Local singer/songwriter gains fame with 'Best Days' 

Good money says that a majority of Graham Colton's target demographic has already heard "Best Days" by now. They might not know it, but tens of millions of television viewers tuning into "American Idol" have already been exposed.

"Best Days" is a prom-ready torch song, with little more than a guitar, soft atmospherics and Colton's warm vocals. The song is not yet as ubiquitous as Green Day's "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)" or Paula Cole's "I Don't Want to Wait" once were, but it has already buried the Oklahoma City songwriter's talent deep into the American consciousness.

Graham Colton, with John Mellencamp, perform at 8 p.m. Friday at the Ford Center, 100 W. Reno Ave. Tickets are $35-$100. Call 602-8700.


And yet Colton remained almost apologetic when he called himself a "pop singer," repeatedly insisting he is "no Wilco or Flaming Lips." He certainly doesn't carry himself with the subversive swagger of Wayne Coyne or possess the tortured temperament of Jeff Tweedy. Instead, Colton sat at Iron Starr Urban Bar-B-Q in OKC, unrecognized by the other patrons who very well might have heard his song on the radio on their way to the restaurant.

Maybe having an entire day at Frontier City named after him will help elevate his metro visibility.

"When they told me it was going to be called Graham Colton Day," he chuckled, smiling bashfully, "(I asked), 'Are you sure you want to call it that?'"

That day is Aug. 2, eight days after his Friday show at the Ford Center, opening for pop music heavyweight John Mellencamp. Colton is quick to mention that he agreed to his honorary day only after learning it was a fund-raiser for the after-school program Studio 222, which uses arts-centered education to help underprivileged, inner-city students explore their creative sides.

Colton first made a name for himself on the football field, as the Heritage Hall quarterback who led the school to the Class 2A championship, along with Wes Welker, who's now a New England Patriots receiver.

"I tried to downplay that for a long time," Colton said. "I didn't feel I could be a musician, be an Oklahoma football guy, and have those two coexist. I've since come around and realized I'm from Oklahoma, I loved playing football, I write songs and that's all part of my story."

He said his ride through the music industry started shortly after he moved to Dallas and enrolled at Southern Methodist University "for about a minute." He quickly formed a band and began releasing his music on Napster, where Counting Crows front man Adam Duritz stumbled upon him. Impressed, Duritz asked Colton to join his band on tour.

"I called my parents and told them I was going on tour with the Counting Crows, and that turned into Dave Matthews and then John Mayer, Maroon 5 and ended with Kelly Clarkson," Colton said.

To his surprise, Clarkson's core audience " comprised largely of young "American Idol" fans " readily took to the Graham Colton Band.

"It was great being able to play for Dave Matthews, then turn around and play with Kelly and have the same songs have similar effects on both audiences," he said. "Not to mention, I got to play arenas every night."

The Clarkson tour interrupted the recording of the band's debut album, "Drive," as did complications which arose from Colton's brief romance with Clarkson herself.

"Looking back, it was very summer-camp, very innocent and nice," he said. "I don't know about us being a power couple, but no regrets and looking back, I laugh about it " in a good way."

His band, which was assembled in Dallas, didn't return from the tour entirely intact, so the next album for Universal Records, "Here Right Now" turned out to be a solo album, with Colton calibrating the tone to fit his widened audience.

"I wanted to expand in my writing, try some things," he said. "After the Kelly Clarkson tour, it was eye-opening to me: This is something I want to do. I like playing arenas instead of coffeehouses. It's so much fun, and it's not like the first album wasn't pop; it was very pop."

"Here Right Now" is, as billed, straight-ahead pop, very much in line with earnest, but approachable songwriters like Jason Mraz and David Gray. The release is best defined by the peppy ballad, "Always in Love," which hints at an underlying affinity for The Cure. The album itself is rife with collaborations, with Colton galloping around the country to work with other proven musicians.

"Best Days" is the centerpiece of "Here Right Now," largely because it's the track that introduced most listeners to the disc. The cut was featured in WWE's tribute montage for American troops stationed overseas, served as an exit song on the seventh season of "American Idol," and was later featured on the TV show's Web site and official iTunes page.

Colton admitted that he'd never imagined that licensing would play such a crucial part of his career, but it has become an even more important barometer of his success than album sales. He also said that he doesn't regret any of the licensing agreements that he's signed onto yet, and doesn't foresee any kind of backlash as long as he is careful how the song is used or, more importantly, overused.

"I'm very proud 'American Idol' used my song, and I think it is really appropriate how they used my song," he said. "It's about life and moving on " not being certain to what will happen next. It's been great for me to see it used in that fashion."

Appearances on "The Tonight Show," "Late Show with David Letterman" and other talk shows followed, as well as numerous radio interviews. But the highlights, Colton said, are the bizarre places he's found himself in the course of his career, such as his work with Richard Marx on a grim track about lost love titled "Take You Back."

He even ended up crashing at the Eighties balladeer's homestead in the Chicago suburbs.

"So I'm staying at Richard Marx's house, which is like a country club. His wife was the blonde in 'Dirty Dancing,' and he lives next to Vince Vaughn, and now Richard is leaving to take his kids to school," Colton said with a laugh, as he recalled asking himself, "Damn, how did I get here?" " Charles Martin

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