The end of an era: Idol’s last finale

Over the past few years, we’ve had the opportunity to interview some of Idol’s best. As the iconic show comes to a close, we decided to look back on what the Idols said about the show and kicking-off a career after the finale ends.

Lee-DeWyze

24 million people saw Lee DeWyze crowned an Idol, but since then, he’s been carving his own musical path, one that led him to another runaway hit show, “The Walking Dead.”

You went from independent album releases to the biggest stage in America, to major record deals. How has your music changed?

I think mainly, the older I’m getting and the more experience I have, I feel more free. My song writing has matured over the years and it’s become more personal. I think in the beginning, you start writing songs for others and I think I’m more connected to the music I’m writing than ever before. I’m writing for myself.

When people hear the name Lee DeWyze, what do you want to come to mind?

I think I want to be known for writing lyrics that mean something. I don’t know if people would say “he’s a singer/songwriter.” Maybe they’d say “American Idol winner,” or maybe they’d say “he sang that ‘Walking Dead’ song.” There are so many stages my career has gone through. The truth is: I’m a singer/songwriter. That term is used too loosely today, but if nothing else, I want people to want to come see me live. Not only would they have a good time at the show, but they would also see the real me.

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Blake Lewis brought beat boxing into living rooms during the height of “American Idol’s” popularity. Since then, he’s been anything but a manufactured pop act. We talk with him about singing with Postmodern Jukebox and not making cookie-cutter pop music.

You’ve gone from beat boxing to 30 million people seeing you each week to making your own albums. How has your music changed and evolved?

It changes with the times. I’m a sponge when it comes to music and sound design. As a beat boxer, when I hear a drum beat, I just want to learn the pattern to be able to do it myself. I’ve always been a mimic, so when it comes to music, it’s the same way.

Postmodern Jukebox has exploded on YouTube and you’ve become a part of that. How did that collaboration come into being?

I stopped in one night when they were playing at Hyde in Hollywood. My friend Shoshana was singing with them, I walked in and it was amazing. I’ve known about them through their videos online and I actually free-styled “Summertime” with them that night. That week, we arranged “Radioactive” and then he asked me to go on tour with them. Within a week, we met, arranged two songs and the next week I was on a West Coast tour with them.

james_durbin_leAnn_mueller

James Durbin finished in fourth place on “Idol’s tenth season but he didn’t stop there. He’s released two albums, toured the country and appeared in a documentary, Different Is The New Normal, that focused on a teen’s effort to overcome Tourette syndrome.

What’s it like being out from under the “Idol” umbrella and out in the industry?

I was so ready to get off the Idol stage and show what I could do. But I picked all these songs that need me to be at a 10 for every song. If every song is matched the same, how can I show anyone any sort of variation? On this album, there are so many parts and pieces that take people out of what they are expecting.

Have your “Idol” fans stuck with you?

One of the cool things about coming from “Idol,” there’s a whole list of cool things that come from that, is that your fans are with you from the beginning. They see your journey and are able to relate to this person. By the time you get to the voting rounds, they are already die-hards. Because of that, I try to tell my fans that this isn’t one-sided. We are in this together because we came up together. We are on the journey together.

What has most surprised you about kicking off your post-“Idol” career?

I think that there’s so much opportunity. I was kind of scared about post-Idol. How many people who didn’t win or were the runner-up do you remember? I didn’t want to become a casualty of “American Idol.” Idol is hard work. A lot of hard work goes into it. It’s like a beauty pageant mixed with stage moms and a dog show, so we know how to work hard. There are a lot of ways to stay successful.

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After the finale of the sixth season of American Idol, Simon Cowell told “Good Morning America” that the title should have rightfully gone to Melinda Doolittle, the third place finisher on idol. Since then, she’s released two eps and made a name for herself as one of the most dynamic and powerful live performers around.

“Idol” ends and the tour is over. What happens next?

It’s crazy. What happens after Idol is one of the craziest things. It feels like someone took your life, threw it up in the air and you don’t really know where it’s going to fall. That’s how I felt, at least. I was approached by an independent label that had a great catalog of songs and that was my first debut record, doing soul music. We recorded the whole thing in nine days and there was no real time for me to insert myself into it. While I’m definitely proud of it, I was waiting for a chance to really be me.

During that search, I wrote a book, “Beyond Me,” and just told my stories. I needed a way to tell my stories. I started speaking, and traveling, and I put my own band together and had my own background vocalists, which was the coolest thing that has ever happened to me.

What advice have artists you used to sing for given you about taking center stage?

Gladys Knight is my favorite artist and when I met her, I asked her what she did with the music that makes the difference. She said, “Melinda, I watched you on Idol, I see what you’ve done on stage and I feel like you tell a story. I feel like you tell a story from a book. What you need to do is become the movie. Be the live action story.” I take that with me every single day.

Interviews by Ryan Brinson
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