Former “American Idol” contestant lands gig at Washougal eatery

Mac Potts delights crowds at Washougal Times

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Vancouver musician Mac Potts performs at Washougal Times on July 3.

For more than three hours on a recent Wednesday night, Mac Potts performed a variety of pop songs in front of an engaged crowd at one of Camas-Washougal’s newest eateries, Washougal Times, displaying his technical abilities as a piano player and range as a singer.

Every so often, members of the crowd shouted out names of certain tunes.

“Do you know any Disney songs?” one person asked.

“Yes I do,” Potts said before launching into a performance of “Remember Me” from the movie “Coco.”

Later, a man asked Potts if he had played “Piano Man” by Billy Joel.

“I was hoping I could get through one show without playing that one,” Potts said with a smile before starting to play the oft-requested tune.

Throughout the night, several people thanked Potts for his performance on their way out of the restaurant. Potts never failed to respond with a quick “You’re welcome.”

Potts, 27, who grew up in Kalama, Washington, and moved to Vancouver in 2012, seemed right at home in the small-town environment of Washougal Times, the restaurant that replaced longtime local favorite, Heller’s, this year.

The piano player/singer and former “American Idol” contestant has performed at the Washougal restaurant several times during the last month and most likely will play regularly on Wednesday nights going forward, Washougal Times owner Ben Jackson said.

After his performance, Potts was happy — and hungry.

“The food’s a lot better than you’d expect. That’s the cool thing,” said Potts, munching on a burger and onion rings next to his wife, Hailey, and their 10-month-old daughter, Aria. “The vibe here seems pretty friendly, kind of old-timey.”

Booking a musician of Potts’ caliber was a “no-brainer” for Jackson, who contacted Potts after talking with one of the musician’s co-workers at the restaurant last month.

“The first time I watched him play here, I thought, ‘What an incredible talent,'” Jackson said. “How lucky are we that he’s here? He’s the perfect mix for people of all ages. He really reaches everyone, whether they’re 5 or 75.”

Jackson said that customer feedback to Potts’ performances has been “nothing but positive.”

“It’s very apparent that people enjoy his music,” he said. “When we post on Facebook that Mac is coming, there’s a lot of chatter in a quick amount of time, and that has come to fruition on Wednesday nights, which were previously a little quieter. But now people are coming out to listen to Mac. Everyone that shows up is blown away with his talent.”

Overcoming obstacles

Despite being born completely blind, Potts started playing the piano at an early age.

“There’s a picture of me in diapers playing the piano,” said Potts, who works a day job as a piano tuner. “My dad played, and when my parents figured out I had a talent for it, they rolled with it. It was just something I did. They didn’t have to force it on me.”

Potts doesn’t remember when he realized he could perform music for a living, but does know that he was 11 years old when he received $20 for playing his first “gig.”

“I realized I liked doing it — it sparked joy from other people. It was like, ‘I’m happy, they’re happy,'” he said. “It was great that I was able to make money doing something people enjoy and that I enjoy.”

He found his niche as a cover artist, playing in blues festivals and concert halls across the Pacific Northwest in addition to New Orleans, Cincinnati, Washington, D.C., New York, Florida and Memphis, Tennessee, performing solo as well as with blues bands and local and national artists. For several years, he played at the Portland City Grille. Currently, Potts has a steady gig at Warehouse 23 in Vancouver.

“Because I do a little bit of everything, it’s easiest to classify me as pop,” he said. “But pop could be pop of any genre, of any time. It’s not just modern pop. It could be anything.”

Potts relishes “the stories and the memories and meeting new people.”

“I love the stories and the people I get to meet,” he said “The crazy stories – those are always good, the ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe that happened.'”

Potts, who has released three albums, has tried his luck at two reality television shows – first trying out for “The Glee Project,” an Oxygen network reality show that auditioned musicians for the chance to appear in the hit television show, “Glee” on Fox and aired in the United States in 2011 and 2012, and then taking a shot at “American Idol” more recently.

In October 2018, Potts traveled to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, to audition. He did well enough to earn a trip to California and perform in front of “American Idol” judges Katy Perry, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richey, but was eliminated before the televised portion of the competition.

“It was a lot of stress, but it was fun,” he said. “I walked away learning a lot of things, but it was way more stressful than anything I want to go through again. That was too much. I think I’m too old at this point, but if I could try again, I think I’m ready now. I know what to expect. But yeah, it was nuts.”

Jim Fischer, a Vancouver-based musician who plays with Potts at Warehouse 23, is routinely impressed with Potts’ abilities.

“It sounds like he’s three poeple playing at the same time,” Fischer said. “On the downbeat he’ll slap the bottom of his chair like a snare drum. I have a good ear, but he hears things at a much higher density that I do. And when he’s singing, he can scoop notes like Sinatra. He’s got an incredibly high range. And his facility is completely different as far as memorization.”

At the same time, Potts is able to “recognize his limitations,” Fischer said.

“Being blind, I know there’s challenges, but it’s all I know,” Potts said. “I mean, I compare it to someone having a health issue. If that’s all you know, it’s all you know. I don’t know any different.”

Musician Mac Potts shows off his flexibility and range during a July 3 performance at Washougal Times.
Musician Mac Potts shows off his flexibility and range during a July 3 performance at Washougal Times. Photo