‘American Idol’ champ Phillip Phillips drops new album ‘Drift Back’

Hear our full chat on my podcast “Beyond the Fame with Jason Fraley.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Phillip Phillips (Part 1)

He won season 11 of “American Idol” and became a chart-topping radio success with “Home.”

On Friday, Phillip Phillips releases his new album “Drift Back” with the single “Dancing With Your Shadows.”

“The album for me represents these past five years of me trying to learn how to become a better man overall — a better husband, a better father, a better brother, a better son, a better friend,” Phillips told WTOP.

“It’s kind of a deeper record for me and very personal, but there’s still some fun moments throughout it. That’s really what it is for me, just kind of learning. I’m still on that journey of trying to do better each day. … To ‘drift back’ to who I am.”

Born in 1990, Phillips grew up in Albany, Georgia, and began playing guitar around age 14. He worked at his father’s pawn shop while playing local concerts around the state.

He majored in Industrial System Technology at Albany Technical College when he auditioned for the 11th season of “American Idol” in 2012.

“I never watched the show,” Phillips said. “My mom was a huge fan. They always told me, ‘If you tried out for that, you’d win.’ … I knew incredible singers went out for it like Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, powerhouse vocalists. I’m like, ‘I’m not a powerhouse vocalist.’ They said, ‘You need to see [Casey Abrams]. … I was like, ‘That’s really cool,’ … The next year my family said, ‘We’ll give you the gas money, travel up to Charleston and try out.'”

As Phillips enters the final round of auditions, Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler whispers to fellow judge Jennifer Lopez, “I’ve got a funny feeling about this.” Lopez and Randy Jackson dance in their seats to Phillips’ rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” then encourage him to bust out his guitar for Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”

“You’re in front of these artists that have done amazing things that will always be remembered, and I’m just this kid from this small town,” Phillips said. “I don’t think I ever looked at them besides saying, ‘Hello,’ because I was absolutely terrified. I don’t like to sing a cappella, especially by myself. … When they finally said I could pick up my guitar, I got a lot more comfortable and got to play my version of ‘Thriller’ and they seemed to really like it.”

By the end of the television season, Phillip Phillips was a household name across America as confetti fell from the rafters and Ryan Seacrest declared him the 11th season champion, thanks to a then-record 132 million votes.

“It was an out-of-body experience,” Phillips said. “I can’t even watch that video now because it still gets me emotional. It’s the weirdest thing. [Seacrest] said it, then they brought my guitar out and I was like, ‘What am I about to sing?’ Then the music started and I was like, ‘Oh, this song.’ It all just happened, a really cool experience.”

“Home” became the top-selling coronation song in “Idol” history, released on the album “The World From the Side of the Moon” (2012). Boasting a Mumford & Sons vibe, Phillips sang the iconic hook, “Just know you’re not alone, I’m gonna make this place your home,” followed by an “ohhh ohhh” chorus tailor-made for movie trailers.

“We went into the studio and cut the guitars, played around with the drum hits, super simple drums, just four on the floor,” Phillips said. “You listen back like, ‘Aww man, I would have changed this, or I would have done this,’ but there’s a beautiful thing about rushing and moving quickly. My first album, most of those songs I had written in my bedroom at my parents’ house when I was younger. … We had three weeks to record that whole album.”

His second album “Behind the Light” (2014) featured the singles “Fly” and “Raging Fire,” the latter of which he played on TV talk shows for Conan O’Brien and Ellen DeGeneres and was even used during the NHL Playoffs.

“It [took] a little bit longer than the first album, but it was still super rushed because they were still wanting to capitalize on what was going on,” Phillips said. “I wanted to spend more time on it, but when you’re on a major label dealing with management that’s not looking out for your best interests, all I can do is just, OK, let’s just get it done. I do love just about all of those songs. … There’s one song on each of the first three albums that I don’t like.”

His third album “Collateral” (2018) delivered songs like “Into the Wild” and “Magnetic.”

“I really love the sound of that album,” Phillips said. “I recorded it in Seattle. … It really just showed a diverse side of me that I’ve always tried to put into my music in my first few albums, but in this one I really explored it more. ‘I Dare You’ and ‘Magnetic’ had a little more of a blues-jazz thing, and ‘Don’t Tell Me’ was a little more funk driven. ‘Magnetic’ had that sexiness about it, a little bit more of a swag, just a really fun sound and great songs on there.”

Over the years, he’s toured with John Mayer, Gavin DeGraw and Goo Goo Dolls and even shared the stage with Bruce Springsteen. Most recently, he performed at the National Memorial Day Concert in D.C. alongside Gary Sinise, Joe Mantegna, Yolanda Adams, Trace Adkins, Jo Dee Messina, Megan Hilty and The War and Treaty.

“That was awesome,” Phillips said. “I took my little boy, that was his first plane ride, and my wife. We had a good time and went to the zoo and several museums and had a really good time, man. It was a great event. … We all knew that we weren’t there for us. It was Memorial Day; it was for all of those families and the ones that we lost … I was glad that I was able to bring more of an upbeat moment for that whole event.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Phillip Phillips (Part 2)

Hear our full chat on my podcast “Beyond the Fame with Jason Fraley.”

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Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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