Stanfield singer/songwriter earns golden ticket on ‘American Idol’

Published 11:00 am Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Stanly County’s connection with “American Idol” dates back to Kellie Pickler, who finished sixth in 2006 and later produced a certified gold album, “Small Town Girl,” which created three Top-20 country hits on the Billboard charts.

Dustin Curlee sings in Locust during the fall of 2021. (Photo by CHARLES CURCIO/staff)

Stanfield’s Dustin Curlee took part in this season’s competition, where he earned a golden ticket to the Hollywood audition rounds.

Curlee, who performed around Stanly and won the 2018 Oakboro Fourth of July Talent Show, said the opportunity to audition for the show came when his wife, Candace, saw something on Facebook. He said he sang and played the guitar for three producers virtually on the internet.

The third producer, Curlee said, gave him the opportunity to audition for other producers before earning a chance to play in front of judges Luke Bryan, Katy Perry and Lionel Richie.

Before playing for the judges, Curlee said he had to wake up early to get on the set. While waiting to audition, artists had to go through interviews, take selfies and do other promotional work.

“We’d have to go in there and kind of get set up…I woke up at 4:30 a.m. the morning of my audition and I didn’t audition until 10 p.m .that night. It was a long waiting game,” Curlee said. “There’s a lot of sitting around.”

He sang “Arms of a Woman” by Amos Lee in front of the three judges, and got yes votes from Bryan and Richie. Bryan said he wanted to see more of Curlee performing, while Richie said the raspiness in his voice is what sells in today’s market.

Perry told Curlee she was waiting for him to hit a higher note with his voice, which he did not do, which led her to vote no. Richie told Curlee to keep doing what he was doing and sent him through to the Hollywood round.

“The suspense was real, waiting there by the door,” Curlee said. “When I got in there and got in front of them, it felt like I had dipped my hands into a bucket of water. My hands were so sweaty.”

Curlee was one of approximately 150 contestants who got a golden ticket out of what the show said was around 100,000 auditions. His audition did not make it to the television broadcast.

When arriving in Hollywood, Curlee said it was a culture shock for sure.

“I enjoyed the experience of seeing (Hollywood), but I could never live there. I really don’t see how people can raise their kids there,” Curlee said.

He added he felt like he, as a gun-toting Christian conservative, may not have fit their narrative.

“What I saw from the show, it was more political than who’s the best songwriter, musician, singer,” Curlee said.

When arriving at the auditions, contestants choose their genre of music. Curlee picked country. He said there were around 50 in the genre at the Hollywood auditions at the Orpheum Theater.

Curlee did not make it past the third round, saying producers interviewed him on his way out and asked him if he was hurt for being eliminated.

“I told them,’I’m not hurting. I’m going home to North Carolina and play music for a living. If I wasn’t doing (Idol), I’d still be doing it,’ ” Curlee said.

In terms of showing him on the broadcasts, Curlee said he made the air on some shots while mingling around, but his audition for the celebrity judges and in Hollywood did not make the show.

Curlee said he can be billed moving forward as a golden ticket participant in Idol, but right now he is working on an album of 11 of his original songs.

One song he wrote coming home from L.A. and rose out of the questions producers asked him about if being eliminated was the most hurt he ever felt in his life.

“That put something in my head…I wrote this song called ‘No Hurt Like Losing A Woman,’ it’s more bluesy,” Curlee said. “What I write is more traditional.”

He is actually the third Stanly resident to appear on the show behind Pickler and Shelly Burris, now Shelly Patterson, who was on Season 10 in 2011.

About Charles Curcio

Charles Curcio was the sports editor of the Stanly News & Press from 1999-2001 and has currently served in the same capacity since 2008. He was awarded the NCHSAA Tim Stevens Media Representative of the Year and named CNHI Sports Editor of the Year in 2014. He has also been honored four times by the North Carolina Press Association.

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