For award-winning artist Danny Gokey, the purpose and goal of his career is crystal clear.
“My music is part of the Great Commission: ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation,’” he told The Christian Post. “It’s a goal I continually work toward. With each new record, I’ve tried to reach out to the churched and unchurched. I really try to do that with my music and get the Gospel message out in a way that’s fresh.”
As the third-place finalist on the eighth season of "American Idol" in 2009, Gokey has seen tremendous success: He has several chart-topping albums, has been nominated for a Grammy, won a Dove Award, and this year took home "Male Artist of the Year" at the seventh annual K-LOVE Fan Awards. In June, his album Haven't Seen It Yet hit No. 1 on the Billboard's Christian Airplay chart.
But Gokey’s path hasn’t been easy. After appearing on "American Idol," he signed to 19 Recordings and RCA Nashville for country music, releasing the single "My Best Days Are Ahead of Me." Just two years later, he was dropped from the record label.
“I stepped on the world’s largest singing stage at the time, and I was thinking, ‘Here is where it starts,’” he recalled. “But that isn’t what happened. After I was dropped from my label, I went silent. I thought that was it. It was really devastating.”
Still, Gokey said he felt God calling his heart toward music. “I was eventually signed by another label, a non-Christian label, but I knew God was telling me to make a Christian album,” he said. “I lobbied to make a Christian record, and it took off. I got my first big song five-and-a-half years after Idol, which was a big deal.”
The father-of-four said his rocky path to success showed him that ultimately, “God is in control of my career.”
“I don’t know of any contestant that lost a record deal and is now doing better,” he said. “It shows me that God’s hand is on what I do and it’s about Him. That’s why my goal is to show Him and His glory through my music.”
Unabashedly professing his faith in a predominantly secular industry doesn’t come without drawbacks. Gokey admitted that sometimes, it can feel like he and other Christian artists are the “red-headed stepchildren” of the music world.
“Christian music, in general, is shrugged off a lot,” he said. “When it comes to 'American Idol,' [season five contestant] Mandisa and I have moved tons of music, more so than many in our field, but we’re just not invited to the table. We’re not celebrated. I’m not sure why that is, but I’m OK with it.”
The Wisconsin native noted that for years, Christian music has tried to replicate secular music instead of “embracing itself as a genre.”
“I used to work at a Christian bookstore and I’m a product of the church,” Gokey said. “One misstep of the church was people would come in and say, ‘Who is the Christian Rhianna?’ These were parents trying to find music that inspired their children yet was safe. But it was a huge misstep trying to create gimmicks and sound-alikes of different secular artists. I don’t see it as much anymore, but maybe that’s why we’ve been the stepchild for so long.”
Whenever he’s working on new music, Gokey said those Christian bookstore conversations are in the back of his mind.
“I don’t want to make those same mistakes. God created music,” he stressed, “so why are we trying to clone what’s being done in the world? Let’s go to the source. Fortunately, I think the level of music has come up in recent years. I’m striving for it, and I think we have a lot of great music now that’s meaningful and full of hope.”
Just in time for Christmas, the “Love God Love People” singer released a new holiday collection titled The Greatest Gift. The Christmas album includes beloved classics, three original songs, and both an English and Spanish version of the hymn "Silent Night,” featuring Gokey’s son, Danny.
“Singing with my son was a beautiful moment,” Gokey said. “Hopefully this album invokes that Christmas spirit and the ability to remember what’s important about Christmas and let go of the things that aren’t important.”
As a father, Gokey said he strives to remind his children of the real meaning of Christmas: “Since I was a kid, I’ve known the Christmas story and that it’s about Jesus. I’ve always passed that down. It’s important for my children to know it as well. Nothing has changed; we just keep the tradition moving forward.”
Gokey, who in December will embark on the “Celebrate Christmas Tour” alongside Natalie Grant, said Christmas provides a rare moment to “pause.”
“Christmas has always been capitalized on, don’t get me wrong,” he said. “But on the date itself, everyone pauses, which is really nice. Our world doesn’t know how to stop; every day is a day to make money. It’s disheartening, because I think we can equate a lot of the problems we have with placing the wrong things at the top of the list, and the right things at the bottom.”
“On Christmas, we prioritize getting together, giving, and sharing,” Gokey added. “It doesn’t happen a lot, but it happens every year at Christmas, and I love that.”