A Q&A With May/June 2023 Lyric Contest Winner Craig Hendricks

“The Neon In Her Eyes” 
Written by Craig Hendricks
Interview by American Songwriter

Craig Hendricks scored 1st Place in the May/June 2023 American Songwriter Lyric Contest for his song “The Neon In Her Eyes.” American Songwriter caught up with Craig to get the scoop on the lyric’s inspiration and other musings.

What made you decide to enter the American Songwriter’s Lyric Contest?

I have enjoyed American Songwriter Magazine for quite some time, and always read the lyrics from the top-placed songs in the contests. I am constantly honing and working to improve my writing skills and I finally gained enough experience and confidence to challenge myself and “up” my game by submitting my songs a few years ago. Every time that I didn’t see my name in the “top” just made me want to learn more and try harder. I also realize that American Songwriter Lyric Contest is an apex contest that I wanted to be part of. 

How did you feel when you learned you won?

Honestly, on learning that I won, I had to take a second to see if a punchline was coming. Having some slight experience in the music “business”, I was “doubtfully hopeful.” It took a minute to sink in. After I realized that it was happening, my mind imploded. A very deep-seated elation that goes beyond a simple “happy.” I was, and am, ecstatic.

Since 1984, American Songwriter’s Lyric Contest has helped aspiring songwriters get noticed and have fun. Enter the 2023 Lyric Contest today before the deadline:

What was the inspiration for your submission? Why did you want to write it?

I write on a regular basis, both planned and unplanned; this song was more organic and unplanned. I love the Dean Dillon songs and lines; the depth of something that is simple in nature. I think there is still beauty, stories, and relevance in the cowboy, honky tonk, country way. I think this song sprang from those roots. 

What’s the story behind “The Neon in Her Eyes”? 

I was riding down the road with my thoughts, and the line neon in her eyes just materialized. I often work on saying old things in a new way, so it stuck in my mind as a cool way of rethinking those old honkytonk and cowboy scenarios. The line hung around for months, solidifying, and growing. One day I sat down with my guitar and literally sang the first verse out of the blue. I immediately wrote it down and it sprang to life. The neon reference came as a way to address the old “saw it in her eyes” and “Neon lights” in a different way to capture a whole different perspective. Once it started, it wrote itself. 

How long have you been writing lyrics?

I wrote my first songs while in high school. The lyrics of one song were actually used to teach a college class. After that, I penned a song here and there. So it has been a part of me for as long as I can remember. On a more serious level, probably 15 years or more. The last 10 have been intense.

Have you written music for this lyric? If so, how would you describe it?  

Yes, I have written music for this song. I actually composed two versions. The first version is a retro, George Strait-style, country ballad. The second one is a more fluid country style with a bigger lift on the chorus. 

What keeps you motivated as a songwriter? 

I’ll have to answer that with a question of my own: What Doesn’t? When I feel upset, I write it. When I am mad, I write it. When I see what’s happening in the world, the Nation, my area, or my house, I write it. If I hear you talking in line at the grocery store, you might give me my next motivation or hook.

Since 1984, American Songwriter’s Lyric Contest has helped aspiring songwriters get noticed and have fun. Enter the 2023 Lyric Contest today before the deadline:

What’s next for you?

I will continue to write and cowrite, and try to grow beyond any box or limits. I guarantee that I will continue to enjoy American Songwriter magazine and enter contests. I am now reorganizing my personal song catalog in preparation for pitching more songs. I am also the host of a Songwriter Night in Mentone, Alabama at the local Mentone Arts Center. We have had incredible features, including Hall of Famers and Grammy Winners, but we also support local and regional singer/songwriters. Since I’m a performer too, I will continue at venues up the east coast and as far west as Oklahoma and Texas to push my own EP, Destination Home. Next year will be a restructuring that I’m working on now to include almost completely original music in different settings. And, I am looking forward, with anticipation, to participating in the Lyric Contest Grand Finale.

What would you tell other songwriters who are considering entering the Lyric Contest?

Take advantage of the resources that American Songwriter Magazine offers you. Take advantage of the opportunities that the Lyric and Song Contest gives to you. Don’t get discouraged if at first, you don’t succeed. This contest is a chance to learn and succeed in many ways. Look at this contest as a way to step forward or further on a journey of a lifetime. Always look at other perspectives. Be real when you write, don’t ever try to write to impress. Allow yourself to grow, and NEVER leave a challenge unanswered.

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