. I’d been taking piano lessons for several years, and my piano teacher just kind of set up a microphone and said, “I think you need to sing tonight.”
John: We’re doing it.
Colton: Cool. So I sat down, and I was supposed to play “I Can Only Imagine” by MercyMe that night, and instead I played and sang it, which was a very, very difficult song for a kid going through puberty. But I got through it, and it was just the coolest thing because I really just felt the Holy Spirit just telling me deep down, it was like, “This is it. This is what I made you for.” And I gave up sports for music when I was 15. I finally gave in. It took me a couple years, but I just continued to pursue and pursue and pursue, and I got a lot of people telling me, “Nah, you can’t have that sound,” or, “You’re not going to be able to look that way,” or whatever, telling me no over and over and over again. Then, finally, just God just opened the door to American Idol, and, boom, there it was.
John: The rest is history.
John: Colton, if there is one artist that you would love to go on tour with, either you open for them or they open for you, who would that be?
Colton: Oh, look at this. I would have to say Switchfoot.
Colton: And it would feel totally wrong if they opened up for me.
Colton: I would want to open up for them.
John: You never know.
Colton: That would be too strange.
Colton: I don’t think I would allow it. But I would really enjoy that. I met them for the first time a few months ago, and they were great guys. But as far as the rock side of Christian music, they were really one of the first bands that got me into it, and then I just got heavier and heavier as time passed with Skillet and RED and you name it. But I really just enjoyed “Beautiful Letdown” by them, and it seemed like every single song on that record was an anthem at one point in my life, so I really appreciated that record a lot.
For more from Colton, click here.