Stanly County’s connection to “American Idol” dates back to Kellie Pickler, who finished sixth in 2006 and went on to produce a certified gold album, “Small Town Girl,” which created three Top 20 country hits. Billboard charts.
Stanfield’s Dustin Curlee entered the contest this season, where he won a golden ticket to the Hollywood auditions.
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 guitar for three producers virtually over the internet.
The third producer, Curlee said, gave her the opportunity to audition for other producers before earning a chance to perform in front of judges Luke Bryan, Katy Perry and Lionel Richie.
Before performing for the judges, Curlee said he had to get up early to get on set. While waiting to audition, artists had to do interviews, take selfies and do other promotional work.
“We had to go and sort of settle in…I woke up at 4:30 the morning of my audition and didn’t audition until 10:00 that night. It was a long waiting game,” Curlee said. “There are a lot of people sitting around.”
He performed Amos Lee’s “Arms of a Woman” in front of all three judges and earned upvotes from Bryan and Richie. Bryan said he wanted to see more of Curlee perform, while Richie said the raspyness of his voice is what sells in today’s market.
Perry told Curlee that she was expecting him to hit a higher note with his voice, which he did not, leading her to vote no. Richie told Curlee to keep doing what he was doing and sent him on the Hollywood roll.
“The suspense was real, waiting there by the door,” Curlee said. “When I walked in and stood in front of them, I felt like I had put my hands in a bucket of water. My hands were so sweaty.
Curlee was one of about 150 contestants who earned a golden ticket out of what the show said was about 100,000 auditions. His audition was not broadcast on television.
Arriving in Hollywood, Curlee said it was 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 that he felt like he, as an armed Christian conservative, may not have matched their narrative.
“What I saw of the show was more political than who’s the best songwriter, musician, singer,” Curlee said.
Upon arriving at the auditions, candidates choose their genre of music. Curlee chose the country. He said there were about 50 of the genre at the Hollywood auditions at the Orpheum Theater.
Curlee didn’t make it past the third round, saying the producers interviewed him when he came out and asked if he was hurt for being knocked out.
“I told them, ‘I’m not in pain. I’m going home to North Carolina and making music for a living. If I wasn’t doing (Idol), I would be doing it again,” Curlee said.
As for showing it on the shows, Curlee said he did air in some shots while mingling, but his audition for celebrity and Hollywood judges didn’t do the show.
Curlee said he could be featured as a golden ticket participant in Idol, but right now he’s working on an album of 11 of his original songs.
A song he wrote on his way home from LA that was born out of the questions producers asked him about whether being eliminated was the biggest pain he’s ever felt in his life.
“It 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’s actually the third Stanly resident to appear on the show behind Pickler and Shelly Burris, now Shelly Patterson, who was in Season 10 in 2011.