First he lost 136 pounds. Then he found his courage.
That's how country artist Dan Evans, 22, looks at the past couple of years. After a 13-week run on NBC's "The Biggest Loser," the Frankfort native finally had the body and swagger to make a go of a music career. "My weight had been holding me back. I didn't want to put myself out there as a singer, only to be put under a microscope," he said in a call from a Chicago-to-Nashville road trip.
Evans always knew that he had the music in him. He just needed to shed the weight to create enough confidence to let that music out.
That chance came when Evans and his mom Jackie were chosen from 250,000 applicants for Season 5 of the reality series in early 2008. The road from 310 pounds to 174 pounds was a grueling one. "All foods you used to eat are just completely removed from your life. There's no Internet, no phones, no newspapers. So that show becomes your entire world," he recalled. "Your whole life is about that scale."
But once the weight came off, Evans says he was free to make things happen. The result is his first album, "Goin' All Out," which debuted at No. 7 on the country album charts in October. After signing with an independent label right after leaving "The Biggest Loser," Evans went straight to Nashville to write and record. "I'd written songs before, but I wanted to wipe the slate clean. It was so completely intimidating to write with people who'd worked with Faith Hill and Reba McEntire," he said.
But it didn't show. His producer, Jim Kimball, said, "It was Dan who led the way. I remember thinking this project had plenty of meat on the bone."
Besides the energetic country rock title track, Evans said another favorite is "Letter to My Addiction." "It's about overcoming something. Anything. Cigarettes, food, bad relationships. Just something that's holding you back," he said.
He describes the powerful tune as an anthem about how far he has come, and Kimball thinks the rest of the songs are just as meaningful. "These songs are infused with honesty," Kimball said. "From the producer's chair, that is the real measure of these songs."
Evans' mom blames herself for letting her son's weight skyrocket. Of their life in the Chicago suburbs, she said, "I was a typical mom. Soccer, basketball, guitar lessons. Fast food was a nightly thing. Her guilt got to her, until "The Biggest Loser" came into their lives. "That show was redemption for me."
Evans grew up watching Chicagoland's live country music scene. He went to the Allstate Arena to see George Strait and to Merrillville's Star Plaza Theatre to see Keith Urban. It was at that show that Evans went from thinking, "I love this," to, "I can do this." "That was my night. Watching Keith perform was amazing. And I knew then I wanted to be a country performer," he said.
But Evans didn't just wake up with music chops one day. He got a guitar in 4th grade; played at his church in Mokena; performed at the Ivy League Summer Camp in Mokena; and spent time in a music program called Masters Commission in Phoenix. Now that he has put all that passion into a music career, how will he stay healthy amid the temptations of the road? "No more Whoppers. Just rotisserie chickens from Wal-Mart."
A highly publicized weight loss and a record deal may not be enough to break through, though. Even established artists struggle. And Evans' vocals could use some polish. But he and Kimball are hopeful.
"No one really knows whose star is going to shine," Kimball said. "Everyone starts with a similar insatiable dream."