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Idol' Winner Lee DeWyze's Secret Influences

Illinois native on Sufjan Stevens and Marilyn Manson, plus Crystal Bowersox talks up her metal muse

June 2, 2010 6:05 PM ET

With an all-star list of producers and songwriters opening their door to Lee DeWyze since his improbable American Idol victory, the low-key Chicago rocker surprised Rolling Stone when he told us that one of the artists he most wants to collaborate with is Sufjan Stevens, who like DeWyze hails from Illinois. As the new AI champ tells RS, Stevens' 2005 disc Illinois — part-Land of Lincoln travelogue, part-historical concept album and all-around impressive LP — provided endless inspiration when he first heard it a couple years ago.

"I heard of Stevens through friends and I was like, 'Man, I'd really like to check it out,' and I listened to it and I was just in love with the music. I love that kind of stuff, that deep, earthy, lyric, folk feel is just really, really cool," DeWyze says. "I don't shy away from anything. I sing rock sometimes, but sometimes I can break it down and I like it to have a quieter feel, a more intimate feeling to it. I've been listening to him for a long time now. I'm a big fan."

The American Idol Rollercoaster: Checking in on the show's biggest winners and losers.

DeWyze's first post-Idol single is a cover of U2's "Beautiful Day," an appropriately ambitious choice considering DeWyze hopes his brand of music reaches the same peaks as arena-filling rockers like Dave Matthews Bands, Kings of Leon and Ben Harper. "I listened to a lot of Ben Harper before I came on the show. I remember I listened to that on the flight out here," DeWyze says. "I love Rage Against the Machine, Counting Crows. I really do like all types of music, and I think that's why the show kind of worked for me a little bit. It was a lot of different genres, and I can get into all that." Though Bono didn't reach out personally to give DeWyze the thumbs up, Lee says the U2 frontman approved the selection. "They had a huge part in allowing me to do that, so thanks to them."

Runner-up Crystal Bowersox revealed to RS that her first taste of rock & roll came in the form of a Pearl Jam cassette tape given to her at the age of six. "I love it, though I didn't listen to it for a long time because I didn't know who Pearl Jam was when I was six," Bowersox admits. Despite being tailor-made to sing the blues, Bowersox says her musical influences go well beyond — and somewhat louder — than that. "Type O Negative is one of my favorite bands. It's something people probably don't guess abou me," Bowersox says. "I like old punk, classic rock, country, blues, rock, R&B. I mean, there's really no limit."

DeWyze took some Idol fans aback when they discovered he'd stripped down Marilyn Manson's "Beautiful People" into an acoustic tune years before he entered the competition. "You'd be surprised at how many people have come up to me that never listened to it like, 'You know I really like that song, was that yours?' I think it's got a cool melody, a cool hook, everything is cool."

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Song Stories

“Try a Little Tenderness”

Otis Redding | 1966

This pop standard had been previously recorded by dozens of artists, including by Bing Crosby 33 years before Otis Redding, who usually wrote his own songs, cut it. It was actually Sam Cooke’s 1964 take, which Redding’s manager played for Otis, that inspired the initially reluctant singer to take on the song. Isaac Hayes, then working as Stax Records’ in-house producer, handled the arrangement, and Booker T. and the MG’s were the backing band. Redding’s soulful version begins quite slowly and tenderly itself before mounting into a rousing, almost religious “You’ve gotta hold her, squeeze her …” climax. “I did that damn song you told me to do,” Redding told his manager. “It’s a brand new song now.”

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