Regie Hamm has had some success, but nothing like this.
Whether David Archuleta or David Cook prevails in Wednesday night's American Idol finale, Regie Hamm will be having the time of his life.
In the closing four minutes of tonight's two-hour show (Fox, 8:00 PM ET/PT), the newly crowned David will sing Time of My Life, Hamm's winner in the second American Idol Songwriter contest.
Yep, it's inspirational, says the Nashville singer/songwriter, who calls Life "a midtempo anthem, no surprises. (Fans) can wave their arms and light their lighters, all that cool stuff. We've all heard those finale songs, so you know the parameters and almost by osmosis what the moment is all about."
The song was among tens of thousands submitted and combed through by 19 Entertainment's more than 60 Artists & Repertoire staffers, who winnowed the list to a manageable pile before Idol creator Simon Fuller and his team pruned to 20 semifinalists, says Jeff King, 19's U.S. head of digital entertainment.
The task is "daunting," he says. "Not unlike the show, you get a wide variety, from comical to genius."
More than 500,000 voters chose Time of My Life from the 20 audio clips posted online. What gave Hamm's tune the edge?
"Its feel, its groove, the message," King says. "The lyrics aren't too sappy, and it's contemporary."
In a departure from Idol custom, producers decided against using the coronation song in competition. The David's each picked another tune from the 10 songs that received the most votes in the contest to sing Tuesday. Cook, 25, chose Dream Big by Emily Shackelton; Archuleta, 17, selected In This Moment by Ryan Gillmore. Both are on iTunes, which also will sell tonight's rendition of Life by the new Idol.
A year ago, the first song contest yielded melodramatic This Is My Now, a natural for pop singer Jordin Sparks and a handicap for beatboxer Blake Lewis, who was thrashed by the judges. That mismatch didn't trigger this year's shift, King says. The show simply wanted to offer the finalists flexibility.
At a cost of $600 and with help from friends, Hamm composed and recorded Life the week before the contest deadline.
"I tried to keep the show in mind, but it's autobiographical," he says. "It has to do with living in the now and letting the good times carry you through the bad times."
Hamm, 40, says his victory is a reversal of a career slump that began when he and his wife, Yolanda, adopted their daughter in China. Isabella, now 5, has the rare genetic disorder Angelman syndrome, which causes severe developmental delays. (They also have 19-month-old son Gabe.)
"I've been a housedad while my wife works at Starbucks, which provides insurance," Hamm says.
"When we find something (Isabella) responds to, we stick to it," he says. "The really bad singers on Idol make her laugh hysterically. We started watching because of her. When better singers come along in the top 10, Isabella loses interest, but then we're hooked."
Born in Nashville, Hamm traveled the country with his Pentecostal preacher father and played drums in the family band. Regie's father is Pastor Ron Hamm of Nashville, a former state overseer with the Church of God of Prophecy. Regie's grandfather, Ron's father, was also a life-long minister in the Church of God of Prophecy, Cleveland, Tennessee.
Regie wrote his first song at age 9. Influenced by Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Don Henley, Merle Haggard, Randy Newman and the Gershwins, he switched to piano and enjoyed some success writing and recording. On Thursday, his gospel/country Starlight EP hits iTunes. He co-wrote Something About Us, which is on Clay Aiken's new CD. (Attention, conspiracy theorists: Hamm also co-wrote the ballad In the Name of God with Scott Krippayne, who co-wrote 2007's winning Idol song.)
"I've made records and rubbed shoulders with people in the music industry, but nothing like this," Hamm says of his Idol conquest. "The last five years have been the toughest of my life. This one song has turned my career and my life around. It's a shot in the arm."