In June 2009, after a lot of encouragement from friends, musician Lee DeWyze sang “Ain’t No Sunshine,” at an “American Idol” audition at the United Center in Chicago, just outside his hometown of Mount Prospect, Ill.
Almost a year later, in May 2010, the somewhat shy performer stood beside singer Crystal Bowersox and heard his name called as the winner of “American Idol.”
Things moved fast for DeWyze after that. Appearances were scheduled for him. Other people were making decisions for him — especially when it came to music. A little over a year later, RCA dropped DeWyze from its record label.
It may have been the best thing for him.
With a new record deal with Vanguard, DeWyze released his latest album, “Frames,” last August. While the album is working its way up the charts, DeWyze is out on tour promoting it. He’s scheduled to make a stop on Monday at Jammin Java to play some of his new songs and old favorites.
“The best part about making the record was not feeling pressure,” DeWyze said. “I didn’t feel this weird pressure that I usually felt in past years … where it felt like there was some expectation or something that was like, ‘I’ve gotta make this kind of record or that kind of record,’ or ‘you have to make these decisions and make this kind of album.’”
Instead, DeWyze said the recording process was much more laid-back and inviting.
“I went into it with a bunch of songs already written because I spent the past year writing some of my favorite songs I’ve ever written,” DeWyze said. “It felt like my first record ... that nervousness and that positive anxiety I was feeling was so strong. I felt like I was sharing a part of myself with people who heard it and that was something I’ve never really experienced before.”
DeWyze said he will always appreciate “American Idol,” and is extremely thankful for the opportunity the show gave him. With that said, now that the reins of the show are off, DeWyze is free to do whatever he wants.
“I would be lying if I said it doesn’t feel good to be making a record where I’m able to do what I want,” DeWyze said. “… I’m proud of the last record I put out, but I just feel that on this go, there aren’t as many cooks in the kitchen, and there’s not this weird thing about what kind of songs we have to make.
“It’s that pressure. It’s not like, ‘We’re waiting for [the] “American Idol” winner to put out his new CD.’ It’s like ‘We’re waiting for Lee DeWyze, the singer/songwriter/artist to put out his record.’ To me, that’s what’s most important.”
Even though DeWyze is more comfortable being out of the shadows of “American Idol,” he said he doesn’t regret going on the show, but it was definitely the hardest thing he’s every had to go through.
“It’s hard for me to sit here and be bummed about it,” DeWyze said. “It’s hard for me to say, ‘Man, I sure wish things had gone differently,’ and I won. I don’t regret going on ‘American Idol.’ … It’s a lie to say ‘American Idol’s’ not difficult. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done on a personal level. … Originally, I didn’t want to go out for the show. I was like ‘Oh, that’s cheating and that’s cheesy and a quick way …’ Nowadays in music, if you see an opportunity, you take it. So I did.”
New experiences keep coming for DeWyze. The March 9 episode of “The Walking Dead” showcased his “Blackbird Song.”
“I’m a huge fan of the show,” DeWyze said. “It was a show I wanted to write for. … I wanted to write lyrics that would work for ‘The Walking Dead,’ but would also fit in everyday life. … It was just such a great opportunity and it’s such a great show. That was the coolest part for me – my wife and I are such huge fans of the show. … The song means a lot to me. It’s definitely a song I took my time writing.”
DeWyze said his future looks busy — writing not only for himself, but for other artists, as well. He’s also still on the road, promoting his new album in stops all across the country. His first priority is making sure everyone who comes to see him at Jammin Java has a great time.
“I’m going to have a good time and it’s going to be fun,” DeWyze said. “I love performing and no show is the same. It’s always fun to get out there, play the new music and interact with fans.”