As Phillip Phillips started performing on the recently completed 11th season of “American Idol,” his sound frequently drew comparisons to Dave Matthews.

Part of the comparison came from Phillips’ voice, which at times has a similar raspy quality to that of Matthews. The fact that both play acoustic guitar provided another level of comparison.

Some artists resist those sort of comparisons, but not Phillips, the latest winner of the musical competition/reality TV show. He has started work on his first album, which he expects to be a mixture of jazz and rock.

That pretty much describes the sound of The Dave Matthews Band. And Phillips didn’t try to dodge the comparison in a mid-July phone interview.

“It (Phillips’ album) will probably be similar like that, but not quite as funky,” he said. “I met Dave the other day, and he was a really nice guy, and I met Boyd Tinsley (Matthews’ violinist). So they’re really cool.

“It will probably be similar, but not quite as — I don’t know how to explain it — but it’s definitely different. It’s probably going to be a little bit more rock mixed with jazz, but more of the rock, probably.”

There’s still plenty of work to be done on Phillips’ debut CD, which is targeted for a November release.

“I’ve recorded about 15 songs that I’ve written,” he said. “So we’re just going through some of those, and I’m still writing a few more. But we’ll see. Sometimes they want you to work with a lot of other writers and get that experience and whatnot. I’m sure I’ll have to write with a few more people.”

And Phillips will have some considerable demands on his time for the next couple of months. He’s on the road with the “American Idol Live” tour, an arena tour featuring the top finalists that follows each season’s finale. The show comes to the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland on Saturday.

But one would be wise not to bet against Phillips finishing his CD and getting his post-“Idol” career off to the kind of big start that has been enjoyed by many of the past champions. He has already overcome a kind of challenge that no other “American Idol” finalist has faced.

In the early stages of the “Idol” process, Phillips was diagnosed with kidney stones that would require surgery. Rather than immediately undergo the operation and have to bow out of “American Idol” before the competition even began, he chose to put off surgery and try to tough his way through the season.

Still, he had to undergo eight separate surgical procedures over the past year to get through his “Idol” journey.

“It started back in last July. The first auditions were starting,” Phillips said. “And then I had a few surgeries right before Hollywood Week (which happens early in the season, before the field of contestants is thinned to 13). That’s when most of the surgeries took place, right before Hollywood Week. Then I only had a little procedure done to put in a stent during the show.”

There were a couple of times, Phillips said, when the pain almost forced him off of the show. But he not only managed to overcome his condition, his performances were so strong that from the beginning of the season, he was considered a favorite.

“It definitely was a challenge,” Phillips said. “It was tough at times, but I had some great doctors and people taking care of me.”

Not only was the native of Leesburg, Ga., determined not to let his discomfort show in his performances, he didn’t want the public to know what was happening.

“I didn’t really want it to get out, because I didn’t want people to feel sorry for me,” he said. “I just wanted to get out there and play some music.”

Shortly after beating out Jessica Sanchez on the “American Idol” finale, Phillips underwent surgery to remove the stones and repair his non-functioning kidney.

For a time, it was unclear whether Phillips would be ready for the early dates of the “American Idol Live” tour. He’s not 100 percent, but he’s recovered enough to do the tour, he said.

“I’m getting there,” he said. “I’m still taking each day by day, still taking it easy, because it still didn’t happen too long ago. I still have to hold back a little bit from doing too much, but I’m doing all right.”

It’s a good thing Phillips was ready for the tour. After all, he’s the headliner. He’s closing the show and doing five songs — and leaving room for the tour’s backing band to get in on the act.

“I’m just going out there and having fun, and I’m letting the musicians (in the band) do their own thing to the songs,” Phillips said. “I’m just having fun. I want the crowd to have fun with me.”

Alan Sculley is a freelance writer.


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