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Phil Stacey Biography
Phil Stacey's defining moment on American Idol came during Country Week, well into the competition.
Country Week was the first one that had anything to do with my background, he says. It was my chance to sing music I could really relate to, that drew on who I am and what I'd grown up around.
His knockout performance of Keith Urban's Where The Blacktop Ends impressed even the normally critical Simon Cowell, who acknowledged that the Kentucky-born singer had at last displayed his true identity in convincing style. That night, a national audience got a close-up look at a singer who had truly hit his stride.
What America hadn't seen was the unlikely circumstance that had given this Navy veteran and committed family man the opportunity to turn dreams and hard work into a career that had been a lifetime in the making.
A very dear friend asked me to be his best man, says Phil. I was very honored and I said yes, but as it got closer, I had Navy duty that conflicted with the date and there was no way I could change it. Joking, he said, 'The only way I'll forgive you is if you audition for American Idol this year.'
His friend's belief in his talent--something shared by many people throughout his life--helped convince Phil to give it a shot, something he would not have done otherwise. Navy duty also kept him from the nearest audition, in Birmingham, and while he was at the next one, in Memphis, his wife Kendra gave birth to their second daughter, McKayla, two weeks early.
It was a coincidence, he says, but it's something everybody remembered me by. Missing his daughter's birth became an affectionate reference point for everyone from casual fans to Oprah Winfrey, who asked him about it on her show.
Phil’s path toward American Idol and his country music career began in a childhood molded by two equally strong influences. The first was the ministry, which had shaped both sides of his family for generations. Both his grandfathers were pastors and he watched his father devote his life to ministry, pastoring churches in Kentucky, Ohio and Kansas. The other was music. His father started out playing trumpet and keyboard professionally, later leaving secular music behind when he dedicated his life to ministry. Phil grew up singing in church, learning first from his mother, who had a major influence on Phil, as well as from his brother and sister.
Growing up in a pastor’s home, most of the music the family listened to at home was Southern and Contemporary gospel. The exception, he says, was when my parents would bring in a country record and it would usually be a heritage thing, playing something by artists like Hank Williams Sr. The combination gave Phil an early, lifelong love of country and gospel that would be supplemented later by the pop and rock influences he picked up later in life. He wrote his first songs at age 6 and continued to cultivate his passion for writing and performing music throughout childhood.
Phil played gigs and entered contests, first with his siblings as The Stacey Trio and then on his own, winning a state-level competition in Kansas, where his family lived while he was in junior high and high school. He knew during that period that he wanted to make a career of music, often to the detriment of his other grades. His uncle, renowned artist Mitchell Tolle, encouraged him and told him that anything other than the goal or the vision would pull him away, so I made a decision that I wasn't going to let anything else get in the way.
His parents' one stipulation was that he get his diploma, and so he was forced to say no when a Nashville-based manager with major clout approached him while he was still in high school. When he did get his diploma, though, his first priority was to find a way to develop a career in music, but most importantly to find himself.
High School was not a good environment for me to be in, he says. Basically, I was going downhill fast, so on the day I graduated I moved away to live with my brother.
His brother was attending Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee. Phil didn’t think college was a way to reach his dreams of a music career, but he thought the experience of trying out for the school's highly respected Lee Singers, which his father had also been part of, would be a good one.
If I was going to have any career in music, he says, I was going to have to audition for something somewhere, and the Lee Singers were famous to me.
Then, the unexpected happened.
I made the group and I was shocked, he says. I thought, 'I'd better register for classes!' I took out loans and went to college basically to be in the choir.
He took a job in a recording studio to help with bills and to keep his focus on music, learning to produce independent projects, something he still enjoys. I could really be a tech guy, he says, but I knew I had to write and sing, to share my own music with the world.
During his time in college, Phil not only fine-tuned his music skills but was exposed to and began appreciating a variety of musical styles, learning to infuse these sounds into this country and gospel roots.
After a freshman-year trip to China with the Lee Singers, he returned to Kansas for the summer and met the best friend of his friend's girlfriend. Her name was Kendra, and I went home that night and told my dad I was going to marry her, he says. Five months later, in December 1998, he did just that. Kendra also enrolled at Lee and became a supportive and stabilizing influence in Phil’s life.
There were a couple of times in the middle of the college experience when I almost dropped out to become involved in the music industry, Phil says, but Kendra stopped me. She said, 'I married you when you were a college student and I'm going to be married to a college graduate.’” She was the driving force that led him to finish college and earn his diploma.
After graduating college the couple moved to Denver, where he spent time as a music minister, but he began to wonder about his ultimate direction.
I thought about getting a master's degree in education so I could teach music, he says, but it wasn't where my passion was. My passion was in performing.
Then, September 11, 2001, galvanized the country.
I wanted to support the effort against terror, he says simply. I was always proud of my dad, who was a veteran and fought in Vietnam. His brother told him he might be able to use his musical talents in the military, which sealed the deal.
He was in boot camp when she had their first child--yes, he missed that birth too--and after basic training they moved to Virginia, and then to Jacksonville, Florida, where he is remembered both as a musician and as a minister.
While stationed in Jacksonville, FL as lead singer of the Navy Band Southeast, he drew on his extensive musical repertoire, performing music by Garth Brooks, George Strait, Tim McGraw, Stevie Wonder, Sting, Marvin Gaye, James Taylor and Paul McCartney, a rounding out of tastes that served him well when he finally hit Idol. Then, with Country Week, it all came full circle.
Randy said, 'Dude, you're gonna have a big career in country,' and that was the night even Simon agreed, he says. The next week I got to do a Garth Brooks song, and they were really positive again. I said, 'Thank God, because this is me. I'm finally getting to do something I love to do.'
After the 55-city Idol tour wrapped in September 2007 and the completion of his 4-year commitment to the U.S. Navy, Phil received his honorable discharge and immediately re-enlisted in the Naval Reserves.
With the Navy’s full support of his musical career, Phil moved his family to Nashville, TN and began working with the same management company that had initially expressed interest in him in high school. Phil then signed with Lyric Street Records and began working on his debut CD with producer Wayne Kirkpatrick, whose work with Little Big Town, among others, he admired.
He comes from the same kind of place that I do, says Phil. Some of his work reminds me of our family reunions, where we all grab our instruments and just start singing. Wayne makes great, organic music.
The music they recorded will give listeners a look at a man who comes into his own with a hard-won maturity and self-knowledge.
I know what I stand for, he says. “My life revolves around my family and my music. I love being active in my church and I was proud during Idol to represent the Navy and just kind of be a unifying factor for Americans.
He is, as you might expect, a man doing music for more than selfish reasons.
I feel my job as a singer, he says, is part of my job as a human being. I'm supposed to be touching other people's lives, doing the best I can to be a positive force in the world.
And there is no doubt that as an artist and as a person, he will be a great addition to the music world.