By Taylor Griffin
For one Baylor student, validation as an artist is starting to feel like reality.
Guitar in hand, Jasper senior Savion Wright was awarded his ticket to Hollywood last week after his audition on season 13 of the hit reality singing competition “American Idol,” a dream Wright said has been a lifetime in the making.
“My whole experience so far now is completely surreal,” Wright said. “It’s been a rollercoaster ride.”
It’s a life ingrained in music from birth that has given him the leverage to exceed even his own expectations, he said.
As the son of a pastor, he grew up in a household saturated with music, often singing and playing in front of his own congregation.
“We could have started a family band,” Wright said.
Wright made a name for himself in the Waco arena soon after arriving at Baylor, playing on-campus gigs and local stages. His involvement at nearby coffeehouse Common Grounds got students and professionals alike talking.
Wes Butler, the shop’s live-event coordinator, met Wright through his frequenting the Common Grounds stage as featured artist.
Butler said Wright is known to deal out a few high fives or perhaps a little dance for the front row.
That joy and charisma, Butler said, is what keeps people on board with Wright.
“The thing that Savion has in Waco that no one else has is that he’s a performer,” Butler said. “He loves to put on a show, and he’s good at it. People like him.”
As for validation, Butler said, Wright seeks it via feedback, good and bad. Constructive criticism is key to any artist’s improvement, Wright said.
“The great thing about Savion is that after every show, he’ll come to me and ask, ‘How can we be better?’” Butler said. “He’s always focused on improving and being the best that he can be.”
Wright also took the Waco Hall stage on numerous Chapel days for praise and worship. Performing in front of so many Baylor students at once, Wright said, gave him a taste of a real on-stage experience.
“It helped me as an artist and learn how to perform in front of an audience, especially that big,” he said. “Baylor has really helped mold me and form me as an artist.”
Even through pain and hardships during his college career, Wright said he credits many of the inspirations within his songs to his life as a Bear.
“One of the hardest semesters I had at Baylor led me to write one of my most beautiful songs,” he said. “I feel like Baylor has given me a lot as an artist, and I really truly thank God for that.”
With Los Angeles on the brain following his graduation in medical humanities, Wright said his craving to audition for “Idol” began in 2005 with Carrie Underwood’s winning season. What attracted him was the idea that big city upbringing doesn’t always equal success, as Underwood came from Oklahoma roots.
“It proved to me that you can be from a small town and do it,” Wright said. “It made me realize that I can do this, and there’s a chance for me to make it because she did.”
He bided his time, he said, until he felt ready to face the judges with the right amount of creativity and passion. Performing gigs, writing new material and keeping up his fan base were only warm-ups for his impending audition. This year, he was ready.
With high hopes and a shaky hand on his guitar, Wright stepped into the room that October day in Austin to perform in front of three of the biggest names in the industry: “Idol” vets Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban and newcomer Harry Connick Jr.
He said he reveres Connick as one of the greats in his field with his swing and jazz influences. Of the judges on this season’s panel, Wright said he identifies most with Connick Jr.’s style and outlook on music, and he said he was most nervous to face him during auditions. Laughing, he said he knew if he did something wrong, Connick Jr. would absolutely cut him in half.
“I respect him so much as an artist because he knows so much about music,” Wright said. “I can’t wait to see what happens more throughout Hollywood Week.”
During his audition, he admitted to the panel it took eight years to finally muster up that perfect creative spark he wanted to show off. Those crucial years of practicing and waiting paid off; he wowed the judges with a completely original composition.
But this isn’t surprising coming from Wright. In fact, his whole image as an artist stems from his eclectic genre: a tasteful blend of alternative rock, indie, jazz and blues with a hint of reggae. Think The Police collaborates with John Mayer.
Adding to the mix, being a black musician gives his style a special twist, Wright said. Though he can sing it, R&B and soul music typically performed by black singers isn’t his forte, but it keeps his listeners intrigued.
“It’s definitely not what people expect from a black artist,” he said.
While his singing style can be attributed to a variety of artists, the same can be said of his playing methods. Coldplay’s Chris Martin influenced his desire to learn piano, and six-string legend Eric Clapton perked his interest on the guitar.
“A lot of different artists influenced me, but it’s so unexpected to people,” Wright said.
Wright said he clings to both of these instruments the most but can pick up just about anything he sees. He dabbles in instruments like the mandolin, ukulele, saxophone, bass, cello and anything else he can get his hands on, he said.
As of late, Wright’s attention has been kept by American rock band The Black Keys, even employing one of its hits, “Lonely Boy,” for one of his first auditions in front of the show’s producers prior to the panel. Keeping true to himself, he spruced it up to make it his own.
“I did it a totally different way,” Wright said. “I never do a song the same as the artist. I gave it a more bluesy acoustic feel.”
Following suit to his Wacoan fan base, Butler said the strategy for getting America sold on Wright is simple: keep it in his roots.
“I think that what is going to be key for Savion is just being himself,” he said. “He is a very joyful guy, and he gets excited about performing and this career.”
Few can attest to Wright’s musical grit more so than Plainview senior Mark Cunningham, who met Wright on the first day of move in at Penland Residence Hall their freshman year.
Cunningham said he vividly remembers knocking on the room two doors down from him after hearing the guy inside playing guitar and singing. As a musician himself, he said he brought over his new drum box, offering to join the jam session to break in the new semester.
Wright said it took around 45 minutes of playing to formally introduce themselves. Since move-in day, the two have remained buddies despite the ebb and flow of the past few years of college. After all this time, Cunningham said he can still attest to what makes Wright so unique and his definite selling point on “Idol.”
“I have no doubt that Savion’s going to go far on the show because people are going to get to see him for who he is,” he said. “Not only is he incredibly talented, but he’s just a really likeable guy, and I think America’s going to want to vote for him.”
Proclaiming him as one of the most determined people he’s ever met, Cunningham said he believes Wright’s tenacity will outshine even the stiffest competition.
“I honestly think he just has a passion for music and just wants to dedicate his life to it,” Cunningham said. “He has that self-motivation.”
Although Wright has survived only the first round, he said he wants to prove himself to both the judges and America that he’s ready to break into the business.”
“The question I’m always asking myself is, ‘Am I good enough?’ or, ‘Can I really do this as an artist?’” he said.
No matter where he ends up in the competition, Wright said his heart is set on pursuing this art form permanently.
“I just like playing music,” he said. “I know for sure it’s what I want to do for the rest of my life. I don’t want to do any other thing. Honestly, if music were a woman, I would marry it.”
Wright’s biggest goal? Winning a Grammy before age 30, but until then, he’s preparing for the Hollywood Week and constantly reminding himself of his own philosophy on music.
“Never give up on something that you can’t go one day without thinking about.”