Some people learn things the hard way.
And a fortunate few, turn those hard-won lessons into songs.
That’s Chayce Beckham, a 25-year-old, reckless blue-collar troubadour who survived his own missteps long enough to be embraced by the entire country on “American Idol.”
People see themselves in Beckham. He is an authentic voice for a working-class generation. With honest, slice-of-life storytelling and a voice that cuts through like a chain saw, Beckham’s music serves as a reminder that it’s the simple things in life that matter most and not material things.
A year ago, he was living at home after losing everything, driving a forklift, and writing songs because music was a refuge. After winning the nineteenth season of “American Idol” in 2021, he is now composing with some of the best tunesmiths in Nashville and releasing his BBR Music Group debut EP Doin’ It Right.
With his backstory, the EP title seems slightly ironic, but it actually foresees where the triple-threat performer, vocalist, and songwriter is headed: The direction is emphatically up.
Making “American Idol” history, Beckham was the first contestant to ever win the competition show by performing an original song – his self-penned track “23.” A semi-autobiographical account of his struggles with alcohol and the lows it can take on a person, the track quickly shot to the top of both the iTunes Country and All Genre charts and numerous viral charts, racking up more than 75 million on-demand streams and growing.
His introduction to Country radio is “Can’t Do Without Me,” a supercharged duet with label-mate Lindsay Ell that is currently climbing the radio charts.
Beckham co-wrote four out of the six tracks on his debut, which was produced by Ross Copperman (Dierks Bentley, Darius Rucker, Keith Urban), along with Lindsay Rimes on the track “Doin’ It Right,” featuring traditional and muscular instrumentation with banjo, mandolin, and steel guitar throughout.
The first taste of new music from the EP is the smooth southern comfort cut “Tell Me Twice.” The title was inspired by Beckham’s mom, who had encouraged him for years to try out for “American Idol.” It was something they said to each other, and it made him think about all the things in life that you should just do and not think twice about.
Other cuts include the untethered “Where The River Goes” about chucking responsibility to go where the world can’t find you. An avid fisher himself, the song is a subtle nod to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s “Fishin’ In The Dark.”
“That was the inspiration,” Beckham said. “It’s got a summertime, cornhole, going to the beach vibe. I listen to those playlists. I know the words to every song. I love honky tonk music, Hank Jr., George Jones, and Vern Gosdin. I lose my mind for that stuff, and it is a key component in all my music.”
With references to Joshua trees and tumble weeds, “Doin’ It Right” reflects life in the small desert towns – Apple Valley, Victorville, Hesperia – in the high desert of California where Beckham grew up with this sister and then single mom. The title track shares the secret of living life right, from “firefly sunsets” to falling in love with a blue-eyed girl. “I’ll Take The Bar” looks at avoidance after a break-up with a couple at odds dividing their town, their friends, and their future paths: “You take off and I’ll take the bar.”
Lush and sultry, “Talk To Me” is about a couple’s romantic night in with the rest of the world shut out. And “Love To Burn” is an energetic, upbeat love song about the rush and intoxication of falling in love and feeling untouchable.
“I love telling stories about life, where we come from, the whole thing, the good times and the bad times, especially the bad times,” Beckham quipped.
He hesitates to interpret his songs for anyone. “They should take the lyrics and apply them freely to any given situation and get out of them what fits into their life,” he said. “The message and lyrics may be completely different for them than it was for me. And that is for them to figure out.”
With Beckham’s “raspy, blues-rock voice” (Wide Open Country) front and center, the catchy, easy-listening EP boasts an intentional ‘90s country vibe.
Katy Perry said he sounds “like the hearts of America.” But Beckham doesn’t think of himself as a great singer; he prefers telling a great story. “I’m not good at anything else,” he claimed.
He started playing guitar at three. And like many of the life-altering events in his life, it started with a fall.
Split custody meant weekdays at his maternal grandparents’ 10-acre farm and weekends in LA with his dad and Latina grandmother from Durango, Mexico. She had a car but refused to drive. On one of their daily walks around Southgate LA, the pre-schooler tripped and hit the pavement. They were in front of a music store and to distract him from his bloody knees she took him inside.
Beckham has a clear memory of the clerk telling him, “I’ve got a guitar for you. Your grandma’s going to buy one of the nicest guitars for you, but you have to be good.”
From the start, Beckham was obsessed. Someone taught him a few chords. By first grade he had taken a couple guitar lessons. But Beckham learned more by mimicking records he heard on country radio than following rigid instruction. He listened to bluegrass, and ‘80s and ‘90s country George Jones and Clint Black, Don William and Brad Paisley. Later he found Van Halen and AC/DC.
After high school, he started a band and he started singing, “not because I thought I was good, but because no one else wanted to.” Building a fanbase, his band started organizing multi-band festivals in the backyard of their rented house in the foothills of Glendora for up to 300 people.
Known as the Sinking Sailors, the music was more Nine Mile than Music City. Beckham would close his eyes and sing at the top of his voice just to be heard over the din.
Doors’ front man Jim Morrison was his idol and Beckham was living a fast lifestyle that eventually came crashing down. A potentially fatal car wreck changed everything. Witnesses left him in the crushed vehicle because they assumed he was already dead. He lost everything and moved home broke and humbled.
“Sometimes it’s good to fall, because it gives you something to get back up from,” said Beckham.”
Emotionally bruised, Beckham found comfort in Country music. “Country music healed my wounds and put its arms around me,” he said with genuine candor. “Sometimes you have to lose yourself a little to find yourself. I went back to my roots.”
When he finally took his mother’s advice and agreed to try out for “American Idol,” he didn’t have money for a decent guitar, but his family and friends came through with $1,700 in donations, enough to buy the Takamine guitar he played on the show. Giving memorable, powerhouse performances night after night of songs such as Chris Stapleton’s “You Should Probably Leave” and Zac Brown Band’s “Colder Weather,” Beckham knew Country music was his future. He also now has an endorsement deal with that guitar maker.
It’s been an incredible journey and far from over. Beckham is currently on tour with Jimmie Allen and headlining his own shows across the country. He joins Luke Combs on the road this fall.
“This is the right time in my life,” Beckham said. “I know I can handle success and I know I can handle what life is going to throw at me. There is no way I could have handled this stuff before. I’ve stopped questioning the chain of events that got me here. Now, I just let it happen.”