Rockingham, N.C., native Bucky Covington placed eighth on the fifth season of American Idol in 2006. Despite being bested by Taylor Hicks, Chris Daughtry, Kellie Pickler and Elliott Yamin, Covington's still very much in the public eye. His 2007 self-titled debut currently sits at No. 47 on Billboard's Top Country Albums chart after 78 weeks, while his third single, the morose ballad "I'll Walk," claims the No. 16 spot on the Hot Country Songs chart after 25 weeks.
This in mind, I decided to catch the Carolina boy's show at the N.C. State Fair Tuesday night and see what's different about Covington. I walked away with five lessons.
1. Even if you were raised in Rockingham, which is 97 miles from Raleigh, asking "North Carolina" how "it's doing" is still necessary.
I counted four variations on the sentence "How you doing, North Carolinaaaaa???" That seems like a little much when your father's front-row center and you're telling stories about the garage you used to call a job that's about 100 miles away. But, hey, you've got to eat up stage time somehow...
2. Headlining tours and playing 135 minutes on stage after releasing one album is an awful idea.
Covington's show was scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m. According to one fair official, he could perform as long as he wanted, so long as he was done by the night's fireworks at 9:45 p.m. He only used 75 of the 135 minutes, but that's still sort of cruel, considering the dude has one album that clocks in close to the 40-minute mark.
Instead, we got the American Idol treatment, as Covington ran away with Pink Floyd's "The Wall" (in which he affected a slight British accent and made the whole crowd stand and sing. Wait, but we don't need no teacher, Bucky!); Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Fortunate Son" (The McCain/Palin sticker factor was high in Dorton last night—who's claiming this song these days, anyway?); Elvis' "Suspicious Minds" (With luck, Covington's service-station moustache will not become the new swiveling-hips sex symbol); Willie Nelson and Ray Charles' "Seven Spanish Angels" (which he overblew completely); and an encore of "Keep Your Hands to Yourself" (during which Bucky entered the crowd. Again, given the song's content, that's ironic.) Glorified karaoke singers (Bucky co-wrote one song on his first record, appropriately entitled "Carolina Blue," which he did not perform) make better openers.
3. Country bands in 2008 desperately want to be rock bands.
On American Idol back in 2006, Covington mixed rock and country tunes plenty, tackling Queen and Buddy Holly alongside Pat Green and Garth Brooks. That strategy worked well enough to make him a finalist and land him a big record deal, and it appears as if he's banking on that plan's perpetuation to land a career. Rock music blared from the speakers before Covington took the stage wearing torn jeans and a tight white button-down. He's got shoulder-length blond locks and that damned moustache. His guitarist is the quintessential band dude with the slickly shaven head and the Union Jack T-shirt, and he's got two drummers. He occasionally screamed to the crowd. He threw up devil horns at least once last night, and then there were those covers...
From now on, when people talk about the rock sales slump, we should include at least three-fifths of country sales in those numbers, as modern country is mostly modern rock with less distortion, a touch of an accent and, like, an electric mandolin, at best.
4. Laughter is always the best opiate.
Covington is given to the grand stage gestures, just on a budget. So instead of those risers and platforms his pricier peers like Kenny Chesney use, Covington depended on the ol' trusty methods—raising the roof, throwing his hands up, stoking the crowd manually. During "Ole Kentuck," a song recorded by Covington's producer Mark Miller in the band Sawyer Brown, Covington lifted his arms, clenched his fists, gritted his teeth and smiled. He looked like the skinniest professional wrestler ever. People screamed. But keyboardist Scott Saunders laughed at Covington, which was about right.
5. Country music T-shirts are still the ugliest in the business.
Seriously, even NASCAR drivers have figured out how to make good T-shirts by now. But you could have traded Aaron Tippin's name and visage (circa 1993) for Covington's Tuesday night and called it a day.
CORRECTION: Covington used only 75 of his 135 minutes onstage, a detail originally omitted.