When Megan Joy drives her 7-year-old son, Ryder, to school from her Little Cottonwood Canyon home, she turns on her new song, "Boy Next Door." Ryder immediately smiles, because he thinks she wrote it about him.
She didn’t write it about him — but she wrote it for him.
The 28-year-old Utahn is now several years removed from "American Idol," where she was introduced to America as photogenic blonde from Utah with tattoos all over her right arm and a signature move that was dubbed a "twisty dance."
Joy finished in the top 10 because of her husky, bluesy, smoky voice that differentiated her from all of the sopranos and tenors of the other contestants.
She just released her second album, "Free to Fly," recorded at the Utah home she shares with her husband, Quinn Allman, guitarist for multiplatinum Utah band The Used. She never dreamed of a career in music until she saw she was drawing much-deserved attention on national TV, but she now writes and records music to give her son everything that a devoted mother wants to give to her firstborn.
That means that although music is very important, Joy never forgets her No. 1 priority. "I want to be a present mother," she said.
The new album shows a different side of the singer. "Free to Fly" shows off her pop side, which mirrors the most appealing work of respected singers such as Adele and the late Amy Winehouse, rather than the work of Britney Spears or Katy Perry. With a modernized wall-of-sound production, the record is a throwback to the lush orchestration of the 1960s, when the focus of pop music was love — as opposed to today’s subject matter of wrecking balls and gold teeth, Grey Goose and trippin’ in the bathroom.
Love is on the mind after a harrowing experience on "Idol." While Joy said she lives with no regrets, and appreciates the exposure she received, her time on the show was not pleasant. She was in the midst of a divorce, and the pain of being separated from Ryder compounded the added pressure-cooker environment of a televised reality show where someone’s dreams are shattered every week.
That’s when the drinking problem began. "I’m a sensitive being," Joy said.
She recounted the experience in early January on the website PartySober.com. Here is an excerpt:
"When I wasn’t working my a-- off on the show or making a quick visit home I would drink. I didn’t know how else to stop the pain. [I was] so high from all that I got to see and experience and still so, so low from the death of my marriage and absence of my motherhood. Once I was on tour I only got to see my son every once in a while and I was close to insanity. Any time we had a day off I was on my way to the nearest pub to drink away the pain. Drinking was a solid crutch by this time. After the tour finally ended … I was so exhausted and still heartbroken that my habit of drinking away pain continued on. I was pretty much convinced that I had no control over the habit anymore. It owned me."
Joy said she was a high-functioning alcoholic, so most people had no idea she was drinking heavily. But her mother, the one who drove her to the Salt Lake City "Idol" auditions, knew something was up, and convinced Joy that for the sake of her son, she needed to quit.
So last year, Joy quit cold turkey, and it lasted nine months. She allows herself a glass every once in a while, but alcohol no longer controls her.
Another reason for her regained happiness is her 2 ½-year marriage to Allman. The couple met when he was recruited to help write some songs with her. Although you would think a guitarist for an internationally famous rock band would be unimpressed collaborating with someone who found fame on a TV show, Allman immediately fell for her when they met in a park. "I was star-struck," he said.
Within minutes of their meeting, the guitars stopped being strummed as the two developed a rapport that quickly grew into old-fashioned love that you only see in movies … or in songs.
Allman helped Joy by mastering and mixing the songs on "Free to Fly," and now they spend every minute when Ryder isn’t around in their basement, writing and recording songs. (Joy shares custody with her first husband.)
The Used will release its sixth studio album, "Imaginary Enemy," on April 1, and the band just announced a co-headlining tour with Taking Back Sunday that will run from early March to late April. (The tour is scheduled to perform two shows in Salt Lake City at In The Venue, on March 21 and 22.)
Allman said that since meeting and marrying Joy and becoming a hands-on stepfather to Ryder, his priorities have changed.
"My perspective has changed," he said. "Megan changed my entire world, and Ryder, [too]. Nothing is more important than being here."
"Free to Fly" is the first release from Allman and Joy’s new label, Loud Meow Music. While Joy worries about Utah’s bad air like every other mother of a young child, she doesn’t plan on going anywhere any time soon. Utah is where she and her husband grew up, and where they want Ryder to grow up, surrounded by music.
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