The Pot of Gold Somewhere Over The Rainbow is Kimberley Locke
There has been no other reality television talent search show like American Idol (AI). That is a given. Let’s face it, it has given us Kelly Clarkson, Clay Aiken, Jennifer Hudson, Fantasia, Carrie Underwood and Jordin Sparks, indisputable talents in a wide range of different music genres. But there is one American Idol finalist that may truly represent what the term “American idol” should be. A well-rounded singer who has had number 1 hits on multiple music charts, namely Pop, Adult Contemporary and Dance, Kimberley Locke has impacted the world on the theater stage, in the recording studio, but maybe more importantly, in our hearts. After reviewing what has happened with Kimberley over the past 10 years of her career since her appearance and third place finish on American Idol, it is so easy to see why everything from music success to meeting personal weight loss challenges, from a successful modeling career to hosting reality talent shows,and from overcoming a called off wedding to inspiring young people living with HIV/AIDS has been accomplished by Locke. Simply, she was destined to do what she does. I had an opportunity to meet with AI alum prior to her appearance in one of her favorite charity events this weekend, Richmond/Ermet AIDS Foundation Help Is On the Way Benefit and Gala in San Francisco, and even a battle with poor phone reception and interrupted phone calls could stop me from delving into what makes this American truly an idol.
BeBe: Girl, I know it seems like it was yesterday, but do you realize that it has been almost 9 years since you were finalist on American Idol: Season 2?
Kimberley Locke: I know! Actually, next year will be my 10 year anniversary of my first single “8th World Wonder”. It’s been a long time.
BeBe: The only good thing about looking back over the milestones, the 10, 15, 20 year marks, is that it is a blessing that you have had the opportunity to last that long! Amen.
Kimberley Locke: I know. That’s what I said. It went by very fast, but I believed so much happened in that 10 years. It could have taken me 20 years to do all of that (I’ve done).
BeBe: You know you were apart of the forefront of what has now become the way we find our entertainment stars. Now, Talent Reality TV Shows are on every television channel, in every country and has now become a standard way of discovering new talent. So, tell me, have you ever looked back and asked yourself where would I be today had I not been on American Idol?
Kimberley Locke: Well, I do look back on it, and there are actually only two things I ever wanted to do in my life. One of them was to sing, and the other was to be a lawyer. Once I graduated from college, I had committed fully to going to law school. I had put my interest in music on the shelf because I had already been doing it for so long already. I had been trying to get signed, and put myself out there. My first talent show was when I was in the 5th grade. I had spoken to a lot of people, sung in a lot of studios and a lot of shows, and it just wasn’t happening the way I had wanted to happen. That’s when I decided to go to law school. When I look back over the journey, I believe that my story is 100% proof that whatever is out there in store for you, whether you want to call it God or the Universe, whatever is in store for you, it will come your way. I had completely made a different choice. Just as I was about to enter my first semester of law school, American Idol came to town, and I auditioned. And, the rest is history.
BeBe: And it’s a great history!
Kimberley Locke: Absolutely!
BeBe: Well, after American Idol you immediately went on to sign with Curb Records. And when I look back at your career with them and beyond, you have had an even level of success in several genres of music. You have charted on the pop charts, the adult contemporary charts, and the dance charts. And, that is a rare accomplishment. But I do want to ask if you have a particular preference in the music you perform and record?
Kimberley Locke: You know it is really funny because I grew up, of course listening to Motown. Most people know that I am of mixed race, my dad is black and my mom is white. So, in our household we were always listening to the Motown hits of the 70s and 80s. But I actually had exposure to all types of music because I would go to my Mom’s mother’s house and they listened to Conway Twitty and Alabama on 8-Track. Then I go to my other grandmother’s house and they are listening to Diana Ross and the Supremes on 45rpm records. I had a wide range of music in my life that I was exposed to. When I signed with Curb Records, which was a really interesting time, because I was coming off American Idol as the second runner-up. If you remember on Season 1, they signed (to a record deal) the top 5 contestants. But when it came to Season 2, my season, they only signed the winner and runner-up. So, my work was cut out for me to find a record deal after American Idol was over. I was really adamant and had great people in my corner. I had called some of my professional friends I had made while on American Idol to help get a record before the American Idol tour ended. And that is exactly what happened. Before the tour ended, one of our final stops was in Memphis, Tennessee, and Mike Curb (Curb Records) himself and his wife to the AI concert and signed me that night in my dressing room. It was one of those moments where I felt I can make anything happen, because I put out there what I needed and it happened. I believed in myself enough that I was able to create that. Once I got on Curb Records, which is predominately country music, I didn’t know what was going to happen, but I knew something was going to happen. What I love about my whole experience with Curb Records is that they introduced me yet to another genre of music that I had not been exposed to which was the AC (Adult Contemporary) world. And, that worked really well for me. My voice is very well suited for this particular genre that I was in with “8th World Wonder”, with “Change”, with “I Could”, all of those songs fell in that genre. But now that I am in the dance genre, I do enjoy that just as much. These were two genres I was not expose prior to the Curb Records experience.
BeBe: What’s interesting to me is when I look at your career, and I look at the variety of charts you have hit with your music, It does remind me of Whitney (Houston). She had those same successes being on the Pop charts, being on AC, being on the Dance charts, being on the R&B and Gospel charts. There weren’t too many charts she had not hit. You have that type of voice that is well suited for anything, ’cause girl, you can do some country! I done heard! (Kimberley roars with laughter) And what is great about all this is it does really lead to longevity in a career in the music business.
Kimberley Locke: You know, once I got off American Idol, I didn’t want o get pigeon-holed into any particular genre. For me, I honestly and truly love to just sing. If somebody comes to me and says,’Kimberley we’ve got this Country song, and we think it is great for your voice’, I wouldn’t think twice about singing it. I would do it. That’s one of the reasons we all love music, because with music when you have a great song and great lyric, it transcends everything. It goes across all borders, all boundaries, races, color and whatever. It resonates with people, and people get it.
BeBe: Well, after you left Curb Records, you signed “singles” deal with American Idol judge and music legend Randy Jackson (Dream Merchants 21). Now I have spoken to other recording artists about the buying trends of the public, and we have noted that the public has been consisting been a single recordings buying public on the internet. And, in speaking about that trend, something comes to me as if saying what came first the chicken or the egg? I mean does the public buying trends exist because of some change in the demographics of the buying public, primarily age, or do the buying trends exist because of what the industry is putting out there to buy? Are the albums that are being put out there not cutting the mustard as far as quality for the public to spend their money on? I remember Michael Jackson had this product ethic that every song he recorded for his albums he wanted to to worthy of being a #1 hit. It didn’t matter if it was a number one song, but he wanted it to be worthy to be #1. So, maybe it is the collection of material that is thrown to us (public) that for whatever reason, which I believe to be because of the cheapness behind how the music industry wishes to produce people, does warrant our money. I think we have been forced into the singles buying trend. And thus, artists are now recording what people are buying.
Kimberley Locke: I think there is some validity to what you are saying, because of the process used to produce an album. You remember back in the day when it would take a long time for somebody to put out their next album because if you treat it (the process) like Michael Jackson treated making his records into a number one worthy hit, that definitely is a process that takes time. Now days, I believe that the accessibility of being able to be a songwriter, to be a producer, or a singer…..anybody can do these things now. If you have a laptop or you have a microphone and the program on your computer, anyone can record a song. So, now there is much more music out there to sift through. There are so many more writers out there than there used to be. In the scheme of things, there used to be just a core group of writers who wrote and it was a difficult world to break into. So what does this all mean in terms of putting a record together? Well, when looking for songs for an artist to record, there are many more songs to go through than when there were just that core group of writers, so what happens is the record label puts money and time into producing maybe four songs on an album to be singles and the rest is going to be filler. The work on the fillers may not be as elite, so to speak. And then the flip side of that is just technology. If you look at the way iTunes is designed, iTunes is not designed to sell albums. It is designed to sell singles. You can just listen to the samples of each song on the album and buy only the ones you like or you think are going to be great. Because all this technology is fairly new, it really I a time of creativity, and the artist gets an opportunity to do something different every time in terms of marketing their product when it comes to capturing our audience. That’s the beauty of it.
BeBe: And you’ve done that! With your most recent EP that you put out last year “Four on the Floor”, you used the social media to have your fans determine what the next single would be off that EP. You developed this interesting marketing plan with your fans and people who listen to music by saying ‘tell me what you want me to put out there.’
Kimberley Locke: Right, exactly. So with the fans, one of the thing I had to look at is what do the fans want? And surprisingly I learned, the fans want it all! If you are going to give them the power to choose your next single, or to choose your artwork or to give you feedback, they will take that opportunity. Because now with the internet,everybody can be heard. And people love having a voice. And that’s what we wanted to do in this plan, give the fans a voice. I loved all four of those songs, and I thought, you know what, this is where the hard part comes up, picking the right single. I’ve living with this music for months and months by recording it in the studio and from singing it, so I’ve become desensitized to it. So let me give the fans, a fresh few thousand ears or millions of ears potentially, an opportunity to choose. Guess what? They’re gonna buy it! The thing I love about engaging the fans is that they are brutally honest. And I believe that is the nature of our world anyway, so you may as well embrace it and take the positive from that you can. And they (fans) love to be able to say, ‘she cared enough about what I thought.’ The fans then become invested I he project.
BeBe: and we all know you have a large gay fan base, and I know we can be brutally honest!
(both give a thunderous laugh)
Continuing on……I wanted to move on to one of the reasons we are having this conversation which is your upcoming participation in Richmond/Ermet AIDS Foundation’s annual Help Is On The Way Benefit and Gala on August 5. And this is a prime example of your choice to champion AIDS and HIV awareness. So, I’m curious, with so many charities and causes out there that definitely deserve your attention and warrant your help, why this cause?
Kimberley Locke: I always tell people that I didn’t find AIDS/HIV charities, they found me. Immediately after American Idol, I was asked to participate in the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation carnival that they have every year in Los Angeles for children who are infected or affected with HIV and AIDS. They bring out a lot of celebrities to just meet and greet and take pictures with the kids. It’s a lot of fun. They then invited me to travel to Africa with them (an 11-day trip through Africa). Upon taking that trip, (it) really opened my eyes,and I really learned a lot about the virus, about the disease. And not just domestically, but how it affects people all over the world. And since then, I’ve have chosen to focus my energies in this (cause). I’ve even now scaled it back to just a few organizations I’m involved with because once you spread yourself too thin, you lose your effectiveness in helping. I’ve chosen very carefully the organizations I want to work with.
BeBe: I know you are on the Board of Directors for Camp Heartland which is another organization that concentrates on the youth infected or affected by the HIV virus and AIDS disease.
Kimberley Locke: Absolutely. Camp Heartland was started on the premise that they wanted to stop mother-to-child virus transmission. And fortunately now, with early detection and proper treatment, that is 100% preventable. So now what we are starting to do is branch out into different areas. We want to welcome the kids are living with AIDS and HIV to our camp and give them a safe place to talk about what they are going through and dealing with.
BeBe: I know I have read you make the statement that ‘the kids are our future’. I know that has become a cliché, but it is so true.
Kimberley Locke: I know it is a cliché. But we have 4 or 5 sessions during the camp every summer. We send the kids to camp free of charge. We fly them from allover the country, we feed them, we house them for one week at a time. And when I go to camp every year, it is very humbling for me to see the kids who are not only growing up as young girls and young boys and teenagers dealing with those issues, but now they are caring another huge weight of having the HIV virus. It is very inspiring to watch them work with each other and talk to each other, but also live very fulfilled lives and enjoy coming to camp year after year.
BeBe: I think this is a good time to revisit something that you said earlier about the divine plan for your life. We earlier spoke about how you had made a plan to enter the field of law, but that wasn’t the intended plan for you, music was. And maybe the reason for that is because your music and singing reaches people in a way that practicing law couldn’t or wouldn’t?
Kimberley Locke: Absolutely! When you ask people if there is one thing they could do in their lives that they can’t do now, what would it be? So many people say they would love to sing. Of course, I don’t understand that because I can sing. I have that gift. When I am in my element and standing on stage ad having a moment, so to speak, it all comes together for me. As a singer, when I am standing on stage and moving (emotionally) people with just the sound of my voice and the lyrics that I’m singing, it is a very powerful and tangible gift. And then can see why people would want to possess that gift.
BeBe: I can tell you this, not only from mouth to your ears, but from others mouths to my ears in which I’m going to share with you, we all remember the impact you made with us when you sang “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” on American Idol. And, I’m serious about this! Hearing you deliver that song on that show really impacted us so that we were extremely delighted to see you go as far as you did in the competition. You won the hearts of millions from that moment on from that one song.
Kimberely Locke: Oh, thank you! That song has a little bit of a back story for me. When I was in college I got connected with a jazz band called The Imperials in Nashville. They were a very talented group. They were all professors at Belmont University where I attended, and they were all probably in their 50s to 70s. So, I learned so much from them. I started singing “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” with them. It was a big song and an intimidating song for me, and I had listened to so many people’s rendition of the song and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh! I don’t know if I can pull this one off.’ When I started singing this song on stage with these guys, nobody knew what was going on with me and the song accept these guys. They would all encourage me in their own little way, especially when it gets to the very powerful ballad notes. And with their encouragement, I was really able to make that song my own. It came to be, and is a great inspiration for me and for others. I had no idea that others loved the song as much as I do.
You know, we sometimes lose sight of what really an “idol” is or should be for any of us. We, of course, idolize many people because they are able to do the things we wish we could do or see ourselves emulating at some point in our future. But if we are a person that doesn’t quite know where we should place our idolization or to whom we should turn for inspiration to find meaning in our lives, ladies and gents, I introduce you to a true American Idol, Kimberley Locke.
Kimberley Locke will be a performer for the 5th time along with Grammy winner Helen Reddy, Broadway star and Star Search winner Sam Harris, Broadway, film and television star Loretta Divine and many more at the Annual Richmond/Ermet AIDS Foundation Help is on the Way Benefit and Gala on August 5 in San Francisco at the Herbst Theater. For ticket and more information. Www.HelpIsOnTheWay.org.