Former American Idol winner Phillip Phillips is soft-spoken with a deep southern American accent. The star from Georgia sits gingerly on the edge of a barstool and starts strumming his guitar.
His voice is like honey, dripping Georgia blues goodness and his guitar work complements the entire package.
However, it’s his incredibly dry sense of humour and self-deprecating nature that grabs me as the most interesting thing. After all, I feel like I know him after watching the whole of season 11 of American Idol.
“I swear this is just water on my pants. I swear,” he says.
He’s in South Africa for his first ever tour, opening for The Script and he says South Africans have been very kind. “I’ve heard some South African music but I can’t remember names. Hell, I can’t remember my own name sometimes.”
His southern drawl is soothing as he speaks and even better as he treats us to intimate, acoustic versions of his hits.
“I write about a lot of different things – personal things I’ve gone through, that people close to me have gone through, and some of it is imagination. I put myself in certain situations and see how I would react. I kind of torture myself in that way.
“What I love about music is so universal,” Phillips says. “Anyone can relate or read into it what they will.”
Phillips has toured with the likes of Matchbox Twenty and now The Script, and he says as long as he gets to play music it doesn’t matter who he plays with. “I’m down for anybody. I hope anyone is down for me.”
He’s got this odd balance of really confident and utterly terrified. “I hate hearing myself,” he says. “But I love to hear myself. It’s weird.” He’s a natural performer and far more comfortable behind his guitar than behind the mic without it.
Being an American Idol contestant, his career was built on his ability to perform live and he says he’s never found a balance between that and recording.
“I’m not a very smart person. I love playing live and that’s my favourite. The studio is a lot of fun and it’s good having someone who knows how to work the computer, which I don’t.
“But playing live is the way I grew up with music in my hometown in bars and wherever the music scene was. I would jam in rock bands and learn from them. I love how in live performances you can change it up.”
Phillips’ breakthrough single was called Home, and was his American Idol winning song. He says home for him is Georgia.
“On the road, your band and crew are your family. You watch out for one another and it’s kinda hard to relate to too many people who aren’t on the road.
“I’m still good friends with my old band and whenever I go back home I listen to them play and sometimes get up there with them.”
With a shy smile he awkwardly hops off the bar stool and heads out and I wonder how it is that someone so introverted could win the world’s biggest singing show, but he says despite being a guitarist first, his family made him enter the competition and now he’s here.”
“I’m glad to be here,” he says. “Next time I come down I’ll go see the bush.” – Nikita Ramkissoon
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