“My Light” started as a pop song. That is until a pair of Swedish songwriters sent a polished demo across the globe to Colton Dixon. With the help of some talented friends in Nashville, Dixon completely overhauled the track. Now, “My Light” isn’t simply another vague love song in a sea of pop hits and misses; it’s a bonafide declaration of faith.
“It was a wild journey there at first, but we made it happen,” Dixon says of the soulful single. “I just saw an opportunity to tell a really cool story with ‘My Light’ and to anchor it into what I believe and how I live. I’m so thankful the guys in Sweden were open to that.”
In mainstream genres — particularly in the pop space — retooling an existing track by way of innumerable songwriters and producers isn’t that uncommon; but in Christian music, it’s a rare occurrence. “Honestly, I don’t really love writing this way. I like being in the room as a song is conceived. The artist in me was like, ‘No, no.’ It felt like the equivalent of singing someone else’s song,” the “American Idol” alum admits. “But it wasn’t that at all. We were able to make it our own. It still feels like my song, and God was able to speak through us in the lyric and even some of the melody changes.”
This wasn’t the first time Dixon experienced such an extensive, unorthodox collaborative process that stretched him creatively. Recent smash “Build A Boat” was also birthed in a similar fashion with the same songwriting team at the helm.
Together with country superstar Gabby Barrett, Dixon opened the 2023 K-LOVE Fan Awards earlier this year with the hit single, which is currently a contender in the Song of the Year category for this year’s GMA Dove Awards. While the Fan Awards marked the first time the duo had performed “Build A Boat” with full production, they previously had the chance to debut a stripped-down version at Country Radio Seminar (CRS), an annual conference for country radio programmers. The rehearsal for the appearance was the first time the two artists had ever met in-person.
When Barrett originally recorded vocals for the duet the pair sent to radio, she and Dixon were not in the studio at the same time. In fact, after she agreed to sing on the song — one she revealed was already a mainstay on her personal playlist — Dixon reached out to her via Instagram to officially introduce himself.
“My wife and I watched her on ‘Idol’ and thought she was incredible,” Dixon shares. “I love how she carries her faith even in a country market. She does that really well.”
As for “Build A Boat,” Dixon says getting to perform it with Barrett at the Fan Awards was a true privilege. “As cool as it was to have someone like Gabby at the Fan Awards, I feel like people were just ready to sing along, and I was so humbled by that,” he remarks. “So many people have told me, ‘This has been my song for this year.’ So, in that moment, it really felt like we were standing with them, singing it with them. I’m really glad people have connected with the song. That’s what we’re after every time.”
Yet, songwriting can be a very fickle craft, as Dixon has learned. Not every song reverberates in the way you think it will. And then, other times, songs will rise to the occasion and surprise you. “Sometimes a song becomes a really personal thing, and you put it out, and you think maybe other people will connect,” he asserts. “Sometimes they do, and sometimes it’s like, ‘Maybe this one was just for me.’”
At the moment, “My Light” appears to be a song Dixon won’t be able to keep for himself much longer, although the track couldn’t be more different than its predecessor. Inspired by Psalm 119:105 (“Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.”), the piano-led, choir-assisted single is a slight sonic departure from Dixon’s finessed pop/rock aesthetic, but the message stays true to the faith he’s professed from day one. “I just think the world we live in, it’s getting darker. It doesn’t take a genius to recognize that. But the Bible says that the dark’s going to get darker, the light’s going to get lighter,” the singer/songwriter says. “So, I’m going to choose to step into the things of God and use His Word as the tool that it is to help guide me through those dark times.”
Both “My Light” and “Build A Boat” are found on Dixon’s latest EP, “Canvas” — a seven-track collection of originals all co-written by the two-time GMA Dove Award winner. “I hope ‘Canvas’ gets singled or gets some light, because it’s maybe my favorite song I’ve ever written,” he shares. “The project as a whole is my favorite.”
One of the reasons the title-cut has evolved into a personal favorite for the “Miracles” singer is because it’s the first track the seasoned artist’s ever released that he’s personally had a hand in co-producing — a process he calls “terrifying” and “so nerve-racking.”
“I’ve had so many great producers in the past,” he says, “so, I just wanted to make sure that it lived up to everything else I have out there.”
While he affirms he’s definitely interested in doing more producing in the future — even for other artists — right now, he’s most excited about the thematic elements encapsulated within the collection’s namesake. “I’m just a blank canvas. I want God to tell His story through me in any way He sees fit,” Dixon says. “I just really feel like that theme and the overarching story of hope is interwoven into these songs.”
The current canvas of Dixon’s life is painted with an array of different, yet complimentary, hues. Always working on new music, Dixon just recorded an original holiday song, “Home For Christmas” — a vibey seasonal selection in the vein of Charlie Puth, which he’ll release later this year. In the meantime, his fall is stacked with concert dates as part of a co-headline bill on “The Love & Light Tour” alongside Jordan Feliz, whom he first toured with in 2021 on a drive-in tour with Skillet.
“Jordan and I just naturally bonded through that experience and have texted back and forth for a long time. I love him, love his heart, love his music. We’ve also kind of been labeled as the hair guys in Christian music,” quips Dixon, whose blond mohawk is as legendary as Feliz’s long, curly locks. “I love that he is on the more progressive side of Christian music. He’s always pushing the bounds of where the possibilities of Christian music can go. I like to do the same with my music, so I think it’s a great fit. We’re pumped.”
When he’s not on the road with Feliz, the Murfreesboro, Tennessee, native, who’s a self-proclaimed “homebody,” will be in Nashville with his wife, Annie — a talented singer and songwriter in her own right — and their identical twin daughters, Athens and Dior.
“I love being a dad, and my wife is Wonder Woman,” he says of Annie, whom he married in 2016. “Man, she’s just amazing. The way she handles the girls, her patience level — mad respect.”
The twins recently celebrated their third birthday, and Dixon says his daughters are already showing off their own distinct personalities. “They totally live up to their names,” the father of two observes. “Athens means ‘strong and courageous,’ and she’s just ready to take on the world. She reminds me of me. She’s focused, ready to go. Dior means ‘golden,’ and she lights up the room.”
Since becoming a dad, Dixon confesses he now fully comprehends the tension other artists have admitted to feeling as they pursue their musical callings on the road, while simultaneously experiencing the heartache of having to leave their families behind. “I think God gives a grace to those of us who are called to this life, and I’m so thankful for that. I wouldn’t be able to do it otherwise,” he says, “but it’s a tricky thing balancing the road and family. It’s just made us more intentional about what I say ‘yes’ to versus what I say ‘no’ to.”
Regardless of where family life leads or what colors he chooses to add to the canvas of his life, Dixon is certain music will always be in the picture. “God is good. Never in a million years did I think I would still be here doing this 11 years later. It’s wild,” says Dixon of the professional trajectory that saw him compete alongside his sister on Season 11 of “American Idol,” place seventh before being eliminated, and then go on to sign a recording contract with a major label and tour with his musical heroes, like Third Day and TobyMac.
After getting to share his music and his faith across mainstream outlets like “The Tonight Show,” “Access Hollywood,” “The Kelly Clarkson Show” and even an invitation-only White House Correspondents Dinner, today, Dixon is more grateful than ever before for the conversations his songs spark.
“I think music is the only universal language we have. I could be playing something on piano, and regardless of what language you speak, we all feel the same thing. That’s really powerful,” he contends. “I love that God uses that. I think He designed music to be used back to the glorification of His Son, and I love doing that.”