“American Idol” favorite Danny Gokey finds “Hope In Front Of Me”

By Andy Argyrakis

Shortly after lighting up the ratings on season eight of “American Idol,” Danny Gokey released his 2010 debut disc “My Best Days” (RCA Nashville/19) and took off on an immensely successful journey that even dwarfed his highly coveted third place finish. Not only did his debut disc land at number four on the Billboard charts, but it scored the singer/songwriter the best first week of sales by a debut country male artist in 18 years, followed by the highest debut of digital downloads sold by any new country artist in history. From there, the glasses-bearing Milwaukee native opened Sugarland’s extraordinary “Incredible Machine” outing, followed by Taylor Swift’s even more enormous “Speak Now” World Tour, further cementing his status as a household name.

It’s no wonder why anticipation’s been brewing ever since for a follow-up album, but after four whirlwind years, it’s finally coming to fruition via “Hope In Front Of Me” (BMG), which also shares the namesake of his 2013 autobiography. Though the vocals and heartfelt lyrics are most definitely presented in textbook Gokey style, fans may be surprised at his new contemporary pop/soul sonic direction that’s also centered more overtly around his spiritual beliefs.

danny-gokey-og“I want this project to be inspirational, entertaining and hopeful, plus it’s full of soul,” Gokey tells uptv.com phoning in from the road. “My father really shaped my musical choices growing up and we listened to a lot of gospel, Motown and country…I love country music, I still listen to it and I even hope to be on a duet with a country singer soon, but this CD shows another side of me that people haven’t been able to experience yet.”

A mere scan of the credits shows Gokey teaming with a who’s who of producers and songwriters spanning several walks of life, including Dove Award winning “Producer of the Year” Bernie Herms (Natalie Grant, Casting Crowns, Barbra Streisand, Andrea Bocelli), multiple Grammy Award winner Keith Thomas (Amy Grant, BeBe & CeCe Winans) and Josh Crosby (Cher, Owl City). Considering how much variety there is throughout the record, coupled with the potent vocalist’s increasingly uplifting lyrics, the title track is already attracting attention in multiple radio formats.

“Right now my song is on Christian radio doing really well and it just crossed over to AC/mainstream pop radio,” he confirms of the smoothly soulful pop gem. “The song is a soundtrack not only for my life, of walking through loss, overcoming tragedy and finding hope again, but for people’s lives who need hope and who have been dealing with a problem that doesn’t seem like it will ever end. There are a lot of people going through that and I’ve been getting so many messages on Facebook and Twitter saying things like ‘I cried because someone knew what I was going through’ or ‘God was looking out for me because I wound up hearing your song.’ It’s really cool what we’re seeing!”

Love, loss and letting go

Of course, Gokey’s story of trials and triumph is one that’s already been an inspiration to many, dating all the way back to 2008 when his high school sweetheart turned wife Sophia died from complications from a routine surgery for congenital heart disease. Even though he was in the depths of despair following her sudden passing, just four weeks later he auditioned for “American Idol” in her memory, especially considering she was a long time fan of the show who always encouraged her husband to give it a go.

“The biggest blessing I learned, which I share in the book, is the power of letting go,” he dissects of the sudden situation. “It’s not just letting go about my first wife who passed away, but letting go of the bitterness of the situation, the depression and [the questions]. I’m getting to a point where I’m okay not having to know why. Really letting go is crucial because when you let go of something that has been weighing you down, there’s usually a toxic emotion such as bitterness, unforgiveness, resentment or anger tied to it and it’s very harmful to your health and to your heart. When you let it go, you’re able to open your hands up and take hold of the newness. Life is not over, you are still living, and if you keep moving forward, there are good things to come. That was a very big lesson for me and I had to learn how to embrace the newness of what’s to come and not be stuck in my past.”

New beginnings and blessings

Throughout his healing process, Gokey went yet another step further to form Sophia’s Heart Foundation in her honor, which is a homeless outreach ministry that literally takes in the impoverished and helps them get the resources to recover from their situation. “We’ve been increasing our capacity to take more homeless families off the street,” he continues about the Nashville and Milwaukee branches. “Right now we have 10-12 homeless families living on site. We’ve created a program that allows families to work with caseworkers and therapists and address problems with legal teams to help clean their credit and maybe possible offenses that are on their record. We have financial classes and spiritual classes and we really invest a lot into these families. It’s all about really just pouring into them, telling them they’re valuable and important, as opposed to just shoveling them over here…Our model is to really take interest in the person and do whatever it takes to get them back to what their dream and destiny is in life.”

Along the way, Gokey also did some personal rebuilding as well, marrying Leyicet in 2012 after a year of dating, having their first son Daniel in 2013 and gearing up to welcome a second child. Though the artist side of the “American Idol” favorite promises plenty of concerts behind “Hope In Front Of Me” this fall and next spring, his husband and father side actually turned down a prominent tour over the winter in the commendable spirit of putting his household first.

“We’re in the process of raising a family and my wife is pregnant with baby number two, due on December 1,” he adds with the most excited inflection of the entire conversation. “We had an offer come in, but I had to turn it down because it’s going to be right around that time. You only have one time to raise a family, so with that being said, you’ve got to get it right. You don’t get those years back!”