Hartsville’s Duffee making the most of post-‘Idol’ opportunities
By Bob Sloan
When Preston Duffee takes the outdoor stage for Hartsville’s Downtown Block Party on Aug. 18, it will be yet another checkmark on a list of dreams accomplished.
“I can remember when I was about 15 and Hartsville held an All-American Block Party to celebrate,” said the Duffee. “I watched it and thought, ‘man, it would be really cool to play on the city stage.’ So yeah, I’m really excited and looking forward to performing at the downtown block party.”
When 22-year-old Duffee looks back on how many of his dreams have been realized over the last 12 months – his appearances on American Idol, recording his first song, and then releasing his first song – he said he can hardly believe it.
“It’s been pretty amazing,” he said. “I thank God and I feel truly blessed.”
On Aug. 11, he will realize yet another dream when he takes the stage at Township Auditorium in Columbia as the opening act for country music legend Clint Black.
“They are expecting a crowd of 1,500 to 2,000, so it will be the biggest live gig I’ve played, for sure,” said Duffee.
As one can imagine, the Hartsville native has been quite busy since his audition on American Idol back in February when judge Katie Perry said she felt she was looking at “a young Luke Bryan” after he sang and played the first song he ever wrote, “Something to Write About.” It was written about the emotional turmoil he experienced after his mother committed suicide. It also has a strong faith theme, which is found in most all of Duffee’s songwriting:
“Then he told me son all you need to do
Is think of all that I’ve done for you
And how everything that you’ve been through
Has made you into the man you are now
And it dawned on me that he was right
God, I wish that I could see things through your eyesWhen I’m looking ‘round
Yeah, maybe all the hard times are something to write about.”
The song would eventually reach No. 6 on the ITunes country charts and No. 10 on the overall charts.
“It’s a song that just came from my heart about what I had gone through,” said Duffee. “It’s about how God helped me through it.”
Most of what folks saw on television was taped. Duffee auditioned for the show in New Orleans in October.
“A lot of us were there for six days, taping all the segments,” recalled Duffee. “The schedule was pretty crazy.”
He advanced to Hollywood Week, which was recorded in December. Duffee said contracted COVID-19 just before they taped the Showstoppers round.
“I was so sick,” he said. “It was the worst sick of my life. It was horrible. I was just musclin’ through it.”
While he did not make Top 26, he did turn a lot of heads and garnered a great deal of national attention.
“It’s definitely given me a launch to the next level,” said Duffee. “It’s a big checkmark on my resume. I think it proved my worthiness without having to work quite as hard to prove it.”
When asked what the most important takeaway from his experiences on Idol, Duffee said it was taking care of himself physically and to be prepared for the many demands of being an entertainer.
“You have to stay healthy and take care of yourself,” he said. “We were up at 6 a.m. in the morning, shooting videos at 7, and singing at 10. Then you were doing interview after interview, talking to Ryan Seacrest, and then singing again. It was a real grind. Some of the other contestants said ‘This ain’t for me,’ but not me. As hard as it was, I loved it. A lot of folks think it’s just showing up and performing, but there’s much more time invested than what you might think.”
Life After ‘Idol’
Since his appearance on ‘Idol,’ Duffee’s calendar has been full. He’s recorded and released several songs, including “Ain’t It Just Like You,” and “I Believe.” He recently traveled to Nashville with his band to record five new songs and plans to release one of them every two months. The first “No Way Out,” was released last Friday.
“That’s my focus right now, pushing social media with these songs, and seeing how they do,” said Duffee.
Duffee said it was a pair fundraisers, one held by his church family at Hartsville Church of God and another by Darlington County Coroner Todd Hardee, that helped fund the recording session.
“I can’t begin to thank them enough,” he said.
He’s also been playing lots of shows across the Pee Dee Region and Myrtle Beach area. Some of the shows he performs by himself and others with his band, which includes guitarists Ryan Rhodes and Niles Lewis, Tyler Tuten on drums, and Jake Parlor on bass guitar. Travis Wright will join the band on steel guitar for the Clint Black show. Wright played steel guitar on “Something to Write About.”
Duffee said he is greatly appreciative of his bandmates.
“They have a lot more experience than I have, so I trust them for advice,” he said. “They’re also a lot more musically gifted than I am.”
The band will join him at Township this weekend for the Clint Black show. Duffee said it was the management at Township that contacted him. Looking for an opening act, Township reached out to the owner of Steel Hands Brewery in Sumter to recommend a local artist.
“I played there a year or so ago,” said Duffee. “He remembered my name, threw it out there and they contacted me. It was a total God thing.”
He’s hoping the show can lead to even more opportunities.
Duffee still has not gotten used to his newfound celebrity status.
“I signed two – no, three—autographs at Sam Kendall’s the other night,” he said. “It’s kind crazy.”
What keeps Duffee humble is his faith.
“I truly believe that God honors obedience and I do my best to be as obedient as I can in whatever it may be,” he said.
Duffee said he tries very hard not to let his newfound popularity go to his head. He can think back to his very first public performances in 2019 at Wings & Ale in Hartsville when Justin Anderson invited him to come up on stage and play a couple of songs. After hearing him, the restaurant’s owners asked if he wanted to come back and perform regularly.
“I didn’t have decent equipment, so I had to take out a loan,” Duffee recalled.
And now, four years later, he’ll walk onto the College Avenue stage and perform for his hometown at the Downtown Block Party.
“It sometimes still doesn’t seem real,” he said.
As far as the near future, Duffee says he wants to spend more time with his girlfriend, Hailey Corbin, who he met earlier this year while playing at The Corner Bar in Bishopville. He’s also planning a trip to Nashville to write with who he says are “some incredibly talented folks.”
And for the distant future, only time will tell. Duffee says will continue to pursue his dreams and be very thankful for every opportunity that comes his way.
“God has been very, very good to me,” he said.
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