Casey James Talks Romance, Heartache and Why Finishing Third on ‘American Idol’ Was Perfect
Casey James’ personality shines through during each song on his self-titled debut project, and not just because the lyrics are mostly ripped from his pre and post-‘American Idol’ life. It’s his laid-back demeanor that fans find so charming. In just a few minutes, one feels like the guitar slinger from Texas has figured out how to keep pace with the world. Never too slow. Never too fast. Always on the beat.
James talked to Taste of Country the morning before debuting at the Grand Ole Opry, but seemed as anxious about the performance as one would before a trip to Grandma’s for dinner. In one breath, he waxed on about how romantic the album is, something that will surely please female fans who’ve fallen hard for his soulful voice, long blonde hair and boyish blue eyes. Moments later, he’s talking about the mischief he may cause at the Ryman Auditorium or about how he’d quit shaving if it weren’t for this whole new artist thing.
“If I really had my choice, I would probably grow the most wicked beard and never shave it,” James says. “But you know I kinda started with an image and probably need to stick with that until people at least know who I am.” The new album hit stores on March 20.
Is playing at the Grand Ole Opry like going to a party at someone wealthy’s house, where you try to take something small just to prove you were there?
[laughs] That’s awesome. Yeah definitely. Just like a nail sticking somewhere out of the floor, I’ll pull that thing out of there and keep it. Frame it on the wall. I think that’s a great idea actually. I wasn’t going to do that, but now if something is missing you’ve got me to blame.
Last year, you said you had written songs with Randy Owen and Kristian Bush (Sugarland) and I noticed that none of those made the final cut. How did you choose and how did those ended up getting weeded out?
It was an absolute beating to try and choose the songs but it really boiled down to collective wisdom. Obviously there were certain songs that I really loved, and it came down to about 20 maybe that I really felt like were the songs I couldn’t take one away. And luckily everyone surrounding me that I depend on to go to for advice — and that’s including people at the label and friends and family — those 20 were pretty much the same choices throughout. And then it was just a matter of getting the most consistent feel for the album without being too much down one path, but also not being too all over the place.
Really I was just trying to make the best possible album and maybe sometimes — I know it sounds crazy — maybe the best song might not be on the album because you gotta think of the album as a whole. And that’s the hard part is picking and cutting. It was an excruciating process.
Are there any songs on the album that are ripped from the pages of your life?
Absolutely. Yeah, most of them. Matter of fact all of them, and even the ones that I didn’t write I felt like could have came right out of my brain, that’s why I chose them.
(James begins talking about ‘Love the Way You Miss Me’)
That song in particular is close to my heart because I left for ‘American Idol’ two years ago really without saying bye to anybody and that song kinda represents my friends … and family because if it weren’t for them, I don’t know what I would have done. I wouldn’t have been able to get through.
When things change drastically around you it’s good to have people that can kinda keep you in check and kinda make you feel like at least something hasn’t changed.
(James talks about ‘Miss Your Fire.’)
It’s a super deep song to me. It’s about somebody in particular, an ex-girlfriend and that song was written specifically off of a text that I had received. So it always takes me to that place when I hear that song or I sing it.
Is that a relationship that ended badly?
No … (pauses to think) It was a weird deal because it was at the time of the show kind of, and things get difficult. I wouldn’t say badly, but sometimes things end and you don’t know why and it’s tough to move on.
In the the video for the single ‘Let’s Don’t Call It a Night,’ did you get to sit in for the steamier scenes?
[Laughs] Yeah a couple, just to see what was going on and to see the ideas. The producer … wanted me to because we had talked about the scenes and how the thing was going to play out but then I actually got to see some of it in the making and it was cool and I was really happy with the way the whole thing turned out.
Based on how you describe the album, I would think that maybe future videos might have a script that requires some level of physical intimacy with you and a beautiful actress. Is that something you’d be comfortable with?
Well I guess it would depend on the situation, but you know, I don’t know that I wouldn’t but I don’t know that I will so that will be bridge I have to cross when I get to it. I hadn’t even thought about that to be honest with you.
There is a long history of stars dating their video co-stars.
Yeah, then I’ll make sure to get the most smokin’ hot girls that I can find.
Who do you keep in touch with from your season on ‘American Idol’?
Quite a few people actually. Anytime I’m in New York I go see Big Mike (Michael Lynche). Any time I’m in L.A. I go see Andrew Garcia. Here in Nashville I from time to time hang out with Little Aaron (Aaron Kelly). And there is a bunch of people from the Top 24 that I still talk to that they didn’t make it Top 10 so they didn’t go on tour or anything. Even people from Hollywood week, I still talk to.
I heard Miranda Lambert say once that she was glad she didn’t win ‘Nashville Star’ when she was on it. Is there an upside to placing second or third?
Without a doubt … I feel like the place where I landed was exactly where I needed to be. But with all respect to the people that got first and second I’m sure they’re very happy with what they did, but I wouldn’t trade third for first or second any day of the week, just because it allowed me the freedom to do what I needed to do with my album and it gave me the freedom to do the music I wanted.
And the pressure is so great immediately after the show finishes. Scotty McCreery has done a nice job handling that, but some other artists who’ve won have faded and I wonder if that’s not a reason why.
Well there are so many things that go into it. There’s managing, and what are the goals, and what is your timeline and what are you trying to do and are you trying to promote being an ‘American Idol’ winner or are you trying to promote yourself as being an artist for the next 50 years? So everybody’s got different agendas and everybody has a different process but I feel really lucky that mine turned out to be exactly what I wanted and needed it to be.