Not only did "American Idol" dropout Mario Vazquez sign with the record company most closely affiliated with the show, he auditioned for the label with the same song that initially advanced him on "Idol."
"I sang [Michael Jackson's] 'Whatever Happens,' " Vazquez recalled of his audition for J Records founder and occasional "Idol" guest judge Clive Davis. "Realizing that this legend-maker has lots of interest in you is crazy. You just want to do the best you can and that's exactly what I did and fortunately enough, I got signed."
So if it's the same guy and same song, why did he quit "American Idol"? At the time, just after he was chosen as one of the 12 finalists, Vazquez would only say it was for "personal reasons," which led to speculation that he had cooked up a recording contract and wanted to distance himself from the top-rated talent contest (see "Mario Vazquez Quits 'Idol' — 'It Wasn't Right For Me' ").
Now, the 28-year-old Bronx, New York, native admits that he took several meetings and multiple offers just after he left, although he's using the same wording as before to explain himself.
"It's all personal," he said Friday. "I felt at the time the competition wasn't right for me. The show did help me a lot, especially in getting comfortable in my own skin as a performer on such big stages, and realizing the public liked what I did. It definitely boosted my confidence. But I just went with my intuition and took a risk and by taking that risk I could pursue my goals and my dreams in my way. It's all for a reason, it's funny how things work."
Vazquez said he has no regrets about his decision and considers his signing to J, home to "Idol" winners Carrie Underwood, Fantasia Barrino and Ruben Studdard, a coincidence. "[Davis] is a musicmaker, and be it through the show or by myself, he enjoyed what he saw [in me]."
Apparently. In a statement, Davis called Vazquez "a multitalented, young American-born Hispanic singer with the voice and charisma that we've been trying to find for a long time."
Mario is already working on his as-yet-untitled debut album, scheduled for a spring release.
"It's going to be a fusion of everything I've grown up with living in New York City," he said. "I love the sounds of Latin jazz, R&B, hip-hop, alternative, all that stuff. I'm a radio kid."
So far, he's co-written or worked in the studio with producers Soulshock and Karlin (Usher), the Underdogs (Fantasia) and Lester Mendez (Shakira). He's also planning to collaborate with Akon and Alicia Keys. "I just feel that vibe happening, both of us coming from New York," he said of Keys.
Vazquez, who attended New York's LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts and was a member of the City Kids Repertoire Company, said he watched the rest of "American Idol" and still talks to some of the contestants, including close friend Nadia Turner.
"I wanted to support them," he said. "They decided to go all the way with it and they're enjoying themselves."
So had he not quit, does he think he would have won?
"Friends of mine say I could have continued [all the way], but who knows?" he said. "I know I'm on a great road right now. ... I've always dreamt about this. It's surreal to know my dreams are coming true. Everything is falling into place. I feel very blessed."