(RNS) — Seven years before Colton Dixon awed American Idol audiences with his emotional rendition of “Everything,” a Christian rock anthem from the band Lighthouse, he was a 13-year-old piano student who had never sung in public. But after arriving at his piano recital to play MercyMe’s “I Can Only Imagine,” his teacher set up a microphone and encouraged Dixon to sing along.
“That was the first time I felt the Holy Spirit just kind of show me what the future could look like. And I knew that that’s what I wanted to be a part of,” Dixon told RNS in a recent phone call.
Now 31, the Idol alum has several Dove Awards under his belt and boasts over 100 million streams across all platforms. His manager, Zachary Kelm, told RNS he believes Dixon’s latest hit, “Build a Boat,” could be his “career song.”
The song, with lyrics inspired by the biblical story of Noah’s Ark, just celebrated its fourth week at No. 1 on the Christian Adult Contemporary charts, the first time that’s happened in Dixon’s decade-long career. And on Friday, Dixon will perform the hit at the Grand Ole Opry as part of his debut at the historic Nashville venue.
“Grateful is like the understatement of the year,” said Dixon. “I’m so glad that people are taking this song as their song for this season, saying, ‘I’m believing in something. I don’t see it yet, but I’m gonna build the boat anyway.’”
Dixon was raised in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, a historic town roughly 40 minutes from Nashville, and grew up attending a Southern Baptist church with his parents and sister. Dixon told RNS that his sheltered, faith-filled upbringing made for a sharp contrast with his experience on Idol.
“This was my first taste of what the real world was and seeing and hearing, firsthand, people’s religious and political views that quite often were different from mine,” Dixon said.
When he made it onto the show’s 11th season in 2012, Dixon said he felt God calling him to “be a light in a dark place,” by resisting peer pressure and party culture. He was eventually eliminated after reaching the top 7 and chose to sing a reprise of “Everything” as his last song on the show.
“The crazy thing about Colton is, because he stood for his faith on a national television show, people remember him to this day,” said Kelm. “Colton’s brand is larger than just the Christian market.”
Colton had early success after leaving Idol, quickly securing a record deal and releasing his first album, “A Messenger,” which earned him his first Dove Award in 2013. More hits followed, but in December 2017 Dixon was rattled when he suddenly learned he’d been dropped by his record label, Capitol Christian Music Group, due to budget constraints. Dixon says he has no hard feelings toward his former label, but at the time, he was shell-shocked.