Mike Parker is gearing up to take his music to the next level after introducing himself to people all over the country on national television.
A multi-talented artist, Parker grew up in Virginia, where he began singing in church. He eventually took his vocal talents to reality TV competition shows, beginning with NBC’s The Voice. While there, he made it to the knockout rounds before elimination.
After American Idol, Parker received an unexpected text from Nashville-based songwriter and producer Jimmy Robbins. The two planned on working together with Parker setting his sights on Nashville, where he now collaborates with numerous seasoned professional singer-songwriters and producers. Parker is currently working with Robbins and Mailbox Money Music on his debut project, and he’s introducing the first track from the upcoming album, with “Thinking of You.”
Parker caught up with Country Now to talk about his song, “Thinking of You” and his experience on reality competition programs like American Idol and The Voice. He also opened up about his musical plans for the future.
Read on to find out more about Mike Parker in this exclusive Q&A below.
Were you always drawn to the country music genre?
What drew me to the country realm, I think, was where I grew up. I was on a farm with 20 acres, and that’s where my country tree comes from. My first country music concert was Eric Church and Jamey Johnson. But, about eight years ago, I auditioned for The Voice. At that time, I was in the R&B realm. I was also gigging in my hometown, and I would say that half of my set list was country. But that was the extra sauce, like something different people loved. I fell in love with their reactions as I pursued R&B. Before American Idol, I was in Los Angeles for three years pursuing R&B music. It was almost a facade because I moved out there to make music, and I found myself working a lot. I never had time to work on my craft. I always felt this sense of like I was working my butt off, but I felt lazy. I think that was the position that I had put myself in. I had to get away from that. So, I moved back to Virginia. Then I auditioned for American Idol.
Tell me about your experience on American Idol after The Voice.
I had a chip on my shoulder with the show because I had already been given the opportunity of a lifetime on The Voice. But I didn’t feel like I gave it my all or showed who I was on The Voice. So, I went into Idol prepared. I felt I had an advantage over some of the other contestants just because I had seen that process before. A Lot of the competition field, they were younger. I was on the older side of the group, and I would see some of the contestants, and they took the ride a little differently. For example, Noah [Thompson], during Hollywood Week, he wanted to see his son. I remember we were waiting to do some interviews. He was expressing how he wanted to see his boy. I understood that. The only thing I could do was console him and tell him everything that I had been through. I did not want to throw myself onto him and be a mentor who talked too much. But I gave him a rundown of what I had seen and what I thought would help him. We grew close throughout the season, so that was cool.
You took the direction of a country artist on American Idol. Can you talk about that?
Approaching American Idol with country, I knew I would have to be level-headed about listening to critics because some people don’t get it yet. When people find out who I am, listen to my music, and hear my story, I think they relate to it a little more. I get a lot of comments where people are like, ‘Man. Now I love country music.’ It’s cool being in my lane because there is no traffic. I am comfortable in the space that I’m in because I get to be myself and call it country music. I’m blessed to have people like Luke Bryan and Jimmie Allen who vouch for me. They went up to bat for me during that process. I’m working my butt off, but I believe Idol has given me this reputation for having a good work ethic. Currently, I am having fun learning about country music and its history. I probably go to the Country Music Hall of Fame each month to step into that space. I feel like it helps me in my writing and recording sessions.
You had an emotional journey on American Idol, having spoken about your mother’s illness. Was it difficult to be in that vulnerable space?
When we found out she got diagnosed, it was one week before I had to fly out for my initial audition. It’s a little blurry. I don’t remember a lot visually. I do remember the headspace I was in with singing and practicing and stuff like that. It was just gray, and the reason being is because I was in a world that I had never been in before. I was scared. My mom’s numbers were very high. We started to see the symptoms. We saw her health deteriorate, and my brother and I were trying to figure out what it could be. My brother was on Google and was like, ‘Man. Mom might have Leukemia.’ So, it was scary. But Idol was helpful and had my back. They made sure I was okay. I’m glad I had that to lean on while being so far away from my mom, knowing she wanted me to do this. My other brother was also at the hospital staying with mom, and I praise God that we have a good family support system, where if something like this does happen, there’s always someone around. Her health is improving now. I feel like my run on the show kept her at a happy and healthy level. She was very invested in my time on the show. I was doing it for her and the strength of our family. My mom has since moved to Florida to be closer to her grandbabies. And the sun is treating her well down there. Her Leukemia levels are normal, which is amazing. It’s by the Grace of God that she is here with us.
Do you still communicate with the peers you worked with on American Idol?
We DM each other all of the time. We still keep in contact to say Happy Birthday. We let each other know if we have new music coming and stuff like that. I know many of them are doing their thing and killing it on the road. After CMA Fest, I buckled down because I couldn’t live off the American Idol show.
You’re out with your new track, “Thinking of You.” What led to you putting out this single?
So, Jimmy Robbins and Heather Morgan, we got together, and it was my second official write in Nashville. I met Jimmy during Idol. He was hired to do the country tracks for the original song. So in the Top 10 on Idol, you start meeting these people, and they start pitching songs to you if you’re not a songwriter. He was going to produce one of the songs I had picked if I had made it to the Top 7, which I didn’t. After I got kicked off the show, I went home. Then I got a text from Jimmy. He said, ‘Man. I want to work with you. I think we can make magic.’ I felt like I had won the show when he sent me that message. It was a sense of hope for my future. Once you get off the show, you start to see just how much the show means to your fanbase and viewers. You realize you have to work to keep that and stay relevant. So the fact that he saw that light in me was everything I needed. We started writing every single week when I came to Nashville. I was also working with a few other buddies I knew who were songwriters and producers. And we were chasing the songs and the music. Jimmy put me in a room with many talented people and writers. I am learning so much about myself as a songwriter. It’s amazing.
What inspired “Thinking of You”?
So I wrote this song with Jimmy and Heather. We wrote two songs in about three hours that day. We had a good session that day. This is the first of many tracks, which will come from Jimmy’s record label, Mailbox Money Music. That’s who I am with now. The last time I was in Florida, I told my mom I wasn’t going to come back until I had my record deal. Now, I can finally go back and see her.
“Thinking of You” features spiritually-driven lyrics. Is that a direction you plan on going musically in the future?
No. Not necessarily, at least not right now. I am very faith-based, and I think it makes it easier for people to see my truth. I grew up in the church. And that makes it easier to express who I am and to tell my story when I talk about myself and my faith. Again, I think it’s cool because I have my lane. I am not interested in the Christian music industry, but I have a lot of people I look up to in the Christian and Gospel communities. I think about those buddies and how they have led me to be a fisherman in country music. I have friends who are very passionate about singing about your faith and talking about it. So it’s a cool mix.
Can fans expect an album from you soon?
Yes, mam. So we are going to drop a track every six weeks. After we get to about four or five songs, we will put out an album. I am in a very blessed position to work with people at Jimmy’s level. With his track record and discography, he is top-of-the-line. I wake up every morning so thankful that Idol gave me a platform to meet him. People dream of working with people at his level. And it is building my musical identity. It’s crazy, man. The work ethic that he and his wife surround themselves with – and they thrive in that – makes me a better person. It makes me wake up in the morning, get to work, and feel like this is a cool and unique town.
What three goals do you want to accomplish for the rest of 2023?
One of my goals is to sign with a major label. I think we can do that this year. A second goal of mine is to be able to be self-sufficient on the guitar. I am learning on the guitar every single day. I am practicing. Every time I pick up the guitar, it gets a little easier. A third goal is to become a better songwriter. It’s a newfound bug that I have. I think it’s important to cut tracks other people write, but I realize you’ve got to do it yourself. You have to learn who you are as a songwriter before you can work with other songwriters because you have to figure out what quality of the write you can add to the table.
What do you want fans to take away from your music?
At the end of the day, I want people to be proud of my music and my story.
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