Whatever else you might say about it, American Idol is never short on drama. But even by Idol’s standards, some contestants’ backstories are more fraught with made-for-TV melodrama than others.
Take all-around nice guy Danny Gokey from Season 8. The Milwaukee, Wis., church music director’s strong voice and affable personality made him a frontrunner early on. But the fact that his wife died from complications after routine heart surgery just four weeks before he auditioned made his story that much more compelling.
Knowing Danny’s story makes “I Will Not Say Goodbye” one of the album’s most significant moments. The song reflects a man’s determination to hold on to memories of a loved one who’s died. “Sometimes the road just ends,” the song begins, “Changes everything you’ve been.” The chorus paints an honest picture navigating grief’s confusing emotions. “I don’t want to feel better/I don’t want to not remember your face/I will always see your face,” Danny sings. “I will laugh, I will cry, shake my fist at the sky/But I will not say goodbye.”
“It’s Only” compels listeners to confront their excuses for ignoring social injustices. Among other things, the song deals with a homeless woman who isn’t welcome in church, and the lyrics that follow clearly echo Jesus’ warning in Matthew 25:40 (“I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me”). Danny paraphrases that passage this way: “We’re all dressed in our Sunday best/She smiles when she sees us/Don’t worry, it’s only Jesus.”
“Tiny Life” reflects on what matters most, namely loving and being loved (“All I really need/Is the love I have/And the love I have to give”), and our relationships with friends and with God (“It’s the dreams we share/The friends we find in our short time here/It’s knowing God’s grace”). The song also ponders whether the things that the world values are really worth it (“I’m getting it all, but what’s it all for?”).
“I Still Believe” salutes faith and hope amid trying times. “Life on Ya” recalls a grandmother’s homespun wisdom about seeing life’s messes as an integral part of the journey. “Be Somebody” encourages insecure strugglers to be authentic, not to try to be something they’re not. “Crazy Not To” playfully ponders the risk of pursuing a new romance (“My heart is telling me stay/ … Maybe I should take a chance and have faith”). “My Best Days Are Ahead of Me” daydreams about the good things Danny has to look forward to in life, including “beaches to walk on …
… and lovers to kiss.” Similar sentiments turn up on “Get Away,” when a stressed-out rat race refugee fantasizes about finding “a sunset, a cold drink/On the beach somewhere” where he can “get lost in a warm breeze with a sweet thing.” “Crazy Not To” includes mild sexual innuendo as Danny imagines what might happen after he kisses a girl he’s newly smitten with (“I know if I kiss you/It’s only gonna lead to/More and more and more and more”). On “I Will Not Say Goodbye,” he confesses that cursing sometimes mingles with prayer after losing a loved one (“I will curse, I will pray”).
Danny Gokey eventually finished third on American Idol (behind Kris Allen and Adam Lambert). And his upbeat country debut is more or less exactly what you’d expect given what we saw on the show. It’s chockfull of positive reflections, faith references and life lessons … with a smattering of questionable country clichés.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.