[18 April 2007]
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)
Bucky Covington has sipped from the garden hose, used pliers on his TV and, with his siblings, ridden sprawled out on the hump of the family Chevette.
Ordinarily this should be of no consequence, but the 29-year-old finalist from last year’s edition of “American Idol” whose self-titled debut CD hit stores Tuesday, has released as his first single, “A Different World,” a nostalgic song detailing the myriad ways in which America has changed over the years.
Sample lyrics: “We were born to mothers who smoked and drank/Our cribs were covered in lead based paint/No child proof lids, no seat belts in cars/Rode bikes with no helmets and still here we are ... No bottled water, we’d drink from a garden hose/And every Sunday, all the stores were closed.”
Yes, it wasn’t that long ago that Publix supermarkets were closed on Sunday. Flamingo Park Pool in Miami Beach had a high diving board. Every PE class had a kid who was picked last, who prayed the softball wouldn’t come his way while quivering in the outfield.
Covington laughs before you even finish the question: How can someone born in 1977 sing about the pre-CD, pre-cell phone, pre-Internet, pre-litigious days with such authority?
“I have been asked that question,” Covington says on the telephone from Nashville, and then lists all the reasons why he is the right man to sing this traditional country tune, a rising Top 30 hit established country artist Tracy Lawrence reportedly intended to record before Covington acted faster.
“I sucked at basketball and baseball so bad I won’t even watch it now,” Covington says. “I was that kid looking through the glove. We did have the model TV with channels 3, 6 and 12 and the top knob broke off it and we had to use the pliers (to change the channel). We had seat belts in the car but we didn’t use them. Someone lay across the hump on the floor board. We were drinking out of the garden hose - had to wait for the brown water, the rust, to come out first to drink it.
“I think I’m on the border (age-wise),” he adds. `The people who wrote the song aren’t that much older than I am - two or three years. When I got the song I thought, `This is awesome, but are people going to think I’m too young? Alan Jackson can sing it.’ But ... I had to go with me.”
The real Covington - born William Joel Covington, named in part for his mother’s favorite singer Billy Joel - appears a blend of his old-fashioned, small town North Carolina upbringing and modernity. You can hear it in the appealing country-rock music on his CD.
“I do remember when CDs first came out. Who needs a CD when you have a perfectly good cassette tape,” he jokes. An iPod? “I have two. Can’t figure out how to download off the computer.”
But Covington, who performed on the club circuit nights while working days at his father’s auto body shop before “Idol,” is much more assured when dealing with his career. On “American Idol,” he often underwhelmed - Idol’s theme nights make little sense for a guy with a core sound. Queen Night? Stevie Wonder Night? Not with his expressive country voice.
“‘Superstition’ is a great song, but it ain’t me,” says Covington, who was influenced in part by Travis Tritt and Tim McGraw. “I had a great time on the `Idol’ tour, bunch of great people, great learning experience. The only down side is these weren’t songs I picked. You can tell when someone else picked that song for you.”
Luckily, the head of Lyric Street Records, the Disney-owned Nashville label behind Rascal Flatts, overlooked all of that.
“I watched `Idol’ and dug his personality but didn’t think he’d ever have the opportunity” to record appropriate music, says Doug Howard, a senior vice president with Lyric Street. `When (Sawyer Brown singer) Mark Miller ... called me about Bucky, we had him come into our studio and sing something he recorded. It was a whole different experience than I saw on `Idol.’ ... He sang and I thought, `I get this guy.’ On top of that, personality is such a part of this business. Everyone talks about that X Factor. He just charmed me.”
The next challenge was playing Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry stage. Covington has now done so twice.
“The Opry stage will wear you out,” he says. “The biggest difference is on the `Idol’ stage I didn’t know if I had a shot at a career. On the Opry stage I was working on my career.”
To get this far, however, he had to clear a few hurdles. His marriage to Crystal was the first casualty in February.
“We were married for seven years. We were young, 21. It got to the point where it was too much fussin’ and fightin’ so we decided to split up. But we’re getting along better than ever. She’s a good person,” he says.
Next, he had to field calls from opportunists who were all talk but said all the wrong things.
“When I left the show you could imagine,” Covington says. `One guy says, `I’m going to make you the next Elvis. I’m not going to be happy unless you make $7 million a year.’ “
Covington’s response: “Have a nice day.”
“Mark Miller calls me up and the first thing he says is, `What do you want to do?’ That got my attention. He was asking the right question. I want a 30-year career. That’s my main goal. I love all types of country music. I want great songs but I want variety, some ballads that bring a tear out of you and I want some rocking country and some straight old school.”
On “Bucky Covington,” one of the most solid albums to come out of the pre-fabricated “Idol” franchise, producer Miller and his client achieved that blend. Now it’s up to Covington, whose twin brother Rocky has joined his band as a drummer, to prove it on tour sans comments from Simon, Randy and Paula.
“People say it’s got to be tough singing in front of judges like that (on “Idol.”) Not really,” Covington says. “If you sing in bars about 1 in the morning people get real honest.”