'Idol' Finalist Danny Gokey Signs Record Deal
Craig Dechristo

It took him a bit longer than his fellow contestants, but "American Idol" finalist Danny Gokey has landed a record deal. The 29-year-old Wisconsin native -- who finished third on the show behind Kris Allen and Adam Lambert -- has inked a recording contract with 19 Recordings and RCA Nashville, his label announced today (Sept. 2). Gokey's debut album is slated for release next year, and his first single is expected to premiere later this fall.

The deal signals a somewhat unexpected move towards country for the singer, who expressed a stronger affinity for sweeping, adult contemporary and R&B-leaning ballads during his "Idol" tenure."

"I didn't realize the 'Idol' experience would give me a musical direction, but it did," said Gokey in a statement. "There were country songs that I performed on the show, and it was the message and the feeling in those kinds of songs that helped me realize that country is where I belong."

Gokey performed well-received versions of Carrie Underwood's "Jesus Takes the Wheel" and Rascal Flatts' "What Hurts the Most" on "American Idol," and the singer became an early favorite thanks to his raspy vocals, extensive eyewear collection, and compelling backstory. His wife, Sophia, died of heart failure four weeks before his Kansas City audition.

While Allen, Lambert and fourth-place finisher Allison Iraheta locked in record deals in June, Gokey's signing took longer to finalize. He reportedly began meeting with Sony Music Nashville the following month, sparking rumors that he might take on the country genre.

"I grew up in a family where I was exposed to music from artists like Alan Jackson and Wynonna and Brooks & Dunn, and when Randy Travis was on the show and asked me if I'd ever considered country music, it was one more sign of where I knew I needed to be," said Gokey.

"We absolutely love Danny," Sony Music Nashville chairman Joe Galante told USA Today of the label group's newest artist. "We haven't had anybody like that since Ronnie Milsap or T. Graham Brown."

Gokey's deal means that for the first time, all four top contestants on one season of "American Idol" have signed with 19 Recordings.