Fifteen years after Albemarle’s Kellie Pickler rose to fame in “American Idol,” a Stanfield man is hoping lightning strikes again.
Dustin Curlee recently had the initial online audition with the producers and is heading to Los Angeles this week to perform for famous judges.
Having performed at various venues in Stanly County over the years, including winning the 2018 Oakboro Fourth of July Talent Show, Curlee, 23, is hoping his opportunity in the 20th season of the popular singing competition may l ‘help propel it to new heights. He had worked for Carolina Fire Control at Concord, but recently took time off to pursue his true passion. His goal is to carve out a full-time career as a musician.
“I really think it’s like my opportunity and it only comes once,” he said. “So it’s either passed or defeated and I have to give him everything I have.” Hopefully all of this leads to some good things.
Grow as a performer
Born and raised in Stanfield, Curlee has always been around music. His parents are both singers and he has a few uncles who own recording studios. His brother Cody is also a singer and songwriter and the two often collaborate together.
Although he was never part of any school choir, he enjoyed bringing his guitar to school and performing in front of students and teachers. He was also active in his church choir.
“I guess it was fate for me to be a musician and a singer,” he said.
Although he enjoys playing a variety of genres, from classic rock to country to folk music, he has said he prefers the blues.
“I’m more of a soul singer,” he said.
One of his favorite artists is country singer Chris Stapleton. When Curlee took top honors on the Oakboro Talent Show a few years ago, he did so by singing his own version of Stapleton’s song “If It Hadn’t Been For Love”.
“I love playing in front of a group of people,” Curlee told SNAP after the event. “I love my music and I am passionate about it.”
Over the past five years, he has performed regularly at several bars and private shows across the county, as well as venues like Tiffany’s at the Boardroom and Rocky River Vineyards. He has also performed with Randy Travis’ brother Ricky Traywick, and The Hatley Family, a Stanfield bluegrass band.
Curlee has already written seven songs and is working on his debut album.
He hopes his music will resonate with people and make them feel good about themselves.
“If it helps a person have a better day, then I have done my duty here on earth,” he said. “I think music is who I am and what God led me to do.”
Curlee recently performed in the Miss Stanly County Pageant at the Agri-Civic Center, which he believes could bode well for his chances on the show. Pickler, who was crowned Miss Stanly County in 2004, sang the national anthem the following year in the competition just before auditioning for the show.
She ended up making the Top 10 and turned her stint on Idol into a successful career as a country singer and TV personality. Pickler was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame in 2016.
“It’s kind of ironic that I’m playing on the same stage as her,” said Curlee, who has never met Pickler.
Wes Tucker, who was the host of the competition for many years, including during Pickler’s tenure, sees several similarities between the two musicians. They both performed in many local concerts, he said, and were thirsty to take advantage of their opportunities.
As Pickler did over a decade ago, Tucker believes Curlee is talented enough to make a name for himself in the competition.
“I was fortunate enough to share the stage with both of them and I hope I can say I shared the stage with another American idol,” Tucker said. “That would be really cool.”
His hometown also supported the musician.
“We are proud that he represents Stanfield and we hope he does well,” said city administrator Bridgette Helms, who noted he used to play the worries at Barn Park.
Audition for Idol
Even with all of her past experience, applying to be on the longtime show wasn’t necessarily an easy choice for Curlee.
Family and friends had repeatedly encouraged him to apply for Idol over the years, but Curlee, who has five young children with his wife Candace, never thought the time was right.
“It was a lot for me just to do it and then all the worry that goes with not making it,” he said of the reasons he had hesitated in the past.
But earlier this year, two days before the end of the application deadline, Curlee – backed by support from his family and the city of Stanfield – took a chance on himself and his abilities. He is actually the third Stanly resident to appear on the series behind Pickler and Shelly Burris, now Shelly Patterson, who was in season 10 in 2011.
Once he applied, Curlee took part in an online Zoom session in August featuring at least a hundred other prospects who first had to impress a panel of producers before they could perform in front of all three judges: Lionel Ritchie, Katy Perry and Luc Bryan. He estimates that about 80% of the people who participated in the online hearing were from North Carolina.
Curlee said he was calm and wasn’t overwhelmed when he sang for the producers. This is because Curlee is used to playing online. One of the ways he’s made money over the years is by live streaming his performances on Facebook Live.
When it came time for Curlee to perform for the producers, he sang “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers, “Amanda” by Don Williams and an original song called “What this Country Boy’s About”.
Candace and some of his children were with him when he heard he was going to sing in front of famous judges. To learn more about his life story, the producers chatted with his wife and kids, and Curlee even gave them a quick tour of his home. The virtual session lasted about five hours.
Curlee said the first thought that crossed his mind when he heard he had moved forward was pure relief.
“It was as if finally, maybe I had a chance to make a career in music,” he said. “Maybe that’s it.”
Candace, who listened to her sing for the producers, said she was more nervous than her husband. After the family learned that Curlee had taken the next step, Candace said everyone started to cry, including her husband.
He had the choice of going to Nashville, Austin or Los Angeles for the next leg of the competition. Curlee initially chose Nashville because of his proximity to others, but the producers called him later and told him they wanted him to go to Austin. Eventually, after more conversations, the producers decided he would come to Los Angeles.
“It’s his dream”
Curlee is due to leave for the West Coast on October 15 and will be accompanied by his father Roger Curlee. The show will pay for his flight and accommodation and he will be there for eight days.
While he doesn’t know much about what to expect, he has been told to prepare for plenty of interviews as well as a busy schedule of late nights and early mornings. Curlee expects to be a little nervous in front of the judges, especially Lionel Ritchie, whose music he enjoys and calls “legendary status,” but he plans to stay calm as much as possible.
Even though the judges are internationally renowned, at the end of the day, they are performers like Curlee.
“They put on their pants the same way I do,” he joked.
He considered performing one of his own songs for the judges, but Curlee said he plans to sing “Ain’t No Sunshine”. If he advances in the competition, he plans to play his own music.
He and his wife watched episodes from last season to help prepare Curlee for what he can expect when he appears before the judges. He said his voice and style was very similar to last season’s Chayce Beckham, the country soul singer who ended up winning the competition.
Candace is convinced that her husband can go far in the competition.
“As long as he keeps his head and feet on the ground I think he will go a long way with that,” she said, noting that Curlee doesn’t care about being famous as much as he just wants to. play for a living. “He works very hard with his music and it is his dream.”