The bright lights and roaring crowds of New York's Madison Square Garden are a long way from the juvenile detention centers of North Carolina where Jimmy Wayne spent parts of his youth. With a new single, a cover of the Hall & Oates classic "Sara Smile," at No. 32 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart; a new album of the same name scheduled for release Nov. 23; and a coveted opening slot on Brad Paisley's American Saturday Night tour, Wayne has finally left his turbulent past behind.
Wayne's early life could almost be the subject of a country song. He grew up in and out of foster care and was a homeless teen when he was picked up and placed in a detention center. An elderly couple took him in and helped turn his life around; he went on to college and worked as a prison guard before moving to Nashville.
After the move, Wayne auditioned for industry veteran Scott Borchetta, who then signed him to his first deal on DreamWorks Records in 2001. His self-titled debut, released in 2003, spawned the top 10 hits "I Love You This Much" and "Stay Gone" before DreamWorks closed.
Borchetta, now president/CEO of Big Machine Records and Valory Music, didn't want to let Wayne go and signed him to his new label. In 2008, Wayne released the album "Do You Believe Me Now"; the title track spent three weeks at No. 1 on Hot Country Songs.
"This Jimmy album came together so quickly," Borchetta says of the new release. "Some of these tracks were cut during the 'Do You Believe Me Now' sessions and they kept coming back to me-they were just so good. We then made the decision to cut 'Sara Smile' while Jimmy was still out with Brad Paisley, basically because his fans demanded it. Producer Dann Huff was the final catalyst and injected another level of energy into the album."
The new album was produced by three of country music's heavy hitters-Huff (Rascal Flatts, Bon Jovi, Keith Urban), Nathan Chapman (Taylor Swift) and Mark Bright (Carrie Underwood). The single was produced by Huff and features vocals from Daryl Hall and John Oates. "It's just kind of surreal to hear my voice and their voices on the same song," Wayne says.
"Sara Smile" also includes a song by John Shanks and Keith Urban called "Things I Believe." "Dann said, 'I might have to go ask Keith Urban if he would mind if we cut this song on you,' " Wayne recalls. "He said 'yes' and Dann was surprised that Keith didn't record that himself."
Among the new tunes Wayne penned for the album are "Just Knowing You Love Me," "I'll Never Leave You" and "Elephant Ears," the last of which holds special significance. "It's a combination of my own personal experience and my sister adopting a little girl and just thinking about what kids out there go through in foster homes," Wayne says. "It's a song to bring awareness that those kids need our help."
"I'll Never Leave You" is a tune Wayne wrote with Hall & Oates in mind. "I thought, 'What would I write if I were going to write a Hall & Oates song? What would it sound like?' " he says.
Wayne performed that song and others during a Nov. 2 taping of "Live From Daryl's House," an online show Hall tapes at his home. The episode will be broadcast Dec. 15 on Hall's site (livefromdarylshouse.com).
Wayne also utilizes Twitter, sending frequent messages, photos and even inviting fans to join him at a local restaurant in Nashville after an Oct. 27 Grand Ole Opry appearance. Starting Nov. 23 the label is running a contest asking fans to send a photo of themselves smiling to Wayne's Twitter account for a chance to talk to the artist. The label is also running a radio contest for fans to receive a customized version of the album that puts the winner's name in the title instead of "Sara."
Wayne has been selected as a Breaker Artist in LP33's "Music Magazine" show that airs in McDonald's locations nationwide. The episode featuring Wayne and the video for "Sara Smile" will run Nov. 30-Dec. 14.
"My goal is to be successful in this career and never have to struggle again," says Wayne, who also helps underprivileged youth. "I've found something that I really love, not something that I feel like is a job. I love it with heart and soul. I worked at it and believed with all my heart that it was going to happen."