Only a few years ago, Michael Sarver was working on an oil rig in Texas. But with a lot of determination and a little bit of luck from the eighth season of American Idol, the singer-songwriter has come to a turning point in his career. His first single, "Ferris Wheel," already makes him feel like he's part of the family.
"Country is the most welcoming genre. There is so much class in this city," Sarver said during a recent interview in Nashville. He explained that when he recorded his album, Rascal Flatts happened to be recording in the studio next to him. "And Gary (LeVox) told me that day, 'Good luck. I'll be the first in line to buy your record.' You don't get that in every genre."
The lively melody of his single, "Ferris Wheel," complements the lyrics about true love, all the way from the first inklings of affection to deep and real passion. The storyline is portrayed lightheartedly in the video, but the audience still feels the romantic meaning.
"I'll never forget the last shot of the night when the older couple was still on the Ferris wheel, flirting and lovin' on each other," Sarver said. "And when we had to ask the guy for a retake and kiss her again, he said, 'No problem!'"
The song was written by Rachel Thibodeau, Kyle Jacobs (Kellie Pickler's fiancé) and Lady Antebellum's Charles Kelley. Sarver admitted that he had never met any of the writers when he chose the song, although Thibodeau later ended up producing the album. Although he has written over 900 songs from the age of 14, he didn't mind that his first single wasn't one of his own.
"With 'Ferris Wheel,' it wasn't just about who wrote it," he said. "It was about how crazy-cool the song was. When you hear a song and for the next few days, you try to get it out of your head so you can think of another one and it doesn't go away, it's got to be something special."
Sarver's self-titled album features heartfelt ballads about life and love, upbeat tunes that are easy to sing along with and even a few songs where he delivers a straight-to-the-point message to those who thought he couldn't make it. His smooth voice and unmistakable twang provide a clean transition to the personalized moments in the songs. Fans have responded to Sarver's love for his wife in songs such as "Cinderella Girl" and "The Way She Loves Me."
Born and raised in Louisiana, Sarver grew up in church and primarily listened to country gospel music, although he loved to listen to Garth Brooks when no one was around. He moved to Texas at age 20 in search of his father, who left when he was 2. When nothing came of the search, Sarver decided to pursue another dream and audition for the eighth season of American Idol. It wasn't until then that, with the encouragement of professionals and fans around him, he found his home in country.
Sarver made it to the Top 10, which allowed him to go on tour with the other Idol finalists. Although he grew musically on the show, Sarver said the biggest thing he took away from the experience had nothing to do with music.
"It was character building," he said. "There are so many different types of people."
He roomed with Idol runner-up Adam Lambert, who came out as openly gay after the show finished.
"It was my first time to room with a gay guy, and everyone was like, 'How's that going?' and I said, 'I don't know,'" Sarver said. "I didn't know how to take Adam. But he started befriending me and he had so much class, I realized all these things about this narrow-minded view of life that I've had for so long."
Learning a significant life lesson, Sarver said he now realizes the importance of getting to know people before forming opinions about them. It has opened up his way of thinking and changed the way he approaches his career, he said.
He said he still keeps in touch with other Idol contestants, such as winner Kris Allen and fellow country artist Danny Gokey, as well as Lambert.
"We definitely bonded on the show," he said. "I actually miss them. I wouldn't mind doing a week-long tour just to hang out with them for a little while."
Although his home right now is Jasper, Texas, Sarver and his wife are considering moving the family to Nashville in the near future. The singer explained that he feels an unusual connection to the city, almost as if when he's headed back to Jasper, he's leaving his true home.
Asked if he had a specific message to fans who began following him during American Idol, he said, "For people who might have their own views on who I am or what kind of artist I might end up being, I ask that you at least listen and then make your choice. I believe when it all comes down to it and all the fame jazz is out of the way, it comes down to the music. And if the music counts, that's what matters. I really believe if people will listen to it, they'll like it."