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'Idol' champ Frandiani in spotlight on tour; making new album

By Alan Sculley

July 24, 2015

Nick Fradiani probably finds a little more meaning in the saying "never say never" these days.

The singer/guitarist of the Connecticut band Beach Avenue appeared on the NBC show "America's Got Talent" in 2014, but that experience soured him on the concept of music competition shows.

"We got through the first round, and when they eliminated us before the voting, I was like I don't want to do these shows anymore," Fradiani says in a phone interview. "I remember I said that to my drummer. 'I'll never do another singing reality show thing like that ever again. I just want to keep writing and doing my own thing.'"


Last year, though, Fradiani found himself auditioning for another such show, "American Idol." This time, he didn't get cut in the preliminary rounds. He didn't get voted out in the early rounds that were televised during the recently completed Season 14 of "Idol." He didn't get voted out at all.

Fradiani emerged as the Season 14 champion, taking the crown in the finale over Clark Beckham.

Winning "Idol" was about the last thing that crossed Fradiani's mind when he decided to audition. He was approached during his time on "America's Got Talent" by some personnel who had connections with "Idol," and promised he could get in front of some executive producers of "Idol," rather than having to do the standard cattle-call audition.

Still, Fradiani was lukewarm to the idea. Beach Avenue was making progress. It released a couple of EPs and started to build a following around the Northeast.

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"I said no at first because of the band," he says of the invitation to audition. "And then I talked to some family and friends and they were like, 'Man, this could be something you regret' … I kept fighting it and then I was like 'Why not? It is a cool thing. I could get maybe a chance to get in front of those judges. That's kind of cool.' That's literally how I went into it. I had a show the night before in New York with my band and then the next morning, I woke up tired and hardly any voice and I sang for the judges at like 11 o'clock in the morning, I think. And that was it.

"It's amazing how a decision like that can change your whole life."

Now Fradiani has been busy co-writing songs for his debut album and on the "American Idol Live!" tour that for years has followed the completion of each season of "Idol."

Fradiani, as this year's "Idol" champion, has a featured role in the show, and performs his own set near the end of the show.

But this year's tour is different from the previous outings in two major ways. Instead of featuring the latest season's Top 10 finalists, as the earlier tours did, this year's outing includes only the Top Five finishers. Fradiani thinks this change makes for a better show because each performer has more time on stage.

"This year, you're going to really get to see us as the artists we're trying to be outside of the show, after the show," he says. "And it will kind of be a little more intimate in terms of I'll have a little set toward the end that I'll be doing of multiple songs. I'll be doing some original songs. I'll absolutely do my single that's out right now ["Beautiful Life"], as well as a song that I wrote before 'Idol.'

"There will be some songs from the show and I'll be able to kind of talk about why I chose some of the songs. I just think you're going to get a lot more of a personal, you'll feel more connected to the contestants than you were from the years past or from just watching the show."

Some of the intimacy of this year's show will come from the other major change in the tour. Instead of visiting arenas, "American Idol Live," for the most part, is booked into theaters. The smaller venues would seem to be another outcome of the declining popularity of the long-running show, which at its peak was easily the most popular show on television, reaching more than 30 million viewers for season finales for Seasons Four through Seven. By contrast, season 14's finale in May drew just over 8 million viewers.

"American Idol's" producers have announced that next season will mark the end of the show. They've promised that it will be a unique season for "Idol," one that will have an element of celebrating the show's history, while also having contestants vying for the final "American Idol" crown.

Fradiani will be trying to buck the recent trend of "American Idol" winners who have failed to make much of an impact with their debut albums.

In its early years, the show lived up to its promise of being a star-making endeavor, producing bona-fide stars such as Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Jennifer Hudson. Other "Idol" alumni, including Phillip Phillips, Chris Daughtry, Adam Lambert, Scotty McCreery, Ruben Studdard and Jordin Sparks have had considerable success.

But the winners from the previous two seasons — Caleb Johnson and Candice Glover — whiffed with their debut albums, while three other champions — David Cook, Kris Allen and Lee DeWyze — haven't sustained the decent success they enjoyed with their debut albums.

Fradiani thinks he has one major advantage over recent "Idol" champions — the enthusiastic support of his record label, Big Machine, and its president, Scott Borchetta.

Big Machine became the new record label partner of "Idol" for season 14, after RCA/19 Entertainment had served in that capacity for the first 13 seasons.

Fradiani thinks Big Machine is more invested in his future than RCA/19 might have been with some of the other recent "Idol" winners.

"This guy [Borchetta] is not a guy who likes to lose. He's a very, very competitive guy," Fradiani says. "You know, he put himself out there this year. So he wants this to work just as much as I want this to work, and that's so huge to have that."

Fradiani thinks his biggest talent is his songwriting, but how much original material makes his debut album is an open question.

Big Machine has already had Fradiani writing with a number of outside tunesmiths, but at the same time, Borchetta has been quoted as saying his team's main job on behalf of Fradiani is to hunt down the best songs they can find from other songwriters — a comment that doesn't exactly sound like a vote of confidence for Fradiani's songwriting skills.

Fradiani has accepted the situation, knowing outside material from established songwriters might give him his best shot at achieving his goal of getting songs on top 40 radio.


"It's going to come down to which songs are the best songs," Fradiani says. "If I'm not making the cut on those, then that's what it is. And right now, I need to start my career at a really high level, and then I'll get more opportunity [to record originals]. But the one cool thing is they're giving me that shot [to write] right now, so that's all I could ask for."