Bo’s real name is Harold Bice, Jr. He is called Bo because his grandmother, who was in the delivery room when he was born, said that he looked just like a little Humphrey Bogart. Apparently family members still call him Bogart, but when he reached kindergarten, he decided that Bogart wasn’t cool, and he shortened his name to Bo. Bo was born in Alabama in 1975. His parents separated before his third birthday, and he grew up poor, but says he didn’t realize they were poor because he had everything he needed. Eventually, his mother married Earle Downes, whom Bo calls Dad.
Bo’s mother, Nancy, was a singer with a gospel group which were apparently well-known regionally at one time, so Bo was exposed to singing and performing from an early age. As a child, family members would pay Bo a quarter to sing them a song. When Bo was 12, the family moved to England because of Earle’s job. Bo attended school there for a few years and was a member of a rock band. He has mentioned sneaking into a pub by the back door to do a set with the band when he was only 14 years old.
When he was 17 he returned to the United States. In the years between 17 and 28, he attended a couple of colleges, became a licensed masseur, was a member of several bands, and cut two CDs. I gather that today any musician who wants to (and has the cash) can produce a CD, just as any writer can self-publish a book if they can’t find a publisher to take it. Whether the musician ever makes back the money spent on this is another question. I gather that during these years, Bo’s life was a busy mix of day jobs, night gigs, music festivals, teaching piano and guitar lessons, and trying to break into the national rock scene. Apparently, he had reached the point of believing that it was never going to happen to him. He has stated that he had given himself a deadline: If he hadn’t made it by 30, he would quit music and get a real job.
And then one day he heard that American Idol - that cheesy TV show that he liked to watch in the beginning because they showed all the funny bad singers - had raised their top age limit to 28. Bo was 28 at the time. He called his mother and talked to her about it. Should he audition? American Idol had never really had a rocker. American Idol was more about pop. His mother bet him that he wouldn’t go. He bet her that she wouldn’t go with him and sleep on the convention hall floor for three days. So they set off together for Orlando, one of the five cities that American Idol was doing auditions in that year.
More than 100,000 people auditioned for American Idol in 2004. That is about 20,000 per city. My understanding is that the auditioners go through several layers of auditions. At any level, they are either passed on to the next level or sent home. Apparently, an auditioner will be passed on if he seems to be good OR if he is so horrible he is funny. (A poster on the American Idol message boards tells of going to the auditions with his girlfriend who made it up to the third level of the auditioning process before she realized that she was being passed onward because she was funny, and that if she continued, she was likely to appear as a laughing stock on national TV.) At the final level, they sing a song of their own choosing, unaccompanied. This final audition is done before cameras and the same judges they will face if they make it onto the TV show.
Bo sang “In a Dream” by an obscure British rock band called Badlands. None of the judges had ever heard it before, so they asked him if he would sing another song. For his second song, he sang “Whipping Post” by The Allman Brothers. All three judges enthusiastically passed him on to the Hollywood stage of the process.
During the American Idol season , he was not favored in the beginning, and indeed, about midway through the season, he was once in the bottom three contestants. However, the following week, he came back with a powerful performance of “Vehicle” by The Ides of March. He followed this up week after week with powerful, moving performances, reaching a crescendo in the next to the last week of the season when he performed the Elton John song, “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” the Rolling Stones song, “Satisfaction,” and once again performing “In a Dream”. He made American Idol history by singing “In a Dream” without accompaniment. The judges praised him for his courage and daring in singing unaccompanied, and everyone agreed that it was a powerful performance. One of the judges called that night “The Bo Show.”
The final week of American Idol , Bo’s performances were rather lackluster, and it was reported later that he had gotten food poisoning the day before the show, had spent time in the emergency room receiving intravenous fluids for dehydration, and did not rehearse. The winner of American Idol for 2005 was Carrie Underwood who had been an early favorite. Whether it was foreordained or whether Bo’s lackluster performances the last week were to blame, we will never know. However, Bo has shown no disappointment about his position as runner-up. In fact, Rolling Stone Magazine reports:
People ask me, 'What were you thinking while you stood there waiting for them to announce the winner?' says Bice. 'Please, God, don't let me win this thing.'
He says that he thinks it would be harder for people to accept him as a legitimate rocker if he had won the title.
Bo has won the hearts of his fans with his strongly felt performances, but also with his personality. He comes across as a person you would really like to know. He seems humble, friendly, funny, supportive of his friends and family, and just an all-around nice guy.
Recipe for Flavor, produced in 1999, with songs written by Bo and performed by him along with his band Sugar Money. It is available from the Sugar Money website. There are five tracks:
- Coffee Tables and Coattails
- Hold On
- Jesus is My Neighbor
- Black Water Tides
Inside Your Heaven - a CD single released on June 21, 2005. There are two tracks:
If your interest is piqued and you would like to hear Bo for yourself, various fan sites have links to MP3s and videos of all his American Idol performances. For more information see:
- The Rolling Stone article: http://www.rollingstone.com/news/story/_/id/7418300/bobice?pageid=rs.Artistcage&pageregion=triple3
- A review of Inside Your Heaven: http://www.foxesonidol.com/cgi-bin/ae.pl?mode=1&article=article1746.art&page=1
- A Bo Bice fan site which has links to many magazine articles, radio and television interviews, etc.: http://www.bicesquad.net/
- The site for Bo’s band, Sugar Money: http://www.sugarmoney.net/