As hard as “American Idol” producers tried to make stories out of contestants like Kellie Pickler and Chris Daughtry, by far the story of the fifth season came from a singer who was hardly on camera in the early half of the series. Elliott Yamin, a 27-year-old Richmond, Virginia, high school dropout who suffers from diabetes and is 90 percent deaf in his right ear, gradually became the biggest underdog in “Idol” history, overcoming his lack of performing experience and superstar looks with a genuine, soulful voice that seemed to improve week after week. Between the tears falling from his own eyes and his smiling mother in the front row, Yamin’s narrow elimination Wednesday marked one of the most emotional “Idol” shows (see ” ’American Idol’ Voters End Elliott Yamin’s Finale Hopes” ).
Q: It’s hard to imagine there was a dry eye in the room last night, or in our living rooms for that matter. Why were you so emotional and why do think your story touched so many “Idol” fans?
A: I’m emotional anyways; it kind of runs in my family’s blood. And maybe because I’m an underdog. I was the kid who came from nowhere. They know I’ve beaten a few odds here and there, and they can relate to that. It’s real. … And the fact that I was able to realize my talent and validate my artistry at the same time, it doesn’t get any better than that. And I think people respect that.
Q: What was your reaction when you heard less than 1 percent separated each of you?
A: It was so flattering to be attached to such a tight race. I had the intuition that my name would be attached to that 33.08 percent, or whatever it was, the bottom number, and I was prepared for it. So it was easy to grasp. I had made peace with that.
Q: What did you think at the time when Simon said you were potentially the best male vocalist “Idol” has ever had?
A: I was like, “Wow, I can’t believe he actually said something that awesome to me.” At the same time, a lot of people around the country, media and friends and family, failed to realize he did use that word: potential. I’m the kind of guy who’s always thinking there’s room to grow and get better, so I loved the fact that he used the word potential. That’s a good thing. I’m used to being labeled the kid with a lot of potential, and I feel like I’m reaching for that every day that I live, and I’m getting closer to it.
Q: Why do you think Paula was particularly so upset last night?
A: I think she just loves my voice and likes me as a person. She’s just a sweetheart, and she’s got a big heart like I do, which is probably why we can relate. And we’re both Jewish too. Us Jews, we kind of have a bond at birth.
Q: Simon sounded like he was saying goodbye after your third song on Tuesday. What did you think?
A: He’s sounded like he’s saying goodbye numerous times, so I’ve grown quite accustomed to that. No, Simon knows what he’s talking about and what America wants. The song I chose was a questionable choice to many. People told me off-camera I might want to reconsider my choice because it wasn’t a well-known song, but I love Donny Hathaway. … The bottom line is, it was my choice and I wouldn’t change a thing.
Q: Did you deliberately sing mainly unfamiliar songs throughout the season?
A: I did it because I can relate to being a person coming from relative obscurity myself and having overnight success from the show. I know it’s good to sing songs people know and that are modern and that people can relate to and are familiar with, but at the same time, that’s what deterred me from picking those types of songs. I wanted to give people a taste of something different, help them fall in love with different songs. And they’re just songs I enjoy singing.
Q: How do you feel about how your look changed over the season?
A: I love it. All I did was let my hair grow out, and this is actually the longest my hair has ever been.
Q: What did it mean having your mom with you through this?
A: It made a huge difference. It meant the world to me. When I came out for the Hollywood round, she was quite ill. The last vision I had was saying goodbye to her in the ICU, and she wasn’t even coherent. She never knew I was leaving to start this incredible journey. She’s been as big an inspiration to me as anyone. … She’s such a trooper. It’s great to see her like a kid again. She hasn’t been this way in, like, three years, and I think this experience has helped her confidence. She’s taking better care of herself, and now she has all these great incentives to stay healthy.
Q: You always came across as so happy. Are you really that happy?
A: Absolutely. Why not? What’s there to be upset about? This is the best thing I’ve ever done in my life, for myself and my family. I’ve had the time of my life. Why not let it show?
Q: Is Taylor as confident and relaxed as he seems on camera?
A: It’s funny. Taylor’s a really high-strung dude. He’s got a lot of energy and passion. He doesn’t seem to relax when he performs, to me. [Yamin laughs.] No, he’s been doing what he’s done his whole life, which is entertain people. It’s easy for him; he’s got a lot of experience. Same thing with Kat. Me, I definitely was more nervous. I just don’t have that kind of experience. I’ve learned a lot from them, as far as how to be onstage and how to present my performance. I’m still learning, but they’ve been great models for that aspect. I have nothing but the utmost respect for both of them. I’m great friends with Taylor. We’re going to be friends for life.
Q: And, finally, is Katharine as worried as she seems?
A: We’re all perfectionists. She’s definitely very mechanical, and that’s a good thing. I’ve taken something away from that too. She just has a godly gift. She’s going to go so far.Get your “Idol” fix on MTV News’ “American Idol” page, where you’ll find all the latest news, interviews and opinions.