American Idol Mentor Bobby Bones Talks Breaking An Unconventional Cycle

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American Idol judges in Hawaii, from left: Bobby Bones, Ryan Seacrest, Minnie Mouse, Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan (Photo by ABC/Karen Neal)

You might have heard him on the radio on his nationally syndicated country radio show and you might have even seen him win the coveted Mirror Ball trophy on last season’s Dancing with the Stars, but the multifaceted Bobby Bones has now taken on in-house mentor duties on this season’s American Idol to help find America’s next superstar.

It’s been a long road for Bones to get to where he is today. Growing up in an impoverished town in Arkansas that had an approximate population of 700 people, Bones wanted to break the cycle and find a way out to bigger and better things. When he was 17, he got his start in the radio business by begging to clean a radio station in his hometown.

“I grew up listening to country music, but I started in pop and hip-hop and alternative, and did a national sports show,” said Bones. “When it was time for me to decide where I wanted to stay, I made the call to move to Nashville and start a syndicated country morning show. I don’t think a lot of what I do has changed, but it feels a little more natural for me to be the guy in the country world. I know I’m a bit progressive and I know I don’t look the part. I kinda look like the guy from Weezer, but it feels like I’m home.”

As the host of The Bobby Bones Show that reaches five million people daily, Bones is able to break emerging artists by playing their music on the airwaves giving them a real shot, which is something Bones said is fantastic.

After weeks of stunning competitive dancing, Bobby Bones and Sharna Burgess win Dancing with the Stars (Photo by ABC/Kelsey McNeal)

“It’s pretty cool because I was broke the whole time especially early,” explained Bones on how he started his radio show. “I didn’t have any money to hire any co-hosts so I just hired all my friends. We’re on in hundreds of cities all throughout America and Canada, but the real backbone of my show is my best friend Amy who used to do sales for a granite company and then my friend Lunchbox who was a sandwich delivery driver. They never worked in radio and we kind of still don’t know what we’re doing, but I think that’s a little bit of the beauty of it.”

Drawing inspiration from fellow radio host Howard Stern and former late night talk show host David Letterman, Bones interviews some of the hottest selling artists out there such as Garth Brooks and John Mayer on his show.

“The first time I got to interview Garth Brooks was pretty special to me because he’s the biggest selling American artist of all time,” said Bones. “He’s bigger than Elvis so for me I was such a big Garth Brooks fan growing up. John Mayer came to the studio because I’m known as someone who even plays on my country show music that isn’t country. I’ll play everything from hip hop to rock and obviously country. I feel that our minds don’t have genres so I’m pretty genre-less in my heart and my head. So John Mayer came by and that was pretty special to me.”

Adding the title of mentor to his hectic schedule, this season on American Idol Bones is a more prominent fixture this time around compared to last season.

“Last season, they brought me in at the Top 24 and I did a couple episodes and then I came back for the finale,” said Bones. “I came in a bit late and they go from thousands to 24 and I’m only working with the Top 24 so it’s kind of a crash course in meeting them. This season has been fantastic because I was there at the beginning and you build a trust with the contestants. They brought me in to do a few different things like working with them on the performance aspect because I’m a musician, a comedian and a radio host so I’m working with them on stage presence, song arrangement and even vocally a bit. I’m also working with them on trying to adjust them to moving to Los Angeles.”

Anyone who watches this season of American Idol can tell this year’s talent is off the charts with many young singers who lay it all out on the line giving it their all.

“It’s weird because if you asked me that question last season I would have had one or two, but this season it’s more like five or six that you watch and go ‘If they just show their versatility, they’re going to be fantastic,’” responded Bones when asked which contestant he’s most impressed by. “There’s a country singer named Laci Kaye Booth, who is like 22 and she knows who she is already. Her voice is so special.”

Warehouse worker Alejandro Aranda and 20-year-old college student Walker Burroughs also made Bones’ list of impressive performers.

Not only does Bones get to closely work with the show’s contestants, but he also works closely with the show’s judges Luke Bryan, Lionel Richie and Katy Perry.

“Luke Bryan is actually a close friend of mine,” said Bones. “To work with Luke is a lot like hanging out with Luke. He’s a good dude. I could talk about Luke for 10 hours. We live 20 minutes from each other at home. We’re friends so working with him is like working with a friend. Lionel Richie is as warm and as welcoming. I don’t think TV is accurately depicting how kind he really is. He’s Lionel Richie. He doesn’t have to be kind. Lionel Richie can do whatever he wants. I think the thing that struck me about Katy the most is that she’s oddly approachable to be Katy Perry. She’s a big star and we’ve been able to have some good talks. I did not know Katy at all so Katy is the newest for me, but she’s been so pleasant.”

Prior to filming this season’s Idol, Bones competed on Dancing with the Stars ultimately winning the entire competition. Having no background in dance, Bones trained for 10 hours a day for three months straight.

“It was extremely difficult and I did not know what I was doing,” explained Bones. “On that show, you just don’t win without training as a professional dancer, but most people who entertain have dancing experience. I had none, but at the end of it, I won. I didn’t win because I was the best dancer. I won because people felt that I was them and I felt that I was the people. I think we just bonded over that TV show. It was a cool experience. I’m still injured. My foot’s hurt and my shoulder still hurts, but it was fantastic and I keep my Mirror Ball trophy in my kitchen on my bar.”

Bones can also add New York Times best-selling author to his résumé with his memoir Bare Bones: I’m Not Lonely If You’re Reading This Book and his motivational book Fail Until You Don’t: Fight Grind Repeat.

“The first book that I wrote I didn’t want to write because I thought how self-indulgent it is to write a book about myself,” said Bones. “I was going to write a kids book because I did a kid’s music record that did really well.”

After pitching his kid’s book to 10 different publishers, he was told that the market was too saturated for that type of genre. However, Harper Collins was more interested in Bones’ life story and wanted him to pitch that idea to them instead.

“I’m not a Kardashian, but I went in and pitched it,” said Bones. “They thought that it would be an interesting memoir and they thought that they could market it relatively well. I wrote it and expected nothing to happen from it and it was a best seller for four weeks. I feel hopefully when I talk about my experiences and I talk about how I got to where I am, people go ‘Oh, if he can do that, he’s kind of an idiot, I can do that.’ So I’ve got two best-sellers and people think I’m smart.”

And speaking of so called “idiots,” Bones, who wanted to feel like a rock star in his own right, has a lucrative music career with his band Bobby Bones and the Raging Idiots.

“For the first couple years, we donated all the money to charity and played small bars and middle bars and people kept coming,” explained Bones. “By the time we were wrapping it up, we raised more than two million dollars for the children’s hospital and animal charities. We signed a record deal and we put out a couple of comedy records. I had done what I set out to do. We’re playing some big festivals, but my partner and I are going to do a two man music comedy show and we have a lot of funny songs. We’re putting out a new live record of comedy music in the next month or so. So I’m really excited to have this record come out.”

A political run might also be in Bones’ future for Arkansas governor, even though he doesn’t particularly like politics.

“I grew up in an impoverished town and for me I didn’t feel like people around me or even myself was getting a fair shot compared to others,” Bones said. “I felt like just because you grew up poor doesn’t mean you should have poor resources. I thought that if I could ever get out of this and break my own cycle, I wanted to help people that were like us who were told ‘You’re probably not going to make it because people like you don’t make it.’ For me, quite frankly, I don’t care about rich people. I want to help people who feel like they don’t have a shot. I’m not going to lie, I’m not broke now, but with all my success the kid who grew up in the trailer park is still a big part of me. I feel like those are my people.”

Catch American Idol on ABC Sunday and Monday nights at 8 p.m.

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