American Idol alumnus Phil Stacey has combined his Christian upbringing and a passion for country music on his new self-titled album for Lyric Street Records. As a consequence, the album is being worked in both musical formats.
"If You Didn't Love Me" has already climbed to No. 32 on Billboard's country singles chart, while "Identity," an introspective album cut, is being programmed on several contemporary Christian radio stations. EMI Christian Music Group is distributing the album to Christian music outlets.
"I sing Christian songs on my country record," Stacey says, a point rendered apparent by a close reading of the lyrics, many of which could allude equally well to earthly or spiritual love.
The son and grandson of ministers, Stacey was born 30 years ago in the tiny Harlan County hamlet of Loyal, Ky. During Stacey's youth, his father moved to other pastorates in Kentucky and Ohio before settling into a ministry in Wichita, Kan., where Stacey attended both junior high and senior high school.
Stacey says he was always attracted to music -- from the Hank Williams, Roy Acuff and Bill Monroe records his parents played to such contemporary Christian luminaries as Rich Mullins, Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith.
With a musical career in mind, Stacey enrolled at Lee University, a Christian-oriented liberal arts college in Cleveland, Tenn. In his freshman year, he joined the school's highly-regarded Lee Singers and performed with them on their appearances in China. After graduating from Lee in 2002, Stacey moved briefly to Nashville in search of a record deal. He soon journeyed on to Denver, where he spent six months working as a music minister.
During this early post-college period, Stacey made some independent records, but he recalls that his ambitions were modest at the time. "I didn't dream that I'd be on this level," he notes.
In an effort to fuse his musical aspirations with his desire to serve his country -- his dad was a veteran of Vietnam -- Stacey joined the Navy. While stationed in Jacksonville, Fla., he became the lead singer of the Navy's rock band. At the same time, he says, he and his buddies had another band on the side.
He auditioned for and won his spot on American Idol during his Navy tenure in Jacksonville. After a 12-week run on Idol, Stacey did a 55-city tour of the U.S. in 2007 with the show's other finalists. That same year, he completed his Navy stint and signed with Lyric Street.
Whether performing, recording, producing, engineering or building sound studios, Stacey says he's always earned his living through music.
Stacey picked Wayne Kirkpatrick to produce his debut album, largely, he says, because of his work with Little Big Town. "He likes that raw sound," Stacey explains, "that traditional instrumentation with kind of a rock feel." Stacey says he was also aware of Kirkpatrick's high standing in the contemporary Christian music scene.
For material, Stacey and Kirkpatrick turned to such tried-and-true Music Row songwriters as Rivers Rutherford, Wendell Mobley, Neil Thrasher, Tony Martin, Jason Sellers, Kirkpatrick, the members of Little Big Town and Rascal Flatts lead singer Gary LeVox.
Stacey says he'd hoped to co-write with some of Nashville's top composers for his album, but the demands of the Idol tour prevented him from doing so.
Traditionalists hearing the adventurous melodies and gauzy lyrics of Stacey's album for the first time may question if it should even be classified as country music. But the singer has no doubt about its identity.
"It's honest," he asserts. "That's what I think of as country music -- real life, real honest stories. But it definitely has more of a contemporary edge."