"I think it won't really hit me until I go lay down in my bedroom at home and drop all the bags on the floor and just relax a little bit," Beckham, 24, told USA TODAY hours after his victory. "I can't wait for it to hit me, though, because I've wanted this my whole life and here I am."
Prior to his "Idol" win, life for the heavy machinery operator has been far from the glitz and glam typical of live shows for the ABC singing competition. Hailing from the small desert town of Apple Valley, California, Beckham said his victory marks a turning point in a life that hasn't always been on a positive path.
"It wasn't pretty, man," Beckham said of life pre-"Idol." "There's no way for me to really word it in a polite way. It wasn't pretty. And I was able to turn my stuff around. I didn't let those things defeat me."
Beckham has been open on the show about his past struggles with alcohol, revealing during Hollywood Week that one low point came when he decided to get behind the wheel drunk. He said he ended up unconscious on the side of the highway after a bad wreck.
Reflecting after Sunday's finale, Beckham said drugs and alcohol let him hide from problems he didn't want to face.
"Getting to a point to where you lose everything – from your girlfriend, your house that you live in together, your dogs, you lose your car, you lose your license, you almost kill yourself in a DUI wreck – you're at the end of your rope there," he said. "And you start realizing either this is what it's going to be for the rest of my life, or we can turn things around."
Beckham acknowledges he didn't turn things around on his own. He had the support of his mother, who believed in him when he didn't believe in himself. At his mother and stepfather's urging, Beckham applied for "Idol" and ended up walking into the audition room, guitar in hand, to sing for judges Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan.
"Even though I'm stubborn and I hate listening to people, I still did what they told me to do one last time, and it changed my life," he said.
Though many go on "Idol" with the goal of getting their names known in the music industry, for Beckham, the show has also been a way to hold himself accountable to keep making positive choices.
"Being on the show helped me tremendously, just getting through all those steps and finding myself and learning my limits and learning where I'm supposed to be and when to say 'no' or when one is too many," he said. "I just manned up and started facing my demons that I have inside of me and started saying, 'Hey, this is what we're going to do about this, and this is how we're going to handle it,' as opposed to running and hiding behind things."
As for the future, Beckham's plan is simple: put out more singles, release an album and, eventually, go on tour. And he's already off to an impressive start. In addition to his "Idol" win, Beckham's original song "23," in which he details his alcohol struggles, hit the top of iTunes' country music charts after its May 14 release.
"If it wasn't for music, I wouldn't be sitting here talking to you, that's for sure," he said. "I would be dead or in jail or working blue-collar for the rest of my life."
Like other "Idol" winners, Beckham hopes his victory is the first milestone in what will be a long and successful music career. But more than that, he hopes it serves as a reminder for anyone going through a dark time that it's never too late to change course.
“It really signifies that you can make a change, even when everything is as bad as it can be,” he said. “It sounds so corny, but my life literally went straight up after it went as bad as it can happen. And just with a little bit of hard work and a little bit of faith and a little bit of trust in God, it went a long way for me.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, you can call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline at 800-662-HELP (4357) any time of day or night.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'American Idol' winner Chayce Beckham reflects on near-fatal DUI crash