Chris Sligh photo

During his stint as a finalist on the sixth season of "American Idol," Chris Sligh was infamous for his snappy humor and take-no-prisoners attitude. He remains a straight shooter with the release of his debut album, "Running Back to You." He talked with Beliefnet about getting expelled from Bob Jones University, whether religion matters in the 2008 presidential election, and how doing "Idol" was simply "a means to an end."

Listen to 'Empty Me' by Chris Sligh

How do you define Christian music?

I don't know that I would define Christian music. I don't know that Christian is an adjective—it's more of a noun. So, I don't know that there is Christian music. I would say that I'm a believer. Christianity defines who I am, so, any music that comes out of me is going to be encapsulated into me singing about my beliefs and religious system.

What's your approach to addressing Christianity in music, and also being able to make secular music?

I would say probably half the record is directed more directly to the church, and the other half is just whatever I want to talk about. One of my favorite quotes is [from] C.S. Lewis where he says "We don't need Christians to talk about Christian things. We need Christians to talk about many things." I feel like that's kind of an art that's been lost over the last few. We have this delineation between Christian music and mainstream music, and I just don't know that in life that there's supposed to be a delineation between our Christian walk and our regular walk.

On your blog, you've linked to the Barack Obama "Yes, We Can" video. Do you agree with him politically?

I'm not a politician. I don't really feel like it's my place to talk a lot about politics.

I like a lot of what Barack Obama stands for. I'm in the middle of reading his second book. I read his first book and really appreciate his view on a lot of things. It seems a lot more reasonable than so many politicians nowadays, both on the right and the left. It seems like even though he would define himself as a liberal Democrat, his views are actually more moderate than just about any Republican or Democrat that I know of. He's a brilliant orator, which I think America needs at this point. I think that we need somebody that's going to be able to handle criticism and maybe wipe away some of the sins that our current president has inflicted on the world. When it comes to Bush, I think he is a great man. I think he's a man of God. [But] I think he, in his recent years, has not presented America in a light that I think America maybe should be presented in.

A lot of people use their blogs or Internet message boards to say negative things about people. Do you read negative comments about yourself? Do you think about them? Do you respond to them, or do you just try to stay out of it?

I've seen some of it. I laugh at a lot of it because most people's snappy comebacks about me have to do with my weight. I made fun of my weight before any of you did. I know I'm chubby. Who cares? It doesn't make me any less of a musician or any less of a human being. I make fun of my weight on my blog. If that's the best that they can come up with then, it's not really hurting my feelings.

I know that several female contestants from the show have complained about feeling a lot of pressure from within the show and outside the show to change their appearance or look a certain way. You even have a blog talking about your diet program. Did you want to do that for yourself or was that something you felt pressured to do?

I could care less about what everybody else thinks. I want to lose weight because I want to be around for years with my wife and hopefully my kids. I want to be healthier. I was an athlete all through college, so it's kind of frustrating to look in the mirror and not see the person that I recognize from five years ago.

Is it true that you were expelled from Bob Jones for going to a dc Talk show?

Yes. No, 4Him and FFH [two other Contemporary Christian bands]. Not dc Talk. I had seven credits left to graduate, got called up the last day of the semester, and was asked not to return to Bob Jones University. I was a little upset at first. But, I just went and finished up at a different college called North Greenville College. It was kind of a healing experience. Coming out of Bob Jones and spending the next two and a half years at a great college that understood my view of who Christ is, was really kind of interesting and very cool.

Every year as there's a new season, there are dozens more "Idol" contestants trying to get record deals and trying to become famous. How do you make yourself different from them and stand out?

I think the difference between me and every other "Idol" that I know of—I've done a lot of research on this— is that I was the first to come in and have had a successful indie career before "Idol." I sold about 35,000 records completely independently. I played 75 to 100 shows for the last four or five years straight. I traveled around for years as an artist and had actually built up a following, had developed my songwriting more than I think any other "Idol" has. I'd actually won national songwriting contests. I have always thought of myself more as a songwriter than I have as a singer.

I think that that's one of the things that will set [my album] apart. It doesn't mean that I'm going to sell millions and millions of records. In fact, I don't know that my goal is to sell millions and millions of records, although that would be nice. My goal is just simply to be successful enough that I can make a second record and then to be successful enough to make a third record and to be able to tour most of the year.

I received phone calls or e-mails from 11 labels the day that I got voted off. It's because I had cultivated relationships within the industry. The way that I viewed "American Idol" is this: It was not an end all, it was just a means to an end.

And that's the difference between me and almost every other "American Idol" competitor. I was using it for a PR tool so that I could get a record deal and put out great music and hopefully the music finds its way to the people. All "American Idol" does is put me in front of 35 million people. I never wanted to win it. I never was in it to win it. I wanted to do well enough that I could get a record deal and sell 200,000 records because with the deal that I'm in right now, 200,000 records is going to pay me more than if I'd sold two million with a major label deal.

Why did you ultimately decide to sign to this label [Brash Music]?

I actually didn't sign with a Christian label. I signed with a mainstream label that happens to do Christian music also. Our main distribution is through ADA, which is a Warner Brothers independent label distribution. I had three Christian-based labels that were fighting over me, but I just didn't feel like that that's where I wanted to be. I did want to be able to make music that would go to the church. I feel like the church is my home. I've been a worship leader my whole life. I grew up in the church, and I really felt like I wanted the church be my home base, but I wanted the option to do more things.
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