One of the people Andrew Ripp credits with launching his singing/songwriting career is ... Mike Singletary?
Yes, the Chicago Bears football legend played a key role in Ripp's success story.
It was part of a date scene for the ABC show "Bachelor in Paradise." Contestants Jesse Kovacs and Jackie Parr slow danced. The filming didn't happen until 2 a.m., because the dinner shoot ran late.
"It looked so great on TV, but it was so hot. It was 112 degrees in that cave. It was the least romantic place you could possibly think of. But it looked beautiful, and it was so fun. The people dancing weren't really into each other, so that made it an awkward experience," Ripp said. "But I saw a big spike in downloads the next day."
It begins with Ripp refinishing bathtubs in Palatine, then playing piano in Richard Marx's living room, approaching singer Ryan Cabrera and instantly selling him one of his songs that became a hit single, performing at 2 a.m. in a sweltering Mexican cave on ABC's "Bachelor in Paradise," and eventually becoming a sought-after singer/songwriter who tours with Andy Grammer, Sara Bareilles and other stars.
"There were some crazy moments, and I'm grateful for all of them," said Ripp, 34, who grew up in Palatine but now lives in Nashville.
Ripp's musical talent first surfaced while he rode in his mom's minivan and sang along to a Mariah Carey song on the radio.
Stunned by how good he sounded, his mom brought her 13-year-old son to the only person she knew who worked in music, Willow Creek Community Church's then-music director, Scott Dyer.
Ripp remembers standing in Dyer's office and awkwardly singing.
But it wasn't until years later that Ripp paid much attention to music, or how naturally it came to him.
He remembers once picking up a friend's guitar and despite never playing before, quickly teaching himself how to play Red Hot Chili Peppers' "My Friends."
He realized music was his destiny during a '90s rock concert at the Rosemont Horizon, now the Allstate Arena. Ripp can't remember which band was playing -- he thinks it was Matchbox Twenty -- when he had a light bulb moment.
"I literally pictured myself there. I was like, 'I know that I could do that, and I could do it better.' I started to believe that. And that's what started my dream," he said. "Then I started writing really bad love songs in my room by myself."
After graduating from Palatine High School, Ripp didn't know how to pursue a music career. So he worked with his dad, refurbishing bathtubs and appliances. Frustrated with his career, he called the only person he could think of who might have connections to help him: Mike Singletary.
The Ripp and Singletary families had become good friends at Willow Creek, so Ripp asked Mike if he knew anyone in the music business who could help him get started. Singletary arranged for Ripp to meet pop star Richard Marx. Days later, Ripp was playing his songs on the grand piano in Marx's living room.
Marx liked what he heard, even suggesting he and Ripp cut a demo tape together. But Marx got busy, and Ripp, anxious to get started, decided to move to L.A. and make his own luck.
"I had a crazy experience out there that doesn't happen often. It was God's provision on my life or something," he said.
That experience was at The Viper Room in West Hollywood. Ripp heard pop star Ryan Cabrera would be there to watch a band, so he showed up at the club and handed Cabrera a demo tape of songs he'd written.
"The strategy was to get it to (Cabrera) without making him feel super weird. So I just went up to him and said, 'I'm a musician, I've got these songs, they're awesome, and I'd appreciate it if you could listen to them,'" Ripp said. "(Cabrera) called me three hours later and was singing one of my songs on the phone. I went from writing songs in my bedroom to writing with a guy that was literally 'The Guy of the Moment' in L.A. All out of that one crazy night."
A few of Ripp's songs ended up on Cabrera's 2005 album, including "Shine On," from his fateful demo tape. It hit number No. 86 on Billboard's Hot 100.
Ripp's songwriting career immediately took off and he wrote and sold many songs, including some for TV shows like "American Idol" and "One Tree Hill."
Discouraged that some of his best songs were left unsold, Ripp decided to make his own albums. He named his first one "Fifty Miles to Chicago" (he acknowledges that Palatine is closer than that to Chicago, but he liked the way 50 sounded).
Ripp's stripped-down, heartfelt, soul pop was an instant hit, landing him on tours with Grammer, Bareilles, Plain White T's, Parachute, Ben Rector, LeAnn Rimes, Jon Foreman of Switchfoot and others.
He's now working on a new album -- one he hopes he can perform at the Allstate Arena one day and have a full-circle moment.
"Honestly, the dream that I had that day at the Rosemont Horizon ... it inspired me to push and keep going," he said. "I'm thankful that I have a career and a fan base, and I get to do it in a really healthy way. Because I want to have a family and friends and a community at home -- balance."
-- Jamie Sotonoff
• Dann Gire and Jamie Sotonoff are always on the lookout for people from the suburbs who are now working in showbiz. If you know of someone who'd make an interesting feature, email them at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.