Editor's Note: In the Moment: Bo Bice debuts Friday (Jan. 13) at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CMT.
He's new to Nashville, so Bo Bice can be forgiven for getting turned around. After parking his car in a downtown garage, he asked two guys on a smoke break if they happened to know how to get to the CMT office.
But instead of directions, he got this: "You're that guy from American Idol!"
Bice nodded politely, but one of the guys couldn't contain himself: "Yes! Yes! You know him? He's from American Idol!"
After a few rounds of this enthusiastic exchange ("You be good, American Idol!"), most musicians might grow somewhat agitated, but Bice is totally tickled to be recognized.
"That's funny to me," he says, settling into a couch in the studio's green room. "I love that, and I hope that never goes away. I really do. As fleeting as all this can be, that just makes my day."
His sudden fame has led to good fortune so far. His new album, The Real Thing, has already sold 500,000 copies. Every TV talk show wants him, and every show biz magazine has written about him. So it's somewhat of a surprise that he arrives at the office totally alone. No manager, no publicist, no personal assistant. Definitely no entourage -- and that's by design.
"It's nice to have people that are there to help you and stuff, but also I don't want to become too detached from the normal sea of life," he says. "For me, it seems like some cat with his hair pulled back stuffed up under a bun walking down the street is a lot more discreet than seeing people walking in a group clustered around this cat. I like that anonymity."
Following an extended holiday break of resting and recuperating, this is his first day back at work. And if anybody deserved a vacation, it's him. With a lifetime of experiences in just 12 months, he confesses that 2005 was a blur. Here are some reasons why:
May: After months of singing like a true rock star, Bice comes in second on American Idol, edged out by Carrie Underwood.
June: He marries his girlfriend of two years, Caroline Fisher, in his hometown of Helena, Ala.
July: He breaks his foot on stage at a New Jersey concert after some traction issues from his new sneakers.
August: He underwent surgery for intestinal blockage, forcing him to drop out of the American Idol tour.
September: He and Caroline welcome their son, Aidan.
October: He's in the studio working on his debut album for RCA Records with a revolving door of big-name producers.
November: At his new home in Nashville, he celebrates his 30th birthday with friends and a growing collection of electric guitars.
December: He is hospitalized in Las Vegas, following complications from his previous surgery. As a result, he had to cancel his performance on the Radio Music Awards.
As a music fan himself, Bice's highlights of 2005 are equally astounding.
"In one year, I got to go from being a guy playing in bars and in church and giving lessons to being in front of 40 million people a week on a show," he says before rattling off a laundry list of heroes that he's recently performed with -- Lynyrd Skynyrd, Willie Nelson, Trey Anastasio and Galactic. For Christmas, he said he wanted a vinyl copy of the late Jim Croce's Time in a Bottle album. When Croce's widow Ingrid found out, she sent him Jim's own personal copy. He's still stunned by the generous gift.
"All these things already are surreal," he says.
Bice is back in L.A. this weekend, filming a music video for "The Real Thing." After that, he's catching up on some postponed press opportunities there and in New York. Then he returns home to rehearse for a tour, though he doesn't have specific plans for the road yet.
"We're hoping to find an act to let us come and open up for them," he says. "I'm not too big on the whole headlining thing right now. I don't feel like I've paid my dues to be headlining. I've been down in the trenches for 12 years, and the last thing I want associated with my name is 'overnight success.' As true as it may be -- the success did come overnight -- but the hard work didn't."
Going into the sessions for The Real Thing, Bice had hoped he'd be able to pick from his own catalog. But the label had other plans with a stack of songs they had chosen for him. They reached a compromise though -- Bice plays several his own songs on the flipside of the DualDisc version.
"I feel like in the end, [The Real Thing] was a good representation of me and of different things that I can do," he says. "But I'm excited for the next album -- an album that is just me, to see if people accept that and if people dig that. I know that's a big gamble to a record company: 'OK, you did all right. Now let's see if they like you.'"
And if that doesn't work? Bice has thought of that, too.
"I'm comfortable enough with myself to know that this ride is never going to last forever," he says. "I'd like for people to see the entire 'real me' before it's all gone. If I end up like Paul McCartney or Willie Nelson and do this, like so many others who are still out there making great music, then that's a great blessing. If not, at least it's good to know that you went out with guns blazing, doing what you love."