Isaac Cole: I Loved Music (Part 2)
Note: This is part two of a special two-part blog by Gretsch guest blogger and featured guitar artist Isaac Cole. Read part one.
After getting my Gretsch instruments, I continued to improve my playing abilities by seeking out great teachers. I took lead guitar lessons from Roger Hoard who had taught and worked with Brad Paisley. My parents drove for 2 hours one way for a one-hour lesson, but he was worth it! I also learned a lot from Mr. Dennis Agajanian, who was kind enough to invite me to do a tour with him around southern California. He is the fastest flat pick guitar player I’ve ever seen, and I was so honored that he would invest himself in me. He also introduced me to Mr. Charlie Daniels, Mr. Michael W. Smith, and Mr. Franklin Graham and his son Will. I began to see that music can lead you to see new places and allow you to meet some amazing people.
I had been active in the Inspirational Country Music Association since I was ten years old, and at fourteen I became the youngest person to win their New Artist of the Year award. It was a big honor for me. At that point I had two CD projects and proficiency with four instruments under my belt, but learning is a process not a destination, so I continued to strive to improve both my playing, my song writing, and stage performance. So when American Idol announced that season XV was to be its last season, and I had just turned the minimum age of 15 only a few weeks before the announcement, I decided I had to give it a try. I auditioned in Philadelphia in August of 2015, when the judges were Harry Connick Jr., Jennifer Lopez, and Keith Urban. I was super excited at the idea of meeting Keith Urban because he is such a great player, and performer! Getting a golden ticket to Hollywood from them was the biggest thing that had happened in my music career to that point! The coolest part was that Keith Urban signed my guitar case, and walked out with me. He put his arm around my shoulder and told me that I had done a good job, and to bring it in Hollywood, so I intended to do just that! What an honor it was for me when I saw that Jennifer Lopez said that I was her favorite from the Philadelphia auditions, and that she thought “I was gonna be somebody.” Maybe that is why American Idol contacted me to do a home visit that September! I waited in suspense for their black SUV to arrive, and I enjoyed every minute of the four-hour shoot they did at my house. My family says I’ve always been a ham, and there isn’t a shy bone in my body. I worked hard to prepare for Hollywood week with my vocal coach, Dana Solida, and with my guitar teacher. A few weeks before Hollywood week would begin, my Mom and I started staying up until 1 a.m., and started homeschool at 10 a.m. to try to get used to the time change. We bought honey from California to try to get my allergies acclimated to the environment so I wouldn’t be one of the people who always seem to lose their voice during that week. I had also been doing hour-long concerts since I was ten years old, so even at fifteen, I was used to a vocal workout. I actually LOVED Hollywood week! Call me crazy, but being surrounded by other people that loved music too, and the excitement of it all was great! I did lines of ten on the second day and I was thrilled to make it through. They sprung group round on us when we least expected it, and I had trouble finding a group. There were three girls looking for a guy for their group, so I was their man! They were all very talented, but our styles were very different. I ended up having to compromise and sing “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees. Being born in the year 2000, I’m not sure if I had ever heard of that song or them, and it was definitely not country. It was a learning experience for sure! The floor monitors weren’t working during our performance, so we could hardly hear the piano. It was tough, but somehow we all made it through. The next round was the solo round and we got to practice and perform with an awesome band! I chose one of the few country songs on the list and did “Your Man” by Josh Turner, but I used more of the Chris Stapleton style. My voice wasn’t low enough to pull off doing Josh Turner’s style version. While I was singing, the sound of another guitar started coming through the sound system in a different key playing a different song! It sounded terrible, and I could tell that the judges thought I was playing that! We weren’t allowed to stop singing unless the stage “was on fire”, so I muted my guitar with my left hand and put my right hand on the microphone so they could tell it wasn’t my playing that sounded like that. Harry Connick Jr. yelled “cut”, and the whole thing stopped. I got to talk to the judges, and after they turned off the guitar pack for the guy backstage who was supposed to be next, I got to start all over again. The celebration of making it through the whole week was so exciting! Everyone was hugging everyone. I made some great friends that week that I still cherish today. I get together with a couple of them when we can. We went home for a week, and then returned for two weeks to practice and do the final round. We had a live audience for this round, and it was a blast! Everyone seemed to rise to the occasion and nailed their performances. I knew it would be tough to get into the top 24, so I just did my best and then walked the long green mile as they called it. It was cool to sit down with the judges, but they didn’t put me through to the live rounds. They were really nice about it, and J. Lo cried. I was flattered by that. It was a great experience. I’m glad I went for it. The viewing party, when it aired on television was so much fun, and it is cool to see myself on TV. It gave my social media a good boost, and got me a lot of gigs for the rest of that year!
To build on the momentum of Idol, I put together and recorded my third CD in March of 2016 called “I’m Your Huckleberry.” It’s named after a line in the classic western movie “Tombstone.” It means, I’m Your Man, or the man you’ve been looking for. I’m a big fan of old Westerns. I guess I’m an old soul in a young body, that must be why I love to sing classic country style songs. I’ve been performing at the historic Wheeling Jamboree since I was thirteen years old, and in December of 2016, I was inducted as the second youngest solo performer in the Wheeling Jamboree history. The thing that makes that even better, is that Brad Paisley was the youngest ever inducted, and I look up to him so much. It was a great honor.
One of the songs from “I’m Your Huckleberry” is a duet that my sister and I recorded, and wrote with Corey Lee Barker on one of our many trips to Nashville, TN. It’s called “Where He Needs Her”, and it is a song in memory of our maternal Grandmother who passed away from breast cancer in 2006. She was a talented pianist, and would’ve loved to be here to see what we’ve done with music in our lives so far, so it was very fitting when it became the first song I ever had to hit number one on the Power Source Inspirational Country Music Charts. My sister, Mikayla Lynn, and I were so happy to win the ICM award for the 2016 Vocal Duo Performance of the Year for that song.
During the past year and a half, I focused on songwriting and I recorded a single of a song I co-wrote called “Everyday Livin’.” I played the acoustic guitar, electric guitar, fiddle, banjo, and bass on the recording. I’m trying to learn all aspects of music. I do a lot of video editing with my YouTube channel, and producing my own music videos. I have auditioned for every opportunity I can find, because you just never know what you will learn, who you will meet, or what is going to work out. So whether or not you get what you audition for, the experience is valuable.
In June of 2018 I received my diploma from homeschool one year early. Since my plan all along has been to pursue music, my Mom and I went to Nashville, TN in August and spent five weeks figuring out if it was a good time for me to make the move to Music City. I wrote and recorded a new single that will be released to radio early in 2019, did some co-writing, open mics, and actively participated in every opportunity we could find through the music associations in Nashville. We went home and planned the move for October 15, 2018. It has been a big change to be nine hours from home, living on my own, and learning how to be an adult, but I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to do. After less than three months of living in Nashville, I got a job offer to be a musician at Dollywood Theme Park in Pigeon Forge, TN almost a year after I auditioned there. I will be playing four shows a day, five to six days per week during the 2019 season. Like I said, “You just never know where these opportunities will lead you.” I’m just gonna keep following my dreams wherever they lead me, ‘cause I just LOVE music!
Visit Isaac’s artist feature for links to all his social media accounts!