Colton Dixon. Contributed photo.
Colton Dixon was 13 years old and about to play MercyMe’s “I Can Only Imagine” at his piano recital when he noticed a microphone set up on the piano.
“I was not thrilled about that, but I did it anyway,” he recalls. “I was overwhelmed with the feeling that that was what I was going to do for the rest of my life.”
Still, Dixon stuck with baseball for the next couple of years, but by age 15 gave up sports to pursue music full time. The Murfreesboro native came to national attention with his seventh-place finish during season 11 of “American Idol” and is getting ready to join TobyMac’s Hits Deep tour, also featuring Brandon Heath, Mandisa, Jamie Grace, Chris August and Capital Kings. The tour opens in West Virginia on Nov. 7 and will make a stop at Freedom Hall Civic Center in Johnson City on Nov. 8. Show time is 7 p.m.
Dixon was born and raised in a Christian home with his younger sister, Schyler. Dixon and his sister auditioned for “American Idol’s” 10th season, but neither made it to the top 24. He returned in season 11 solely to accompany his sister during her audition. The judges remembered him and asked him to audition as well. Both he and Schyler were sent through to Hollywood, but Schyler was cut again soon after. Dixon advanced to the top 13 before being eliminated.
Even without his appearance on “American Idol,” Dixon said he would still be pursuing music.
“I don’t think things would have happened this quickly,” he said. “I would probably still be leading worship for the youth group at my church. I don’t know. It’s crazy to think about.”
Though “Idol” judge Steven Tyler deemed Dixon’s exit from the show to be “beyond shocking,” the 22-year-old held true to his musical passion and deep faith, viewing his elimination as a huge opportunity. While the remaining contestants battled it out in the season 11 finals, Dixon got to work collaborating on 13 new songs in 13 days, the start of a songwriting process that ultimately netted him 22 potential tracks and led him to sign with 19/EMI-CMG/Sparrow Records.
Even though having Tyler’s support was “really flippin’ cool,” there were other disappointments, including not being able to spend more time with the other contestants.
“We became a family,” he explained. “That and not being able to get a free car, but I’ll live with that. I really had a peace about it. It was so cool.”
While Dixon was performing on the American Idols Live 2012 tour — singing “Never Gone,” the first time an “Idol” contestant had performed an original song — he received a text message from Third Day lead singer Mac Powell, asking if he would join Third Day’s tour held earlier this year. Of course, Dixon said yes.
In the meantime, his debut album “A Messenger” was released in January, featuring 11 powerful and infectious pop/rock tracks. The uplifting power ballad “Never Gone” was heard by more than 360,000 people on the tour and was an immediate hit digital single, selling 21,000 units its first week and heading straight to No. 1 on the iTunes Christian & Gospel singles chart and Billboard’s Christian Digital Songs and Christian/Gospel Digital Songs charts. The instant success of this track put him in unique company. He and Jennifer Hudson are the only seventh-place finalists in “Idol” history to reach No. 1 on a Billboard chart.
The Hits Deep tour was announced just after TobyMac was named “Artist of the Year” at the K-LOVE Fan Awards, held in front of a sold-out audience at Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium. In the last year, TobyMac has stockpiled a mountain of awards, including his sixth Grammy, Billboard Music Awards for Top Christian Artist and Album, his first American Music Award for Favorite Artist in the Contemporary/Inspirational category, iTunes’ Best Christian Gospel Album of the Year, Amazon’s Christian Artist of 2012 and more.
“This tour is going to be exactly what most people want to see when they go to a concert — a show where you know every song,” TobyMac said when he announced the tour. “Big hits that hit deep. Not just hits because they are sonically a good listen, but because they’ve spoken deeply to our souls. These artists are all headliners in their own right, but we’ve come together to serve up the hits that have become a part of people’s lives.”
Dixon says the stripped-down, acoustic-driven “Let Them See You” — the only song on “A Messenger” that he didn’t write — sums up what he wants listeners to get from his music.
“The message comes from John 13:16 [“Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him.”] All I’m trying to do is encourage people, lift them up, and at the end of the record, the end of the show, I want people to see Jesus.”
Tickets to Hits Deep range from $75 to $20. Show time is 7 p.m. For tickets or more information, call 461-4884 or visit www.premierproductions.com.