MORGANTOWN — At 17, only four years after picking up a guitar, Cody Clayton Eagle is experiencing an opportunity that many musicians have dreamed of.
The Morgantown native received a golden ticket from “American Idol” judges Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan and will soon head out to Hollywood to compete in the ABC series. Viewers caught a glimpse of the moment during Sunday’s show.
“It was really cool,” Eagle said of the New York auditions. “I got to walk up and shake their hands and talk to them a little bit. I sang one of my original songs I’m getting ready to release. It’s called ‘I Will Sing.’ And then I sang ‘Broken Halos’ by Chris Stapleton as well.
“Lionel Richie loved it how I put ‘I Will Sing’ together. Katy Perry gave me a couple of corrections. She said to sing with a little bit more ooomph in your voice, be a little bit more confident whenever you sing. Luke Bryan said that he loved it, and I definitely look forward to meeting Luke Bryan again. He’s one of my biggest stars I have that I always listen to.”
But the path that led Eagle to the moment he said is one he “could probably never have dreamed of” began with a rocky start.
At 8, the avid athlete — who participated in cross country, football, baseball and basketball — broke his hip.
“He had 18 months of recovery,” said his father David. “No running, no jumping. He was in a wheelchair for a little while. He could swim, but that was about all. So we tried baseball card collecting, and then my wife bought him a guitar for his birthday. He played it for a little while, and then he got back to being able to move again, playing sports and kinda gave up the guitar.”
It wasn’t until a few months later, when Cody’s second hip broke that he got serious about the instrument.
What doctors first thought may have been bone cancer turned out to be slipped capital femoral epiphysis, which is a fracture through the growth plate and is the most common hip disorder in adolescence.
“He was just growing so quickly,” David said.
The second break meant no more sports. That’s when Cody’s mom discovered PopShop, a nonprofit music performance academy in Morgantown. Students develop their skills through group lessons, playing popular music styles. At the end of a session, bands perform a concert at area venues such as 123 Pleasant Street.
“Chris actually gave Cody a scholarship to come to PopShop and try it out,” said David, referring to the program’s executive director Chris Russell. “If it wouldn’t have been for Chris and PopShop, Cody would have never gotten his start, and that’s all part of God’s journey for Cody.”
The first song Cody learned, “Sweet Home Alabama,” required he play a lead guitar part and sing.
“We don’t ask that very often, even from our more established players,” Russell said. “So the fact that he came in here and did that blew us away.”
It’s also at PopShop where Cody first discovered the range of his voice.
“I think what really gets people is that I have a falsetto, along with this deep voice,” Cody said.
“His voice wasn’t there, when he first came,” Russell said. “He just kept singing. And he was able to sing with different bands, and it became more powerful and started to get bigger and bigger.”
The effort that Cody puts in is something Russell noticed right away.
“He plays a lot. He works at his craft. And that’s not something we can teach here. We encourage [students] to do stuff here and give them a little taste of some different types of music they may not experience otherwise.”
Cody first started playing Christian music, then switched to country, which remains his passion. However, he said his time at PopShop made him a more well-rounded player, as he learned about rock.
“Whenever I go play at my shows, I play rock — Guns and Roses, Three Doors Down — a lot of country music and my original music,” he said.
The teen plays at bars and restaurants in the area such as Classics, Whitetail Crossing and Rambling Root in Fairmont.
“You have to pay close attention, because he’s a big boy,” David said. “He’s 6’1 or 6’2, and he doesn’t look like he’s 17, so in the bar someone may try to buy him a drink. But he just blows the crowds away. It’s really neat to watch him grow.”
For his part, Cody said he’s never had an issue when dealing with patrons. And his experiences playing have led him to write one of two originals he’s preparing to release soon.
“It’s a breakup song called, ‘I Can’t Go Anywhere,’ ” he said. “I had an idea for it, since I play in bars. I see a lot of different things, happy people, sad people and heartbroken people.”
The other, “I Will Sing,” was inspired by his trip with his father to audition in Charleston for “American Idol.”
“My dad and I were talking and he said, ‘No matter what happens at this audition, I don’t want to see you give up your dream. The audition is not the most important thing in the world.’ So I wrote this song just to say that I will keep singing.”
It turns out Cody nailed that audition, and was sent on to Georgia, then moved on to New York.
Through his connections with “American Idol” and PopShop, Cody has assembled a lineup of seasoned musicians to perform and produce his upcoming release. Russell plays drums, and his former The Argument bandmate Scott Simons — who is a songwriter, producer and keyboard player (“X Factor,” “America’s Got Talent,” Drake Bell, Chris Rene) — is lending his talents. Amos Heller, Taylor Swift’s bassist, and guitarist Corey Congilio, who opens for Chris Stapleton, are also a part of the project, which will be available digitally in the next few weeks.
“Working with those guys is very cool, because I’ve never had any experience like that. And without ‘American Idol,’ I probably wouldn’t. So it’s been a really cool ride.”
And one that isn’t over.
Cody hasn’t been informed when exactly he’ll head to Los Angeles. But he’s busy preparing.
“I want to show people what I can do. I’m more than just a country singer. There’s more to me than just being on ‘American Idol.’ That’s why I want to release these songs, because a lot of people go on ‘American Idol,’ but they don’t have anything. I want to show people that I do.”
He’s also taken the judges advice to heart.
“They’re not trying to be mean to you,” he said. “They’re just telling you that if you sing like this, be a little bit more confident and push yourself more, you’re going to go far in the competition. I definitely listened to what they had to say and am going to put it to use. I’m going to sing a lot more powerful, and I just gotta keep working on it.”
Whatever happens, as one of 10 siblings, Cody has a big fan base cheering him on at home.
“My brother and younger sisters are very supportive,” he said. “And my mom and dad are too. They’re really encouraging, and that drives me. I couldn’t ask for a better mom and dad and brother and sisters.”
- “American Idol” airs at 8 p.m. Sundays and Mondays. To see Cody Clayton Eagle’s upcoming performances, visit facebook.com/Codyclaytoneagle/.