Former ‘Idol’ champ Lee DeWyze resets his musical compass

By John Benson

Lee DeWyze is a patient man.

As “American Idol” season 9 winner, the Chicago native knows most folks would rather talk about his experience on the reality show or life after than his latest CD, “Frames.”

However, the current narrative following DeWyze is how his 2010 album “Live it Up,” which came right after his nationally televised victory and had the marketing power of a small army behind it, didn’t truly match his musical spirit.

“Putting an album out after ‘American Idol,’ you only get so much time,” said DeWyze, calling from Los Angeles. “I can sit here and list so many reasons why it wasn’t the album I wanted, but at the end of the day, the main reason is the label has an idea of what I should be doing. And for me, it was really hard walking that line between being the new guy on the block and signing to a huge label, and doing what I wanted to do creatively.”

The difference between albums is noticeable. While “Live it Up” sold more than 200,000 copies, buoyed by his cover of U2’s “Beautiful Day,” it found DeWyze singing more alt-pop tunes. Also, he was released from the major label a year later. This bad news is something the singer believes was a blessing in disguise.

Hoping to somewhat reset his musical compass, DeWyze recorded “Frames.” Among his favorite tunes is “Fight,” which begins in his wheelhouse with just vocals and an acoustic guitar.

“The song progresses and builds,” DeWyze said. “And then you hear slide and violin coming in. It’s really just a song about fighting what you believe in. It’s definitely a song people can rally behind.”

DeWyze said in many ways “Frames” feels like his first record, which opens up a world of possibilities for the future. More importantly, he feels like he’s in a comfort zone that he never felt on “American Idol.”

“Singing someone else’s songs on stage in front of 40 million people, I don’t know whose comfort zone that is,” DeWyze said. “It’s not something you ever envisioned in your career when you decided to be an artist. I’m appreciative and grateful. It’s just three years have passed, and I’ve written and recorded a new record. For me, that’s where I’m at.”

Now DeWyze is hoping to reshape his career with a tour that brings him to Youngstown’s Stambaugh Auditorium on Saturday.

As for one day eventually losing the “American Idol” tag, DeWyze is realistic and appreciative.

“‘American Idol’ is huge,” DeWyze said. “And I won ‘American Idol.’ I don’t think that’s something that people are going to brush over. I have no regrets. If you look at the top five artists, it’s all about marketing and media and product placement. So for me, it’s just one of the hardest things I’ve ever done my entire life, and until someone does it, they’ll never know.”

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