The way singer Bo Bice looks at things, he only gets paid to practice – not to perform.
“I play every show that I do (as) a free show – I do it for free,” says the Cumming native and runner-up of American Idol. “It just so happens I get paid to show up and practice for that show … the shows, I play them for free every night, because, standing on that stage, I don’t consider that a way that I’m making money. I give away everything that we’ve got every night. You give it back to the fans because they give it to you.”
That pretty much sums up the way Bice, 36, thinks about his art, his performances and his fans. On Friday, hundreds of people paid for Bice to practice before his “free” concert at the Mill Town Music Hall; the latest in a string of performances at the new concert venue in Bremen.
Susan Gardner, a Buchanan resident, said she was very impressed with Bice’s performance, especially his inclusion of songs by Marshall Tucker, the Allman Brothers and other Southern rock tunes. Like other fans, she was drawn to the concert because she had seen Bice on American Idol, but now felt she had a new appreciation for the artist.
In a telephone interview a few days before the show, Bice spoke about his life before and after the fourth season of American Idol, during which he came in second to country star Carrie Underwood in what Idol judge Randy Jackson said was the closest boy vs. girl contest ever. Bice also spoke about his current project, “I Love the Road,” a package of songs that is being distributed in a new way, enabling his many fans to obtain a far richer experience than they could with an old-fashioned CD.
Bice is a “please” and “thank you” man. Running around backstage before Friday’s show, he was unfailingly polite with all levels of Mill Town’s staff, posing with fans and patiently answering questions. Perhaps such politeness is a result of his Southern upbringing.
“My family has lived in Georgia off and on most of my life,” he said in the interview. “My family, we traveled overseas and lived overseas for awhile – London, England and Dublin, Ireland – (but) I’ve lived in Douglasville; I’ve lived in Smyrna … I’ve grown up here in Georgia.”
He and his wife, Caroline, have three sons and, last April, welcomed the birth of a new daughter who “already has me wrapped around her finger,” Bice said. The family recently moved to Cumming, where they live next door to Bice’s mother. What could be more Southern than that?
“One of my favorite things is playing in the South,” he said. “Southern music is such a melting pot, because you’ve got country, bluegrass, Southern gospel; you’ve got rock n’ roll, blues. There are so many different elements that you put in the jambalaya called Southern music.”
Bice has been playing this music much of his life and was a professional musician long before his American Idol appearance. That show led directly to three well-received albums, as well as set up his latest project; a venture that takes advantage of technological innovations in the recording industry as well as the rise of the download culture.
Ordinarily, “I Love the Road” would be referred to as Bice’s new album, but it is much more than that. Fans can go to his website (bobice.com) and purchase a “digital download” card, a medium many artists are now using to both save record production costs and provide a richer experience for fans. The card allows people to download a large package of media to their PCs, or to their smartphones, via a barcode reading app.
“It comes with a 23-minute documentary, it’s got two music videos, (and) it has an 11-song CD with it,’’ says Bice, adding that he is “no Nostradamus,” but he knows that this is the future of music distribution. “We’ve known for about the past four or five years that CDs were on the way out.”
“This project was a lot of fun for me because it shows everything that we’ve been involved with since (Idol),” That includes his visit with U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as views of the band “on a million-dollar tour bus … trying to pretend we’re rock stars” and of him and his bandmates taking breaks on the road by camping, canoeing or fishing.
Although Bice has been a professional musician for more than half his life, he is very aware that his current success is largely due to his 2005 appearance on American Idol. While he says some former contestants now “don’t want to talk about the show,” that is not true of him.
“I had a great experience,” he said. “I finished second place to one of the highest record sales Idols (Carrie Underwood) that they’ve had.”
He said he remains grateful to show director Simon Fuller and then-director Nigel Lythgoe, as well as the many un-named staff who, behind the scenes, helped him and his fellow contestants – many of whom remain his friends and sometime-collaborators.
“Constantine (Maroulis) and I text back and forth,” Bice said, and he is also about to embark on a project with fellow Georgian Vonzell Solomon. Tours and reunion appearances on the show have brought strong friendships and working relationships with such Idol alumni as Melinda Doolittle (season six), William “Bucky” Covington (season five) and Michael Johns (season seven).
His success and fan adoration has not much phased Bice.
“I get up each day, and I’ve been blessed enough to have a beautiful family. My wife’s been putting up with my mess now for 10 years. She’s been through my good, bad and ugly stages.”
Bice said he was unable to attend this year’s Idol season 11 finale, in which fellow Georgian Phillip Phillips won, for the simple reason that his new daughter, Merrin, was being born.
“I made a promise to my wife when we were pregnant with our first son that I would not miss birthdays, or Christmases or Thanksgivings - and that I would be there for every one of my kids being born.”