Wade Cota's story reads like a synopsis for an award-winning musical biopic. Much like Freddie Mercury and Elton John, he had to go through hell to finally step into the spotlight. But much of his journey so far has played out on the small screen.
Local music fans may remember Cota when he started singing his songs in clubs around the Valley. But his musical career really took off when Lionel Richie, Katy Perry, and Luke Bryan brought him on as a contestant for American Idol's 17th season in 2019. That’s when he knew he was possibly meant for something more.
But he was sent home after reaching the top five. Now, a year after his moment in Hollywood, he released his debut album Big Feet, Baby Steps. He says he wants it to be a beacon of hope for people who find themselves in a tough situation.
“Everything seemed so far away, but you’ve got these big shoes to fill, and you gotta walk slow and hope things work out,” he says.
The songs highlight Cota’s painful childhood in vivid detail. His biological father brought on horrible abuse that left him, his mother, and siblings scarred. He doesn't see his debut so much as an album, but a book that tells his story. Each song flows into the next, and the listener can pick it up right where they left off.
But the album is for anyone who has been through a rough time (which is everyone right now). Perry said Cota had "one of the most unique voices" she ever heard in her life on American Idol. On Big Feet, Baby Steps, he sounds down to earth, like a soothing balm telling the listener that everything is going to be okay.
The first song on the album, “Driver’s Side,” fuses Cota’s rustic bellow with a crunchy groove, creating a beautiful picture of escape. The ballad “Stay” is dedicated to the people in Cota's life who took their own lives.
“My hope is that someone will listen to a song that helps them through a breakup or a situation that they’re in because that’s what it did for me,” he says. “If I didn't put those words on paper and put them into songs, my whole life would be different.”
Cota's visibility was raised because of his Idol run, but the only way people could hear him was if they caught one of his performances in Phoenix. Fueled by a desire to share his uplifting story with others, he took the next step and put his songs on tape. He successfully funded Big Feet, Baby Steps and the management costs through Kickstarter.
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“When I saw the money raised so fast, it gave me that pride because I felt like people really wanted to hear what I had," he says. "I put so much into it, and other people put so much trust into me to put out this album. It made one of my biggest dreams come true, and now I have a foundation to put out the next one and the next one.”
Cota’s managers had concerns about the record’s release date due to the COVID-19 pandemic, saying they could better promote it when things had settled down. Cota ignored their advice and decided to release it anyway to help those that helped him get through this time of social distancing.
“I wanted to give somebody something to listen to while they’re sitting at home doing nothing, even if it costs me money,” he says.
And if Big Feet, Baby Steps inspires someone else to tell their story, then that’s better than any biopic Hollywood could ever write.