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Ray Routhier

Portland Press Herald staff writer Ray Routhier will try anything. Once. During 20 years at the Press Herald he’s been equally attracted to stories that are unusually quirky and seemingly mundane. He’s taken rides on garbage trucks, sought out the mother of two rock stars, dug clams, raked blueberries, and spent time with the family of bedridden man who finds strength in music. Nothing too dangerous mind you, just adventurous enough to find the stories of real Mainers doing real cool things.

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Posted: August 1, 2016

Singer-songwriter Phillip Phillips, the former “American Idol” winner whose hits include “Home” and “Gone, Gone, Gone” in Portland on Sunday

Written by: Ray Routhier
Singer-songwriter Phillip Phillips, a past winner of TV's "American Idol," will perform Sunday at the Maine State Pier in Portland. Photo by Nick Walker

Singer-songwriter Phillip Phillips, a past winner of TV’s “American Idol,” will perform Sunday at the Maine State Pier in Portland. Photo by Nick Walker

Phillip Phillips was 20 years old and working at his family’s pawn shop in Georgia, when friends told him he should audition for the TV talent contest “American Idol.”

“I had never really watched it. It wasn’t my type of thing, but I’d certainly heard of it,” said Phillips, 25. “I knew that there were some incredible singers on there, and I know I’m not an incredible singer. But my friends and family said I should really go and try out.”

Phillips’ tried out and became a contestant during the 2012 season. He battled lots of other talented musicians, as well as painful kidney stones. He was hospitalized after one televised performance and thought of quitting.

“I wanted off. I told them I wanted off. I was tired and always in pain,” he said.

But Phillips stayed in the competition, and he won. Part of his prize was to record a single, “Home,” which went to No. 6 on the Billboard singles chart and helped launch his career as a singer-songwriter. After other hits, including “Gone, Gone, Gone” and “Raging Fire,” Phillips is now working on his third album and touring. On Sunday, he’ll perform on the Maine State Pier in Portland with his tour co-headliner, folk-rocker Matt Nathanson. The pop-rock duo A Great Big World will open.

Phillips’ hits have been up-tempo and rootsy, with steady beats and rolling guitar chords. His voice, at times, sounds like a younger Dave Matthews. His hits, especially “Home,” lend themselves musically and lyrically to all sorts of uses. “Home” has been used on TV shows, including “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” and commercials for Vizio, Mazda and Walmart.

The lyrics can be applied to the idea of home physically and emotionally, which is a pretty powerful thing.

“Hold on to me as we go; As we roll down this unfamiliar road; And although this wave is stringing us along; Just know you’re not alone; ‘Cause I’m going to make this place your home.”

Though his hits so far have been in the folk or Americana vein, Phillips grew up in Albany, Georgia, singing along to “every classic rock song you can think of.”

“I loved AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, bands like that, and, for guitar players, I really liked Stevie Ray Vaughan,” said Phillips, in his Georgia drawl. “I love playing all kinds of guitar – acoustic, electric, harder rock. The album I’m working on right now, a lot more of the songs will be electric.”

Phillips said another difference with his latest album is that he’s working with multiple producers, and all have different styles. One works very quickly, wanting to get things in one or two takes. The others work more slowly.

“It’s interesting to see the different styles, and it’s fun to do things differently,” he said.

Phillips didn’t start playing the guitar until he was about 14 and got lessons and encouragement from his brother-in-law. So he’d only been playing music for five or six years when “American Idol” came to Savannah, Georgia, to hold auditions.

Phillips’ medical problems during his stint on “American Idol” were caused by a congenital kidney condition that produced stones so large he could not pass them. He has since had surgery to correct the problem and allow him to pass stones, he said.

Phillips said he’s always loved seeing video clips of classic rockers, like Jimi Hendrix or Led Zeppelin, doing unpredictable things on stage. Because of that, he said, he tries to make his live shows different every night. He’ll throw in the occasional AC/DC cover when he has the time to practice it a little.

“We’re just six guys on stage trying to have a good time, jam out, do some guitar solos,” said Phillips. “And I like to get the crowd to sing along.”

Because, as Phillips can tell you, when you sing, good things happen.

PHILLIP PHILLIPS AND MATT NATHANSON

WHEN: 5 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Maine State Pier, Commercial and Franklin streets, Portland
HOW MUCH: $25.75 to $69.75
INFO: Waterfrontconcerts.com

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