Courtesy of Adrenaline PR

Oliver Steele Talks Debut Single, Chef David Burke, & ‘American Idol’ Friendships

Jersey-born Iron Chef and restauranteur David Burke opened Drifthouse in Sea Bright back in 2018. Since then, the acclaimed culinary experience has hosted events big and small, public and private, for foodies and locals and music lovers alike. With American Idol finalist Oliver Steele headlining this Sunday, December 3, and comedian/TV personality Don Jameison hosting, not to mention a special menu curated by Burke, it’s night not to be missed.

Here’s what you need to know about rising blues rocker Oliver Steele: he’s a true original and puts his own spin on even the most well-known hits (ie: Steelifying “As It Was” by Harry Styles), his family-oriented heart shook up American Idol last year for the better, and he’s coming to the Garden State for the very first time this weekend. Get ready for the Oliver Steele takeover, everyone, because his humble spirit, gritty crooning, and eclectic arrangements will be taking him far. Catching him now at a beautiful, quaint location within an inviting community and where delectable, fresh food is offer is a gift! Before you go, though, check out our recent conversation with him.

First and foremost, you are coming here to New Jersey to play at Drifthouse in December with some great special guests. It’s also really cool location down by the beach. How excited are you to have this show coming up?

I’m very excited. You know, I’ve actually never been to New Jersey, so this will be a first time thing for me coming out there. It’s very exciting, and the musicians that I get to collaborate with are just absolutely incredible, awe-inspiring musicians: Ron Bumblefoot Thal, Mike Orlando, Marten Andersson, and Jerry Gaskill. I feel very honored to be able to work with them.

It sounds like it’s gonna be such a good night. I can’t wait for us to welcome you here in New Jersey. There’s so much musical culture that hopefully you’ll be able to experience when coming our way.

Anytime I go somewhere new, that’s something that I’m always trying to figure out: the music and what the local food is like. Honestly, I’m gonna get to get a taste of both of those things while I’m there. I mean, to be playing at Drifthouse with a chef like David Burke is a really, really cool opportunity. I’m just so excited.

To me, the local music and the local food can kind of tell you the landscape and the story of wherever you’re at, so it is a really good learning opportunity, as well.

Absolutely. Chef Burke’s location for Drifthouse is right by the beach near where a lot of Jersey music has come from. I’m thinking Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi, of course. It is going to be very cool for you as a bluesy, rock soulful artist yourself to experience that history.

Oh, yeah! There have been some absolute legends out of there, so I feel like I’m stepping into history, as well as kind of setting my own journey, my own path, with a moment to look back on. It’s nice that I get a ‘two for the price of one’ type of thing happening. I think it’s awesome.

I have to congratulate you on something else awesome, Oliver – your engagement! The way you and your partner seem to support each other, from being at shows to interacting online from what I have seen, is beautiful.

Thank you! My partner is someone that I’ve known since I was about 11 or 12 years old. We have a long history together, but we’ve only dated about four months. We had a lot of ups and downs that we went through in this life since we’ve known each other. Eventually we got to a point where we just realized that we had grown a lot, we had matured, and we were ready to try to be together. I think from the moment that we’d decided to start dating, we realized that it actually makes sense. Like, “Oh! You’re the person that I’m supposed to be with!” To be able to finally make that union official just feels very special. I feel like I have someone at my side with me and everything that I do. It’s a nice feeling.

I can imagine as an original artist that having these big life moments can really be influential on the music you make and the art you create. Is that true?

There have actually been quite a few songs that I’ve written about my partner. I haven’t released them yet, but they do exist. [My partner] has been a constant source of inspiration for me for a very long time now, so that’s definitely true.

How special! Now, with being a musician, you have really honed your craft in the Nashville area and just being in Tennessee. I’m curious – you haven’t been to New Jersey and I haven’t been to Tennessee. What about that area and it’s even richer musical culture has helped you find your sound and cultivate who you are as an artist?

I think the biggest thing about being in Nashville, Music City, is you can very quickly move to the right places if you are doing it for the right reason, and there you can find a really good sense of community. I’ve found this community that has welcomed me, but at the same time, has pushed me to be better. That’s the thing – you really wanna surround yourself with people that push you to be the best version of yourself. Surrounding yourself with people that just constantly tell you how amazing you are… while that much stroke an ego, it doesn’t do anything to make you grow as a person. The community that I’m involved with, though, these musicians that I am here with are some of the best in the world. They play with some of the most incredible people. I’m constantly inspired to do better, to push myself, and to be better when I’m around them. That is just the most wonderful thing about Nashville: the sense of community. It is just incredible.

That is quite fulfilling as an artist to have that. Fun, inspiring, and beneficial.

100%. You know, people look at the music industry as a competitive business and, sure, it is competitive, but the fact of the matter is that music is a creative outlet that was meant to bring people together. I think that Nashville is probably the number one destination in the world where musical people and creative people can come together and just make some stuff that is truly inspiring.

I love that you’re able to be part of that. I know you found a community when performing on last season of American Idol, as well, and people from the show that I have talked to over the years always say the same thing: it’s as exhilarating and nerve-wracking as it is heartwarming and connecting.

On the show, different things made me nervous for different reasons. The actual performing side of it? It didn’t really scare me, because I’ve been performing for a while now. I think there were only a few moments where I was truly nervous. One of those moments was performing an Alanis Morissette song in front of Alanis herself. That is nerve wracking because I know who she is and I know what she’s done in the industry, especially for women. Then when Ed Sheeran was on, too. Ed has been one of the biggest influences in my life and one of the four biggest influences on me in the music league. Getting to not only perform his music, but do it with Iam Tongi, my ‘little brother’ who won the show, and do it in front of Ed… that was a little bit nerve wracking, I will say. But other than that, that whole process is a rollercoaster. It has its ups and downs, it’s highs and lows, and there are moments where it becomes a little bit much, but if you keep yourself grounded and remind yourself of the community that’s around you, you’ll do fine. Because that’s what Idol ultimately provides: a community of musicians that make the process enjoyable.

Watching the show over the years, it does seem like it really fosters a good community of peers, but also very strong friendships. You and Iam have had such a pure friendship from the start and I’m glad that it came out of that. It warms my heart as a viewer and a music lover, I can’t lie.

Oh, absolutely. We all try to keep in touch – those of us that were on the show. Literally for the past two days Iam and I have been hanging out. He was in Nashville, we hung out, we did a little cooking live stream together [Laughs]. We wrote a little bit of music and got to jam. I got to see him perform last night, and just watching him take flight is just one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. I’m so proud of that guy. I gained a brother for life in him, and I just gained so many wonderful friends from that experience.

A lot of times, some of the younger kids will look at these shows like, “Maybe I’ll make it,” but the truth of the matter is, for me, these shows are an opportunity to go and meet incredible people. And not even just the performers! I’m still friends with crew members that were on Idol. I have some producers that I text with sometimes – just chatting and catching up with them, or they’re telling me what’s going on in the Idol world. It’s just a wonderful thing… it really is.

Thank you for sharing that. I love that, especially hearing that you and Iam are still a musically, personally bonded duo.

I definitely agree. We were just talking about how it’s crazy the amount of stuff that we have experienced that we both understand. Not even just with Idol, but we have very similar stories as far as how we were brought up and what our musical beginnings were like, especially regarding our fathers. Just for that alone to happen and for us to find each other like that? You can’t write that stuff. You can’t make it up. It’s incredible. It’s almost like fate.

It’s serendipitous! Timing is everything, but so is art. I want to talk to you about “Too Soon” and the release of that song. What was that experience like of putting that out and having your name out in the world and your mark on the industry on your own outside of Idol, outside of covers, outside of everything else? All in all just, “This is my song. I’m putting it out in the world. You can listen to it, hopefully enjoy it, and then follow my name and my journey beyond.”

You’re right, and getting to put that song out was a blessing. I got to record that with some incredible friends who are just incredible musicians. For a lot of people, putting out a piece of music is a dream in and of itself. Just to be able to record something and put it out regardless of what the outcome will be – what the response will be – is great. But then to have that song be put out and watch it be listened to in real time? That, for me, was the crazy part; overnight just watching “Too Soon” hit the top of the iTunes Blues and R&B Charts. Seeing my name next to SZA and The Weeknd was just a very crazy, weird experience that I never even dreamed of. Now the song is has over 400,000 streams. Almost half a million on that song alone! It has just been incredible and like a dream come true.