Doug Robinson: Ellee Duke: The singer who said no to 'Idol'

Published: Monday, April 28 2014 7:15 p.m. MDT

A few weeks later, "Idol" sent a camera crew to her home and interviewed her for a couple of hours in preparation for the event. She was still vacillating when travel arrangements were made for her to fly to L.A. in December to tape the show. They gave her a list of songs to learn, but she couldn’t make herself do it. It didn’t interest her.

She didn’t believe the show was the best route to a sustained career as a singer-songwriter. Some of her Nashville confidants warned her that the show would saddle her with contractual obligations that would limit her artistic freedom, impeding her ability to record and perform as she chose. She believed "Idol" was more about creating a show than developing music careers and talent.

“I wanted to work with people who wanted what was best for me and not the show,” she says. “And I wanted to be free to be the artist I want to be and sing the songs that come from me.”

She finally told her family that she was bowing out of "American Idol." “I prayed about it a lot,” she says. “I felt totally at peace with the decision.”

By then, Ellee had other promising prospects and new opportunities were opening for her. After her "Idol" tryout, she flew to Nashville for the second time and recorded 10 original songs. Tipped off by a friend, veteran songwriter Will Robinson came to the studio to listen to her recordings. Robinson, who has worked with Reba McEntire, Alabama and Disney and produced eight No. 1 hits across several genres, listened to the songs and then turned to Ellee. “Did you write all those songs?” When she said yes, he replied playfully, “I hate you!” A week later he contacted Ellee and arranged to fly to Salt Lake City, where he spent two days co-writing songs with her at her parents’ home. They have continued to collaborate via Skype.

After watching singer-songwriter Heather Morgan perform in Nashville, Ellee introduced herself and gave her a CD of original songs that she had recorded at the age of 15. Morgan, whose songs have been performed by Keith Urban, Billy Ray Cyrus, Trisha Yearwood and Tim McGraw among many others, Tweeted her the next day: “I’ve been listening to your music. I love it. I want to write with you.” Ellee went to the studio the next day and co-wrote a song with Morgan.

Through Robinson, she also has collaborated with Rob Crosby, Liz Hengber, Kellys Collins and Stephanie Bentley, who all have major song-writing credits to their names. “I’ve been blessed to meet a lot of people who have helped me,” she says.

Ellee will make her fourth trip to Nashville next month and hopes to move there next year. Her goal is to win a record contract for her music and/or a publishing deal for her original songs.

Meanwhile, she will continue to do what she has always done: Write songs and create music.

Doug Robinson's columns run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Email: drob@deseretnews.com

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