‘American Idol’ Castoffs Speak: Danny Noriega Says You Should See His Other Videos; Kady Malloy Wants To Do Lunch With Britney

Asia'h Epperson insists she 'deserved to be in the top 12'; Luke Menard can fall back on his wife's 'Price Is Right' winnings.

They made it thisclose to the “American Idol” top 12 but just missed the cut . We caught up with the unlucky four to talk about the latest “Idol” scandals, tackling Whitney Houston’s vaunted catalog and surviving Simon Cowell’s biting criticism.

Danny Noriega

Some called him the next Sanjaya , while others felt his big voice belied his 18 years. But pretty much everyone can agree that the show will be a little less entertaining without his sass-filled back-and-forth with Simon. The Azusa, California, teen and his purple-streaked hair were sent packing Thursday after a performance of Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love,” and we caught up with him to talk about his controversial YouTube clip and the unique personality that got him to the top 16.

Q: Were you surprised by the reaction to your YouTube clip making the rounds online?

A: That’s something that is so, like, forever ago that I used to do. It’s almost like another person ago. That’s when I was younger. It was more like an acting thing I used to do, personalities and stuff like that. I’m actually kind of shocked that they used that one. There’s more interesting ones. [He laughs.]

Q: You’re not the only one with a pseudo-scandal: David Hernandez has also been taking some heat for his stripper past . How do you guys handle that pressure?

A: It’s just really weird. Doing something as simple as making an acting video — which I did, like, so many moons ago — something little like that, that was made for humor, gets blown up out of proportion and can be kind of shown as your character, and it’s not the kind of person that I am, you know what I mean? I just think it’s pretty sad that people will do that just to tear down somebody’s success. We’re all trying to be somebody in life right now, and we don’t understand why people would try to cut us down by doing things like that.

Q: Do you think your unique personality helped you get this far in the competition?

A: You always want to stay true to yourself. I think the other contestants were all different, but I definitely was, like, really, really different. [He laughs.] But I wasn’t trying to be different or anything, it just came naturally.

Q: Did anyone ever ask you to tone it down a bit?

A: Definitely. I got that a lot. Yeah, I didn’t really listen! [He laughs.]

Q: How do you feel about becoming a role model to young “Idol” fans?

A: I love the little fan letters that I’m getting from these little kids telling me that they admire me … for being myself and that I’ve showed them that you can be different and still be successful. … I really like to inspire those little kids that think that they can’t do anything because they’re different in ways, whether it’s sexuality or their race or anything like that. It’s fine to be yourself and be successful.

Asia’h Epperson

No “Idol” fan can forget Asia’h’s emotional first audition for the judges — just days after her dad had died — and the Joplin, Missouri, 19-year-old’s poise carried her all the way to the semifinals. Singing Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” during Wednesday’s show brought on her early exit, so we had to ask why she tackled a song by the tough-to-follow diva and how she found the strength to move forward after her dad’s death.

Q: How did you manage to get through your initial audition after your tragic loss?

A: I just think that he was with me and God was with me and my family and friends just pushed me through it. That’s what he wanted me to do. I wasn’t gonna not go forward with my dreams because of that.

Q: Were you ever worried that tackling a Whitney Houston song might bring on the inevitable comparisons to a virtually untouchable singer?

A: Of course it came to my head, but I consider myself enough of a unique artist as far as my voice and my stage performance. I didn’t think I would really be compared to [her]. It went through my head, but I didn’t second-guess myself. I went ahead and did my Whitney song, and [Simon] did compare me to Whitney: He said I was a second-rate Whitney, and I will take that any day!

Q: Were you surprised to be eliminated?

A: I was, but I wasn’t. I definitely think I deserved to be in the top 12. But at the same time, when they told me that I was [performing] first, I actually called my mom at that moment and was like, “Um, I think this is going to be my last time performing on this stage.” [She laughs.] She’s like, “No! Why?” I just said, “You know, I just feel that the order that I’m in is really going to affect the results.” I feel that because I had such an upbeat song that it wasn’t proper for me to be the very first person. I had to kind of look at it as if I was in the audience and I had just sat down, if I would want someone right up in my face right there in the beginning, saying, “I wanna dance with somebody!” I’d kind of be like, “Whoa, whoa, hold on! I just got here. Let me get warmed up first!” So that’s probably why: the lineup.

Q: What Beatles song would you have sung if you got through to next week?

A: I was gonna sing “Can’t Buy Me Love.” It was gonna be awesome. I had totally switched it up. I had taken a sample beat from [DJ] Jazzy Jeff way back in the day, so it was gonna have, like, a hip-hop/R&B-type of flavor to it. It was gonna be really, really fun and original. I was really looking forward to doing that, and I know that was gonna soar me into the next round.

Luke Menard

The Crawfordsville, Indiana, 29-year-old failed to make a good impression on the judges during his three weeks in the top 24 — yet he still managed to last three weeks! His Orlando Bloomian good looks and jaunty song choices (including this week’s performance of Wham!’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”) earned him a loyal fanbase that couldn’t quite carry him to the top 12. We chatted with the good-natured castoff about Simon’s harsh criticism and his wife’s lucky win in L.A.

Q: We heard that your wife appeared on “The Price Is Right” while she was with you out in L.A. How did she do?

A: I was at a taping of “American Idol,” it was when the girls were singing, so [my wife] wasn’t able to come to the show, so her and my sister decided to go to “Price Is Right” downstairs at CBS, and she got on! They called her up, and she was the last contestant to come up, and she won the bid to come up on the show, and she played a game and she won three big prizes! And it was a week I made it through the elimination round, so that was a good week! [He laughs.]

Q: How do the scandals, like Danny’s video and David Hernandez’s strip-club job, affect the singers?

A: I don’t think it does as much as people think on the outside. It’s something the news makes a big deal out of, and we’re so busy and concentrated and focused on the inside of “American Idol” that, personally, I wasn’t even thinking about it. I was thinking about my performance and what I can do to keep myself on the show.

Q: Simon leveled some pretty harsh criticism at you. How did you handle that?

A: Simon never gave me one compliment on camera, so I learned to really tune out his criticism. He really didn’t give me much constructive criticism, it was pretty much just degrading stuff, so I just took that with a grain of salt, and I just kind of tuned him out.

Q: Who did you get closest to during the show?

A: [Michael Johns] and I are the two oldest in the competition — we’re both 29 — and then Dave Cook and Jason Yeager, who actually got eliminated last week . … Ever since day one in Hollywood, the four of us really clicked and hung out just about every day, and we called ourselves the Four Horsemen, just kind of a fun little club name that we came up with. [He laughs.] We were super-exited when all four of us made it to the top 24.

Kady Malloy

Kady Malloy’s biggest “Idol” competition was herself — when she was impersonating Britney Spears, that is. The Houston 18-year-old made the mistake of unleashing her spot-on impression of the embattled pop star during her first audition, and her own performances — like her take on Queen’s “Who Wants to Live Forever” this week — never lived up to her imitations. Malloy told us she hopes to get in touch with Brit and revealed her other favorite impressions.

Q: Have you heard from Britney since doing your impersonation?

A: No word from Britney. You know, I’m still waiting for her to call me about lunch. [She laughs.] And we’ll have fun! I’m sure I’ll hear from her someday.

Q: Do you think she’ll be able to get her career back on track after a rocky few months?

A: I totally think that Britney can make a comeback, and I loved her album. I thought it was great. She was really successful with it, so great for her!

Q: What other impressions do you do that your friends always ask for?

A: They always want me to do Christina Aguilera and Shakira and [Rascal Flatts frontman] Gary LeVox and Cher. The most fun one for me is Britney, just because I love Britney. I’m a big fan of hers, so it’s kinda cool that I can sing like her. I entertain myself all the time with it.

Q: What did you learn from being on “American Idol”?

A: I learned to be true to yourself, and no matter what anybody says, keep your head up and keep going. Definitely I learned more about the music industry. I saw the good, the bad and the ugly.

Q: Do you have any advice for future “Idol” contestants?

A: Block the judges out while you’re performing. Don’t even think about them. In the end, they’re just three opinions.

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