Stacey, 30, gained fame on the sixth season of the popular Fox reality show American Idol in 2007. He was a Top 12 finalist on the show and began to carve out an identity for himself as a country singer with the release of his self-titled debut album last spring, which peaked at eighth on the Billboard country album chart.
Through his rapid rise to fame and blossoming solo career Stacey has kept himself grounded in a faith that has identified his family for generations. Phil’s father Gary is the pastor at the Hendersonville Church of God in Hendersonville, Tenn., just outside of Nashville. His wife Kendra sings in the church choir and he said he performs occasionally when he isn’t on the road. Additionally, his grandfather was a pastor, as are cousins and uncles on his family tree.
Stacey acknowledged, “Growing up in the environment that I did where you live a life of sacrifice to the Lord, it has shaped who I am. I’ve learned there’s not much value in material things, that you have to live your life in the truth that comes from God.”
Living in the truth and living in the spotlight are often a challenge, Stacey said. Case in point was a recent vacation to Italy.
“My wife and I were in Rome at the Colosseum and some people came up to me and asked, ‘Weren’t you on American Idol?’ and started taking pictures of me,” he said. “On one hand you’re flabbergasted and on the other you think it feels good to be recognized.
“It’s a reminder that there are all kinds of different things that can distract you from the path God is leading you on. No matter whatever else is going on around you, there is no truer sense of peace than from following His plan for your life.”
It’s a plan and a path that took a winding route leading up to American Idol. Stacey said he was on the verge of signing a record contract with a Christian label in 2002 when he made an about-face and enlisted in the Navy.
“My wife and I prayed and talked and thought about it at the time,” Stacey recalled. “When I went and told my friends that I had turned it down and enlisted they thought I was nuts. But at the time, it just didn’t feel like the right thing to do.”
So Stacey enlisted in the Navy with the full intent of continuing his singing in the service, which he did. While stationed in Jacksonville he missed a friend’s wedding and his friend said the only way Stacey could make it up to him was by auditioning for American Idol. Stacey thinks his laid-back attitude about the tryout process was critical to him making it to Hollywood for the live televised performances.
“If you don’t think about it all that much and don’t take it too seriously, the producers and the judges will like you as long as you can perform,” Stacey said. “You see it on the show every year where people take it too seriously and that’s when you sometimes have people breaking down.
“So many of the winners were so carefree coming into it, when you look at Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, that’s a big reason they got as far as they did. David Cook (2008 season winner) was there just to go along with his brother who was trying out. It’s that lax attitude you need to look for in figuring out who is going to go far.”
Stacey is also dispensing this advice and commentary in a regular blog he is writing for the Los Angeles Times while the eighth season, which debuted Tuesday, is on the air.
He also has insights on the infamous judging panel, which adds a fourth member this year in songwriter Kara DioGuardi. Stacey insisted the personalities of the judges are “100 percent genuine” and not forced for the cameras.
“They really are likable people,” Stacey said. “Paula Abdul is really one of the most delightful and caring people you would ever want to meet. With Simon (Cowell), you want to hate him when he says something to you like, “You’re terrible,” but at the same time you just want to love the guy and leave smiling about it. Trust me, if they weren’t authentic, you would see right through it.”
And it’s a sense of authenticity that Stacey hopes to bring with his music as his career unfolds. He left Lyric Street, which released his first album, to join Sony’s Reunion Records to cut a contemporary Christian album. He begins recording of the album next week and said touring in support of it is tentatively planned following his return from an April mission trip. He has been heavily involved in writing for the album, unlike his first release.
Even without a formal album tour at the moment Stacey still regularly performs, something he likely couldn’t do without.
“I’ve missed out playing in churches and having that fellowship in the body of Christ that comes with that,” he said. “It’s exciting to me to be able to play in a bar one night and a church the next day. Wherever I go I want to hopefully be a witness to Christ.
“When you look at the way Jesus lived his life, he ate with the tax collectors and was in the synagogues and spoke to harlots. That’s what I want to model my life after.”
However the ministry aspect of his career progresses, Stacey knows it will always be in music. Stacey jokingly said that with a vocal performance degree he isn’t qualified to do anything else. Songs on his first album are sprinkled with sports metaphors and he is friends with Tennessee Titans kicker Rob Bironas. Yet Stacey said an athletic career was never a consideration growing up.
“Rob and I laugh all the time about how he has no musical talent and I have no athletic talent. It’s the ultimate trade-off. I’ve met some other guys on the Titans and all they want ask me about is the music business and American Idol. Of course, all I want to talk with them about is football.”
And ultimately what he wants to do with his audiences is to allow them to see Christ at work in his life.
“With my music, the biggest hope I have is that it will help draw people to God. I hope that God’s love is reflected through what I do.”
Phil Stacey’s blog: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/americanidoltracker/2009/01/phil-stacey-blo.html