It's not an easy trip from garage band to national recording artist, but "American Idol" winner Caleb Johnson is living the dream.

"I still have 'pinch me' moments all the time," says the 26-year-old from Asheville, N.C. "It's just crazy."

Johnson's soulful, Southern rock voice won the coveted "American Idol" title in 2014 during Season 13. It was his third try for the top spot (his second attempt started here in Savannah, by the way, with auditions in 2011) and it payed off big time.

"My parents came to me and said you should try it one more time. And I was like, 'I really don't know if I want to do it again,'" he says. "They said, 'You don't want to live your life and then look back and regret it â¦' I decided to give it one more shot, and the rest is history."

Johnson will headline the Savannah Jaycees Holiday Benefit Concert on Dec. 1 at The Stage on Bay. Statesboro's Dylan Marlowe starts the music at 8 p.m. For every ticket purchased, The Stage On Bay and Savannah Jaycees will donate $5 to Heads-Up Guidance Services to help make mental health and addiction recovery services available to those who need them.

Johnson's love for rock started with a "Queen's Greatest Hits" CD back in the sixth grade. But it wasn't until his friend and guitar player Josh Sawyer convinced him to perform for the talent show at Erwin High School that he finally realized he could actually sing.

"It was a packed house and you could feel the heat from the lights and just the energy, the electricity," says Johnson. "I knew from that moment that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life."

Johnson and Sawyer kept up that friendship, playing off and on for nearly a decade and, thanks in part to the notoriety from "Idol," the crowds got bigger.

"Last year we did an arena tour with Kiss and I was backstage telling him, 'Dude, can you believe this is actually happening?' I mean, we were kids in his parents' basement," says Johnson. "We both had the same dream and when those dreams start to be realized, it's like you want to see it till the end."

The pair has also opened for rock 'n' roll greats like Sammy Hagar, Joan Jett and Cheap Trick.

Johnson's new studio album, "Born from Southern Ground," is set to release this spring. The EP is already out and available at

He wrote most of the 10-song album himself and, now joined by Sawyer and newcomers Mike Ross on drums and Brennan Dugan on bass, Johnson feels the like the mix is finally right.

"These new guys are awesome and so I really see this being like the mainstay band for a long time," he says. "So, I'm really excited for this show in Savannah 'cause this will be the first show that we've done together as a unit. It's really exciting."

Johnson promises a high-energy rock 'n' roll show with everything from the new album, some from his first album "Testify" and even a few covers ranging from Led Zeppelin to the Allman Brothers to Rod Stewart.


What: Savannah Jaycees Holiday Benefit Concert with "American Idol" winner Caleb Johnson and Dylan Marlowe

When: 8 p.m. Dec. 1

Where: The Stage On Bay, 1200 W. Bay St.

Cost: $20-$30