You could argue and say that the first four seasons of American Idol were its most influential. And, honestly, you’d be right. The talent, the ratings, the overall cultural impact… it was all there. Those seasons gave us Kelly Clarkson, Jennifer Hudson, Fantasia, and Carrie Underwood, among others.
However, seasons 10 and 11, deep into the original iteration of the show, were just as if not more compelling. Between the two seasons, names like Haley Reinhart, Scotty McCreery, Phillip Phillips, and Joshua Ledet come to mind as those with sustainable careers post-show.
One name that, in terms of long-term career success, eclipses the rest from the later seasons is Colton Dixon. Dixon, who openly and honestly presented himself as a future Christian artist during his time on the show, finished seventh on season twelve. He covered Christian songs such as “Everything” by Lifehouse, but also tackled Lady Gaga, Paramore, and Billy Joel. His repertoire was unpredictable and exciting, and, despite his too-early exit, he was rewarded. He was granted a three-song solo set on the subsequent “American Idols Live!” tour later that year, including his original song “Never Gone.” An original song at a concert of nothing but covers. The seventh-place finalist with as many solos as the runner-up. It was unheard of.
Dixon’s debut record, 2013’s Messenger, fulfilled his promise of sticking with Christian music post-Idol. That too was rewarded. Six months into its release, it had sold over 100,000 copies. A decade later, Dixon has become one of the most prominent names in Christian pop-rock. His new EP, Canvas, is out today.
“‘Can’t ya just… can’t ya just stand up?'” – Colton Dixon
While he is a Christian artist, Dixon’s influences reach far beyond the genre. He cites Lifehouse, Skillet, Thirty Seconds To Mars, and Switchfoot as inspirations, but also shouts out Charlie Puth and OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder as artists he’d like to work with on the pop side due to their organic inventiveness. All those sounds, from Skillet to Puth, are, musically, reflected in his studio recordings and, visually, in his live show. In a live setting, Dixon, again, as a Christian act, performs with the energy and abandon of the rock acts he tips his hat to.
However, at a recent sold-out concert at Waters Church in North Attleboro, MA, it was clear that, even in 2023, fans of Christian music are hesitant to connect, at least physically, with Dixon’s material. “They just don’t really know how to act at a concert,” said Dixon, who smiled at the observation. “They’re used to church. A lot of the places we go into, it’s not like your modern non-denominational or ‘charismatic’ church. They’re just kind of in their shell even though there is someone ‘demonstrating.’” On the flip side, Dixon now realizes his role in those moments. “A few years ago, those types of crowds would have impacted me negatively,” he said. “I’d come offstage and be almost angry. I’d be like, ‘Man, I’m pouring out my heart and soul, giving it 110% and they’re not giving me anything.’ But then I realized I am not there to be served, I am there to serve them regardless of how it looks. I feel like God has called me to this city or put these songs in my heart for them. That’s kind of where I have to rest. I’m there to serve them. I’m there to do it, and I’m happy to do it.”
Tracks like “Miracles,” “Made To Fly,” “My Light,” and “Build A Boat” have done wonders for Dixon in recent years. He recently performed “Build A Boat” at the Grand Ole Opry, and that track, along with “My Light,” are included on new project Canvas. “My Light,” a simple yet modern pop tune with one of Dixon’s most accessible melodies, highlights Dixon’s low register and effortless vocal runs. During hard times, he realizes that God is the only thing he needs to get him through: “I’ve tried on my own strength but I just trip and fall / Put my faith in the wrong things, turns out after all / You’re the answer to every problem / You’re the grace when I hit the bottom.”
“Build A Boat,” is the major hit, with a duet version featuring country star (and Idol winner) Gabby Barrett also included on the EP. The track is stirring and soulful, and Dixon sings the massive chorus with a conviction worthy of a song of worship: “Ima build a boat in the sand where they say it never rains / I will stand up in faith / I’ll do anything it takes.”
The EP also includes “Giants” and “Unbreakable,” two uplifting songs that could be considered two sides of the same coin, but the highlight of the project is the title track. “Canvas” is, arguably, Dixon’s most prolific and emotionally vulnerable yet: “You give me light, you give me hope / You’re all I need and nothing more / I’m just a vessel / You write the songs.”
“It’s kind of turned into my mantra,” he said. “Not just as an artist, but as a believer, as a husband, as a dad. The whole meaning of the song is that every day is a blank canvas, it’s a clean slate. For me personally, I just want God to tell his story through me. But, I think we can all relate… we all have someone or something that turns your mess and makes it something beautiful.”
He worked on the track with a number of collaborators including Tommee Profitt, known for his work with NF, and Ben Blasko, a well-known composer. “It talks about turning melodies into symphonies,” he said. “Taking this really intimate thing into something ornate and beautiful. I knew that that was exactly where the music needed to go.”
Within the last few years, Dixon was blessed with not one but two special individuals to take a mess and turn it into something beautiful. On October 16th, 2020, he and his wife Annie welcomed twin daughters Ava Dior and Athens Elizabeth into the world, but not without complications. To put it simply, Ava Dior did not have to wait long before having to fight her first battle, but with the help of a lot of love and prayer, she came out on top.
That moment, which Dixon described as fight or flight, combined with being dropped from his label and losing guaranteed touring income during COVID, tested him and his family beyond measure. But, through all of that, he believes God’s hand was always on his shoulder. “The Bible says, ‘He’ll turn that, which is meant for evil, and turn it for our good’,” he said. “Do I look back at all of those things and think God was trying to teach me a lesson? No. But I do think they are opportunities for our faith to grow stronger, and I think He will absolutely use those situations to better our relationship, and to grow us closer together. On one hand, I’m thankful for the hard times, because they have grown my faith and taught me that I can put my trust in God. It’s like… I went through this hard thing, this crazy circumstance, and this crazy season, but I’m still standing. So, if those things aren’t going to break me, then nothing will.”