LOS ANGELES — Bo Bice is in denial. The credits on his debut album, The Real Thing, due Tuesday, include Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger, former Evanescence guitarist Ben Moody, Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora. And yet Bo still refuses to call them his peers.
“People tell me that and I’m like, ’They’re not my peers,’ ” Bice said in a hotel room last weekend as he dressed for the VH1 Big in ’05 Awards. “I’m just a regular cat.”
A year ago, maybe. But these days, Bo Bice is no regular cat. As the runner-up on “American Idol,” he earned a chance to work with guys like Kroeger and top-notch producers and songwriters like Marti Frederiksen, Kara DioGuardi, Clif Magness, Max Martin and John Shanks. And while he may be humbled, he’s seizing the opportunity.
“When you’re put in the position to hang out with these guys, you wanna try to learn from them,” Bo said. “And every one of them were just so nice, man, and I was just so proud to be a part of this.”
Unlike past “Idol” winners and runner-ups, Bo’s been writing his own songs for years, but he quickly saw the advantage of working with other songwriters.
“Marti’s got that kind of Southern-rock edge, whereas Ben had a different aspect that he brought to the table, so that’s what’s so nice — it’s a flavored album,” Bo explained. “Every song doesn’t sound the same, but it doesn’t sound like it’s all over the place.”
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Bo also had a lot of conversations with his collaborators so he knew what sort of emotion to put in each song — and after the year he had, Bo certainly had a lot of emotions to exert. He started the album as he was recovering from major intestinal surgery, which sidelined him from the American Idols Live Tour (see “Bo Bice Has Emergency Surgery, Misses ’Idol’ Tour Dates” ), and midway through recording, his wife gave birth to their son.
“It’s an inspirational album just because there was so much going on with me,” he said. “I’m not a big reader, so this is my book, man, this is my book on tape. That’s all songwriters are: storytellers telling about situations.”
Bo did co-write two of the tracks, “It’s My Life” with Magness and DioGuardi, and “Valley of Angels” with Magness, who also worked on Kelly Clarkson and Clay Aiken’s albums.
Bo was playing the latter on an acoustic guitar one day when Magness overheard. “He was like, ’What is that?’ ” Bo recalled. “And I was like, ’It’s a song about angels, I wrote it like four years ago, but it needs something.”
Magness had Bo record the song on the spot and then took the recording with him for a few days. When he brought it back to Bo, the song had a choir and an organ part.
“It’s so nice for me, ’cause someone is taking something that’s precious to me and they’ve shaped it and molded it into something that’s new,” Bo said. “It’s a song that I wrote for my Aunt Pam who passed away, and it’s about a peaceful place and the [mindset] that if it’s not good right now, it’s gonna get better eventually.”
The DualDisc version of The Real Thing also includes three tracks Bo recorded with his pre-“Idol” band, Sugar Money. And if all goes well, more of his originals will come out in the future.
“There are some acoustic songs that might end up on the next album,” Bo said. “I think that’s when people will kind of get an element of what I’m about. I’m also a very folky kind of writer too, man. I write a lot of stuff like Jim Croce, James Taylor and John Prine.”
In the meantime, Bo is shooting the video for The Real Thing’s title track in January and plans to hit the road in the spring.