Some describe a career in music as a rollercoaster; others call it a winding road, but Danny Gokey sees it as an ice cream sundae. “American Idol was the ice cream,” says Gokey, who placed third in season eight on the popular FOX TV competition. “Getting signed is huge. It’s like just adding all the sprinkles and the whipped cream. Getting a single out is like putting the cherry on top.”
“My Best Days Are Ahead of Me” delivers the first taste of his 19 Recordings/RCA Nashville debut album and is a treat for fans who supported the Milwaukee native in his bid for the Idol title. During his tenure on the show, he impressed the judges with his versatility as he performed hits by The Temptations, Carrie Underwood, Michael Jackson and Rascal Flatts, among others, but it was his buoyant personality and perseverance in the face of adversity that earned Gokey a special place in the hearts of Idol devotees.
As he continued to rise through the ranks of American Idol hopefuls, it became increasingly clear that Gokey was blessed with a voice that could sing any style of music and turn any song into a compelling moment. So why did he choose a career as a country artist? “It’s all American music. There’s not a person in the United States of America who doesn’t love country or have some kind of tie to it,” he enthuses. “I personally have a tie to it through growing up and my father introducing us to Wynonna Judd when I was 12 or 13. I just remember being overwhelmed. I loved it! She had this soul that went into it, and you just felt the music when it played.”
Gokey credits American Idol with helping him define who he is as an artist. “It was just interesting to see how, as the show progressed, I started to find myself and started to hone in on who I want to be, what I want to be and what I want to represent. I gravitated to country,” Gokey relates. “The thing that I identified with the most was the message. When I sing, I want to sing something passionately, and I want to sing something that has a lot of meaning to me. I always found that in country.”
Gokey’s life before American Idol embodies the themes that populate the country music lexicon, from his humble roots in a poor but loving family to his hard-working days as a truck driver to the loss of the person most dear to him. Life has prepared Gokey to sing country music.
Born the fifth of six children, young Danny grew up in Milwaukee in a family that was often short on cash, but long on love and encouragement. “We didn’t have much money,” he recalls. “We didn’t have a lot of material things, but we had a lot of love, and that’s the one thing that stands out. Because there was so much love, because we were so well taken care of, I never thought about the financial aspect.”
Gokey has early memories of singing in church and parlayed his musical gifts and his deep faith into early work in church music ministry. While working in the music departments at two different churches, Gokey also put in grueling days as a trucker. “I drove an eighteen-wheeler semi-truck, a big rig,” he says. “I liked it actually. Was it what I wanted to settle with for the rest of my life? No, because music was where my passion was.”
His wife, Sophia, encouraged Danny to give American Idol a shot, but just a month before the audition, Sophia died following a long battle with heart disease. The couple had been high school sweethearts and Danny was devastated. He found solace and healing in music. “Music was the key place where I would go, and I would let the sorrow come out, let the tears just roll. Some music I would listen to had a determination in it, and I resolved that this is not going to be the thing that destroys me for the rest of my life. It can be turned into a building block, and [I can] become a better person for it. Music brought healing. That’s how I got through and still get through it today.”
Knowing firsthand the power of music, Gokey entered the studio determined to craft a debut album filled with songs that mattered. “I definitely have something to say with this album, and I think people will recognize that,” he says. “Music was the catalyst that helped bring healing, a determination and a resolve. That’s why I want to do music. I want to bring that same hope. When my wife passed, I tried out for American Idol, and music brought me hope. It brought me a reason to live again. Now I want to bring that into my music.”