One of the most popular weeks on American Idol every year is the “Idol Gives Back” segment, where performers via the show helps raise millions for charities in the U.S. and around the world. With the recent release of 2009 (season eight) Top 10 American Idol finalist Michael Sarver’s “Ferris Wheel,” the first single from his highly anticipated upcoming summer country CD debut titled MICHAEL SARVER, he finds his own unique way of embodying the concept.
The multi-talented singer songwriter is signed to Dream Records, a Universal Music Group affiliated independent label run by the Dream Center in Los Angeles, a non-profit outreach dedicated to helping inner-cities. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the self-titled CD go to the center’s work providing food, clothing, shelter, life rehabilitation, education and job training to thousands of people. For Sarver, a Louisiana native who grew up in Sulphur, and then moved to Jasper, Texas where he currently resides, the built in charity aspect of his recording deal is a true and inspiring extension of his developing artistry as a singer/songwriter.
“To me, a great song is all about the message,” he says. “A lot of songs out there are cool to listen to and you might enjoy the beat, but a song can only speak to you personally when it’s fulfilling the soul of a person and speaking to the inside of you. As a writer and performer, I have a chance with every song to impact someone’s life and alter their emotions. That’s why, whether I wrote the track or not, I want to make sure every song I record and perform has all the heart and passion it deserves.”
Since he began writing songs at age 14, the prolific and multi-talented 29 year old artist has kept an accurate count of how many he has penned—an incredible total of 948. Writing or co-writing six of the thirteen tracks on his debut, he introduces himself to the world as a recording artist of extraordinary depth and fearlessness, sharing everything from his great love for Tiffany, his wife of five years (including “Baby I Want You” and “You Are,” which he wrote while missing her during his time away on Idol) to his thoughts about the naysayers who told him he would never succeed (“Watch Me”).
Once Sarver’s experiences on American Idol confirmed his initial instincts to pursue a career in country music (his favorite artist growing up was Garth Brooks) and record an album in that genre, Nashville came calling and he was pitched an incredible array of outside songs from Music City’s great writers. The singer was so impressed with the material he heard that he actually pulled five of his own songs from the project just to fit them in; he put his own ego aside to ensure that his debut had the right mix of the best songs available. “The main thing,” he says, “is that each song has substance and personal meaning to me. Each song has a purpose for being on the collection and I poured every ounce of emotion into them.”
These outside gems include the lead single “Ferris Wheel,” about the dizzying feeling of falling in love in a place and moment that seems to be the top of the world; “Safe” (written by Ben Glover with Kyle Jacobs) about letting a partner know that he or she may have been hurt in the past, but their dreams and life are “safe with me”; the playfully sensual “I’m In The Mood”; “Let Me Love You,” another that Sarver calls “an intimate,
heartfelt message from one lover to another”; “The Way She Loves Me,” a Thibodeau/Josh Kelley tune that perfectly captures the feeling Sarver has for the way Tiffany loves him; and “Always Surviving” (by Thibodeau and Rivers Rutherford), a song the singer dedicates to “the working man,” the guy who stretches his paycheck and does anything he can to keep his job to support his family. This track perfectly defines Sarver’s life pre-Idol, when he was a young married man working as a roughneck on an oil rig to support his family.
Sarver reveals himself to be a heartfelt, emotional songwriter, but he also lets loose and has fun on the rollicking country rocker “Gonna Be A Good Night,” which he wrote with Ben Glover and Rachel Thibodeau, 2008 winner of Song of the Year with Luke Bryan for Billy Currington’s #1 country hit “Good Directions.” Titling the closing track “Tell Me,” which he co-wrote with album co-producer Rachel Thibodeau the most difficult song he has ever written. The sparsely arranged ballad tackles the raw emotions he still feels for his birth father many years after the man left him and his mother when Sarver was only two. He says, “I have tried my best over the years to build a relationship with my father, but he has been very selfish. The song asks him what on earth is better about your life than the son you had at home. I actually broke down crying when I was recording it. I was so busy over the years worrying about succeeding that I didn’t address the hurt. Writing and recording this song has brought healing into my life.”
While American Idol thrives on the notion of helping the dreams of young performers come true, Sarver sees the opportunities the show provided as something beyond that – a means to fulfill his God-given destiny, a way to finally show “Michael being Michael.” Faith has been a constant in his life from his difficult early years growing up without his natural father to an adolescent marred by an abusive stepfather who beat him, his brother and his mom. “During this hard time in my life, music was the healer,” he says. “I listened not just for the sound but the message, and fell in love with songs and songwriting. Every so often, my mom would hear me sing and she’d encourage me to work on my voice and think about singing professionally.”
During his early teens, Sarver and some friends from his Pentecostal church formed what they called a “little corral,” a group of five or six that sang and performed for the congregation, to incredible accolades. His exposure to worship music and three part harmonies—and to the songs of popular Christian pop artist Steven Curtis
Chapman—opened the young singer’s eyes to the possibilities of different kinds of music. At 17, he started learning to play the guitar his uncle bought for him, and soon Sarver was giving himself vocal lessons, singing along to his favorite CDs and artists for four or five hours a day; because it was against his religion to listen to secular music, he considered himself a rebel.
After high school, he joined an independent church, and while doing praise and worship music at church for the next six years, he continued to develop his songwriting and sent out countless demos to record labels, all of which were rejected—you can just hear Sarver singing “Watch Me” to everyone who ever said no! But his DNA and musical talent and destiny couldn’t be denied forever. When his sister in law told him she wanted to try out for American Idol, he figured “the window was closing as I approached my late 20s and I had to give it one last shot. Looking back, the whole experience was surreal but I am grateful for all the opportunities that have come my way.” Last holiday season, after touring all summer with the Top Ten Idol contestants from season eight, he joined fellow Idol alums Gina Glocksen, David Hernandez and Alexis Grace on the American Stars in Concert Tour.
“With this new album, I’m finally getting a chance to be the real me,” he says. “All my life, I knew I had a significant purpose, and I knew I would find out what it was if I chased after it harder. Along the way, I found that even in the things you don’t really want to do, if you give everything you’ve got, it’s an important part of the journey. I want to deliver my heart through my music, with integrity and substance. I’m also grateful that in turn, this will allow me to encourage others to achieve their own happy endings.