Three times, Lacey D. Johnston tried out for “American Idol,” and three times she failed.
Johnston, an Arlington country singer, was dismissed once for being too “cruise line,” she said. Another time, producers told her she resembled a contestant they already admitted. She never made it in front of the show’s three famous judges.
Not being one to linger on discouragement, Johnston went to a Nashville studio in October. By December, she released her debut album, “Everyday Girl,” under her stage name, Lacey D — the D is for DeLores. Now, she’s plotting a move from the rainy Pacific Northwest to the country music capital of the world, Nashville, to pursue a singing career.
“I have had a lot of rejection in my day, in my journey to where I am right now,” the 24-year-old said. “And that’s good, because I’m sure I’m going to face more rejection, and that’s going to make me stronger.”
“Everyday Girl” is a solid collection of classic country sounds. Slide guitar, piano and Johnston’s big, bold voice anchor these songs. Some feel fitted to a barroom, particularly the up-tempo “Missin’ Your Love Tonight” and the title track. Johnston also tries to wring out a few tears with love songs such as “One Heart” and “You Are.”
“Country is all about the truth,” she said, citing LeAnn Rimes as an influence. “There are a lot of songs that talk about the hardships of life and the reality of living and dying and finding love and losing love and family and God. I love it.”
Scott Turner, a Nashville-based producer who heard Johnston’s demo, recorded the album during a whirlwind week in Music City USA.
“She doesn’t sound like anybody else,” Turner said, mentioning he’s worked with Rosemary Clooney. “It was just a joy.”
While some call Johnston “the little girl with the big voice,” that phrase is a bit misleading. Yes, she’s 5-feet-1-inch tall, and yes, she has a big voice, but, as a mother of two, she is hardly a girl.
“I am petite as in ‘little,’” she said, sitting on a big couch in her parents’ Arlington home. “I wouldn’t say that I’m a girl. I was at one point, but I think I’ve matured into a woman.”
Johnston has dabbled in music for more than a decade, polishing her sound with a family friend, Robert Hammerstrom. In his makeshift home studio, the Shoreline resident helped her record the demos that eventually found their way to Turner.
Hammerstrom recalled one of his first meetings with Johnston. She brought in some radio-friendly alternative rock to sing.
“She knocked me out doing those Alanis Morissette songs at 13,” he said. “That’s kind of it. Right off the bat, I knew she had something.”
Despite her talent, after high school, Johnston put a singing career on the back burner to focus on raising her children. She sporadically would sing at shows, doing “a lot of weddings and funerals.” But the itch to perform never left, and now she feels it’s time to take the plunge.
“I wanted to climb back up and go back where I always wanted to be, and that was center stage, under the lights,” she said.
She’s learning guitar with Hammerstrom, and visited Nashville in mid-January to look for apartments. She may move in June, and is ready to tend bar to make ends meet.
As for Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul, well, that rejection still stings a bit, but she’s basically over it.
“I’m taking my own route,” she said. “And some day, I can thank ‘American Idol’ for kicking me down and making me stronger.”
Andy Rathbun: 425-339-3455 or e-mail arathbun@ heraldnet.com.
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