Former 'American Idol' hopeful Zach Thomas puts his own voice in the spotlight

The Fargo singer is celebrating the release of his debut record with a show this weekend.

Fargo's Zach Thomas celebrates his first record, "Better Off," with a release show at Fargo Brewing Co. on Friday night, Jan. 21.
Contributed / Zach Thomas

FARGO — Seven years ago Friday night, Jan. 21, Zach Thomas’ life changed when his tryout was featured on “American Idol” and people around the world saw and heard his country voice.

The Fargo singer will mark the anniversary by playing The Hall at Fargo Brewing Co. on Friday . It won’t be a national audience tuning in, but those in attendance will hear his true voice as he showcases original tunes from his debut record, “Better Off.”

“It’s like a coming together moment,” Thomas says of the record release.

He calls the album a mix of classic country and Southern rock influences. He’s already released the title track as the first single.

Seven years may seem like a long time in the music world where trends can change overnight, but the period between his splash on national TV and Friday night was necessary for him to find himself as an artist.


“Sometimes you get caught up making a living and let some of the reasons you got into music go to the back burner,” he says. “I’ve been paying my dues, crafting my sound.”

Part of that work was living in Los Angeles for a year trying to break into the music scene.

He’s looking at making some trips to Nashville in the future to make contacts in the music scene there.

Still, some of the best advice he got was during that tryout in October 2014 . The 20-year-old Thomas, then going by his birth name, Zach Johnson, traveled down to Minneapolis for an “American Idol” audition. He found himself face to face with Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr. and sang “Don’t Close Your Eyes” by Keith Whitley.

The judges were impressed, but Connick gave him some advice.

“If you don’t talk with a country accent, don’t sing with a country accent,” the jazz singer said.

Lopez asked if he'd like to try another song and Thomas served up Luke Bryan’s “Drink a Beer,” which prompted Connick to give him the Golden Ticket and advance him to the next round.

Thomas burst back into the room where his family and other hopefuls were waiting and somersaulted into their arms.


The Golden Ticket wasn’t the only thing he walked out of the audition with. Urban was due to play Sioux Falls, S.D., soon after, and Johnson convinced him they should perform together onstage. At the show, Urban invited him up and they sang Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places.” A clip of that performance aired with the tryout seven years ago.

Thomas didn’t advance past the next round. Still, the experience was worth it. Performing to the biggest crowd of his life was a thrill, but Connick’s advice was the game-changer.

“I had an idea of what country music was from the radio,” Thomas says. “Harry Connick Jr. called me out a bit and said, ‘Hey, be you.’ That’s what took me so long, to be me, to be authentic to myself.”

Thomas spent the next seven years finding his voice and being comfortable writing his own material.

“I learned to open up. Every story is unique to you, but relatable to other people. That’s the biggest thing I learned,” he says.

He’s worked with local singer Bryan Loweree, who will open the show. Loweree will join him onstage for “To Hell with the Beer.”

True to a country set, there will be beer songs and breakup songs.

“Sad songs make me happy,” Thomas says. “You try to find the biggest person in the bar and try to make them cry.”


He recalls a tough breakup a few years ago and when he showed up to work with Loweree, he told him what happened.

“We’re going to have a lot to write about,” Loweree said.

While he may be better known for playing covers, Thomas is looking forward to sharing his original songs with the crowd for a change.

“This is what a Zach Thomas show is,” he says.

If you go

What: Zach Thomas album release party
When: 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 21
Where: The Hall at Fargo Brewing Co., 610 N. University Drive
Info: Tickets for this ID-only show are $10, plus fees

For 20 years John Lamb has covered art, entertainment and lifestyle stories in the area for The Forum.
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