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  • Annette Dawm

Catching Up with Clark Beckham

It’s been six years since Clark Beckham was named the runner-up on American Idol, but he wants people to know that he’ll be making music for years to come. Clark also works meticulously on his craft. As he explained, “I care about the feeling they have when they hear my music more than anything.” He noted that his lyrical content is important and that he would like for certain messages to “seep down to their core”. For the most part, however, he would rather have the chords, the production, and the melody change people for the better. “That’s how music touches me the most and that’s what I really want, to sooth people’s souls through the way the music sounds.”

When speaking about his new album, Light Year, Clark added, “My goal is for people to listen and say, ‘Oh, wow! This guy’s a legitimate pop, soul, R&B artist. He’s someone who’s going to be supplying us with great music for decades! Like, this is someone I want to be a big fan of and listen to. I think this person is going to have an influence on the way music sounds in the world.’”

If not for Beckham’s mother who pushed him to try out for American Idol, the world might not know him for the artist he is today. Although Clark liked the idea that the talent competition could either “jumpstart” or essentially “give” him a career, being on the show was not something he intended to do:

“My mom really was the one to convince me to do it. I did not want to. I had America’s Got Talent and The Voice reach out to me before I did Idol to audition and that excited me, and I did it. Both of those situations didn’t work out very well. American Idol was coming to Nashville, which is where I live and where I’m from. My mom just told me, ‘You should try this out’. I was thinking, ‘No, I get these shows now. I’ve had two bad experiences. I don’t want to do this.’

She said they’re doing video submissions, so just make a video and see what happens…. So I did a video audition and they asked me to come skip the big cattle call, giant line. So I was like, ‘Well, shoot. Now I’ve got some recognition here and I love competition and I love high pressure situations—everything American Idol is, are all things that I adore, like the high pressure/high stakes situations. You have to perform with high pressure, but the thing I had to show off was my biggest strength, which was music. So I loved it! Sports were my first love in my life. So, competitiveness is a big part of who I am and that was able to shine there too. I loved Idol when I got on, but really, my mom convinced me to start.”

By auditioning via video, Clark said he had “zero nerves” because he was used to recording other videos “all the time”. He had the freedom to do as many takes as he wanted with no one else watching, but his television audition “was way more nerve-wracking than the video for sure!”

One of Clark’s most memorable Idol experiences was the journey it took to get to the infamous “Hollywood Week”. “You get on the airplane. They have you on the earliest flight possible so that if there are cancellations, they can figure out how to still get you there. So, it’s like a 6AM flight—so early—but they’re paying for the flight and you’ve got these really specific instructions on what you can pack and what to prepare for! Of course, my mom was writing down notes for me on what to wear for what performance! She was packing for me and she was just really into it. That departure is a big, big, big deal!"

"Then, being in Hollywood Week, there were two rooms that they gave us to rehearse in the night we got there. It was where all the madness began.” Each rehearsal space came equipped with a keyboard, but Clark recounted how he ended up in what seemed to be “The Party Jam Room”.

“Some people were just excited to show off and hear other people…. I would mainly play piano for other people. I didn’t want to sing because I was going to have an opportunity to sing in Hollywood Week and I didn’t feel like I had anything to prove. It was so much more fun listening to other people sing and do so well and meet people! That was one of my most memorable moments actually, just being in that room. No cameras, you’re just in this big, open, rehearsal room listening to other people and laughing.”

From then on, Clark began to forge some lifelong friendships with fellow contestants, including the winner, Nick Fradiani and JAX, who is now a TikTok sensation. “….The Top Five went on tour together so we’re especially tight. I talk to Nick and Rayvon Owen probably more than anybody, but I’ll talk to JAX and Tyanna Jones every once in a while.” Qaasim Middleton also offered Clark a place to stay while he was on tour.

American Idol is still a part of Beckham’s life today. Each week, he recaps the current season and critiques the performances on his YouTube channel. However, he recalled that during his time on Idol, there was another review show that critiqued Clark and his peers. They all watched it, despite being told by the producers not to. He now agrees that contestants shouldn’t pay attention to what is being said about them on TV or online. He even encourages them not to watch his channel:

“I enjoy the interaction with the contestants actually the most…. A lot of them watch the review…. So that’s fun, but if I’m doing an accurate, high quality review, I do have to be negative sometimes. That’s usually my critique against the judges, that they’re never negative anymore. It’s always happy, fluffy stuff and I’ve got to be honest and I’ve got to be accurate. I have to say when someone does poorly because that’s the whole point of the show. The idea of that contestant listening and then feeling discouraged wrecks me, like, genuinely rips my heart in two because I don’t want that. I’ve told multiple contestants personally, ‘Please don’t watch the show, ever! Don’t watch reviews, don’t listen to critiques, and don’t listen to mine or anyone else’s! You should not watch any of it!’….I am firmly with that! I talk to contestants to just kind of give advice and help along the way. That’s one of the first things I say is, ‘Do not watch review shows or listen to your comments. Don’t! Don’t! Don’t!’ There are very few people that can and will be okay with it, but it’s usually the people that almost never get negative critiques….”

This season of Idol is particularly unique because 10 former contestants were invited back to compete for one slot in The Top 10 (alongside the current competitors). In 2020, the Top 10 had to perform from home due to COVID-19. So this gave them the opportunity to perform on stage and possibly win. In a recent video, Clark correctly predicted that last year’s second place contestant, Arthur Gunn would re-emerge. This interview took place before the final decision was revealed, but Beckham was excited to see the results:

“I’m all about it. When they talked about it, I was like, ‘I love it! This is a great idea, I’m down! What a huge twist!’ It gives the contestants from last year who so got robbed of the American Idol experience a chance to come back. Then I started thinking about it…. I could see how this could be unfair. Especially with Arthur, the runner-up, who got such a massive amount of the votes from the American Idol viewers who are watching this season.” Fans have been divided on whether or not Arthur should be allowed to participate again. However, as Clark pointed out, America has the power to vote for other artists going forward.

“….They’re not going to vote for Arthur if they’re mad about the concept of coming back. If you liked Arthur last year, and now you like Willie Spence [a current contestant], is someone of new going to keep your vote or is someone of old going to keep your vote? So I don’t think it’s going to be quite as lopsided as people think. We’ll find out. It’s going to be a really interesting experiment.”

As a former runner-up himself, Clark said he would “probably not” return to the Idol stage if he was given the same opportunity as Arthur. If he were to win now, Beckham would most likely have to give up a lot of the things he’s worked for, as the winner’s contract provided by American Idol/19 Entertainment would cancel out his current situation. “They could pick me up, and I have enjoyed so much of my own independence, still being an independent artist. I have a team around me. I have a manager and a publicist company and an agent…. It’s a lot tougher than the deals I’m in now….” He speculated that this may be why other fan-favourites did not make a comeback. On the other hand, Clark said, “I loved my experience and if I could go back and do the whole show again for fun and to freeze time, I would do it in a heartbeat!”

Either way, he is eager to get back on any stage whenever it is safe to do so. The past year has created a lot of ups and downs for Clark. On the upside, he got married! On the downside, he also got COVID and experienced the after effects of “Long-Haul Syndrome”. He described it as, “when you’re experiencing symptoms of COVID after COVID has already left your body”. On top of that, he had to adapt in a world where musicians could no longer tour, which has also had its pros and cons.

“We were supposed to get married in May 2020, and that’s when everything was locked down pretty tight. So we moved it to September, thinking it would all be over by then, which is hilarious. Then we just went ahead with it because we were tired of waiting. So we got married in September and marriage has been awesome. Married life is way better than not-married life. People did not prepare me for how fun it was going to be to be married! People say that your first year is your worst year I hope that’s true because this year’s been awesome, so I’m down!”

“Getting COVID was not fun. I actually experienced quite a bit of ‘brain fog’ after COVID, which was terrifying because I didn’t know what it was! I thought I had lead poisoning or early dementia! I’m someone who thinks a lot and likes to think deeply. I just really cherish my thoughts and it was terrifying, the idea of losing that! ….So I experienced this for 4-6 months afterwards of intense brain fog. I couldn’t remember the name of anything. I looked at a toaster and couldn’t tell you what it was called. It’s very scary and it’s gotten much, much, much better now. It’s not really an issue anymore. So that’s good.”

It has now been over a year since Beckham began performing virtual concerts in place of live events, which he discovered was “a lot more fun” than he thought it would be. “It’s a different experience. It’s fun to sing and play and it’s fun to see people’s faces in the little blocks on the computer screen—the warmth of them and them cheering that way. It’s not the same of course as performing live and talking to people…. I’ve got a pretty good set up here at home so that I can play piano and guitar and sing. They can get a pretty high quality audio stream….”

Clark is also a full-time music teacher via Zoom. He covers a variety of topics, such as vocal lessons, piano, guitar, theory, songwriting, career advice, and audition prep for TV shows or choir. Countless people have now taken these lessons from The United States, Australia, Indonesia, Spain, Germany, Norway, Canada, Mexico, India and more. As much as this has been a learning experience for his students, Clark has learned a lot as well: “It’s been really cool just getting to know a lot of fans on a very personal level and helping them grow. That’s something I’m going to continue to do for a long, long time, even when touring’s back—but I am excited to scale that down a bit and focus more on my artistry. During COVID, my artistry’s had to take the back seat quite a bit because in order to pay the bills, I’ve had to find other ways to make money.”

In closing, Clark Beckham offered his “nutshell of advice”. “There’s a concept or quote I really like that says, basically, ‘Get so good that you can’t be ignored’. So get to that place. Find your thing. What are you good at that most people aren’t? If you’re a great singer, what is your thing? For me, high notes and runs and soulfulness are a thing, and then piano chords or guitar chords. Those are my things that I think help me stand out. So, whatever content I make, I’m going to try to highlight those things—not excessively, but I’m aware that those are my strengths and what sets me apart. So find those things. Get so good that you can’t be ignored and then make a lot of content on every platform. Use YouTube because it’s a search engine. If they hear you doing a Drake cover, they can search your name and ‘Drake cover’ and it will pop up. On Instagram or TikTok or Facebook or whatever, you have to scroll through. So make content on all platforms, and then the final piece of advice is, don’t pay attention to likes or views at all, because you’re not just trying to blow up right now. You’re trying to build a resumé of sorts. So when someone discovers you 2-3 years from now, they have a plethora of content to dive into and become a super fan of yours…. Just keep going and keep making content.”

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Photo courtesy of Clark Beckham.

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