When Chayce Beckham stepped into the audition room for ABC’s 19th Season of American Idol, he was a broken person.
It hadn’t always been this way. In fact, the 24-year-old SoCal native earned his chops playing in bars, small venues, and even opening for a few headliner bands. The result, he recalls, was toxic confidence that led him down “that rock star hole.” His performer identity was crutched on his band, friends, marijuana, and excessive drinking.
“Going through the experience of being judged by a panel of superstars—Luke Bryan, Katy Perry, and Lionel Richie—was extremely humbling,” he admits over the phone to American Songwriter. “I’m surprised I made it through in the shape that I was in.”
Just two weeks before his audition, he was involved in a near-fatal car accident. After weighing what-might-have-been, and witnessing the fear in his family’s eyes, Beckham decided it was time to make a real change.
“On the show, I learned how to be myself without all those substances,” says the artist. “I learned how to address my nerves without those things, and found the same person I was without those crutches or vices by confronting all of those things head-on. So it was a beautiful experience to build myself back up on the show to where I started, and not let those things defeat me”
Being vulnerable was not a choice for Chayce Beckham when he stepped into the national spotlight. When asked to perform an original song for the Top 4 round, the artist knew exactly where to reach—his song “23,” which he penned a year ago.
“I wrote that song before the car crash; before alcohol really did almost destroy my life,” he explains, humbled by the irony of it.
On May 14, the former forklift driver released the track as his debut single via BMG. By the time he performed it on Sunday, May 16, “23” climbed to No.1 on the all-genre US iTunes song sales chart.
With the help of sought-after producer, Ross Copperman at SoundFactory Recording Studio in Hollywood, California, Beckham’s single is an authentic entrance to his new chapter.
Copperman attributes Beckham’s win and single success to that authenticity. He explains, “I think people are drawn to how raw and real he is. He is a true artist in every sense of the word. When he sings, I believe him, and that is what I look for in a great artist.”
As a songwriter with a trophy case of No.1 hits, Copperman is further impressed with Beckham’s ability to write this song alone. “The beauty in his writing is that the songs don’t feel ‘written,'” he continues. “He’s truly communicating his heart through his music. I was just grateful to play a small part in that process with him.”
The final product is not much of a departure from Beckham’s guitar-driven demo which he initially shared on Instagram. In a similar vein to his influences like Chris Stapleton and Tyler Childers, the autobiographical track reveals raw footage from an emotional chapter of his life. At the time, he had Cody Jinks’ song, “I’m Not the Devil” on repeat.
“I probably listened to that song a thousand times,” he admits. “I wanted to do what he was doing there badly. I was hurting so badly, and I wanted to do anything I could to help others who were hurting like me.”
For Beckham, his songs begin as a guitar riff he hears in his head, long before there are accompanying words. He explains, “Once I pick up the guitar and get a riff down that I really like, there’ll be a point in time where the lyrics will kind of just come out.”
He continues, “So I hang on to these guitar riffs in my head, and then keep on playing them until something pops up in my head. And then usually, from that point on, it’s like a 15 minute process of just like spewing lyrics on a piece of paper.”
“23” was no exception to this distinctive creative process. Facing the end of a seven-year relationship amidst the crippling isolation of the pandemic, Beckham reckoned with himself and the decisions he’s made thus far. The anthemic single is a coming-of-age tale. When he performed it after winning Season 19 of American Idol, “23” evolved into a well-suited victory tune.
Personal growth, he says, is “knowing what it’s like to get to that point, and how hard it is to get out of it — I think is a beautiful thing to learn early on in life. Even though it was a horrible thing to go through, it was kind of a beautiful process towards the end. So, I would say that I’m grateful for everything that happened. And being able to put it into songs and for people to be able to listen to it and somehow convey that into their life is so powerful to me.”
Lyrically, he pores over poignant memories, pointing out the pivotal missteps he took along the way. The chorus reads like a conclusion.
Now I’m 23 and there ain’t nobody who can drink like me / Soon I’ll be 24 and the Lord knows that / I can’t drink no more / I know I shoulda taken it slow / It’s not the way that my life goes / Lord, I know / When you’re passed out on the floor / You’re sober by 24, he laments.
“People were gonna find out about my past one way or another,” he reckons. “I’m not perfect, I’m a sinner. I definitely wish that I could go back and not do some of those things. But I can’t hide any of this stuff from anybody who’s wanting to follow me and support me, they need to know who I am.”
Beckham concludes, “I thought that my best chance at this was to be honest with everybody because, to me, that’s what musics about.”