Tens of thousands of aspiring singers try to make the "American Idol" cut each year, longing for fame, fortune and a record deal. But once the newcomers put themselves out there, they're fresh meat for gossip blogs, tabloids and prying fans.
Like Corey Clark and Antonella Barba before him, David Hernandez was thrust into the spotlight only to have his past threaten his rise to the top. Producers let the onetime male stripper stay in the competition, but just a week after his former profession was exposed, Hernandez was sent packing by the "Idol" faithful.
Was it his shaky rendition of the Beatles' "I Saw Her Standing There" that did him in, or was America not ready to idolize an ex-exotic dancer? We caught up with the Glendale, Arizona, 24-year-old to see what's next, how he handled the pressure and what it's like in the "Idol" bubble.
Q: Do you think your past strip-club job was a factor in your exit from the show?
A: I think it was based on song selection. I think America is smart enough to know by now that personal lives should not influence [an artist's] musical career. ... I did a pretty good job of blocking it all out. You probably saw on TV, you know, I watched my performance back from Tuesday night, and I was very happy with my stage presence and all that. It's just unfortunately not the best song selection in the judges' eyes, and America voted.
Q: How did you handle that pressure?
A: I think adversity is my best friend. I think it's something that inspires me. It makes me work harder. I don't have anything to say to the people that tried to bring me down or count me out. I just tell them, "Count me back in," because honestly, that's all you can do. In this industry, you have to have thick skin and know that people are going to say bad things about you, and if this is the worst thing that people are going to say about me in my career, then it's OK.
Q: Did you tell producers about your former job when you made it to Hollywood?
A: Uh-huh, absolutely. If they weren't comfortable with it, I wouldn't have been on the show. Everything is out there and open, and the media can be vicious sometimes, and thank God I have thick skin and a great family behind me.
Q: Were you surprised to be the first sent home from the top 12?
A: I was genuinely shocked. I really didn't think that I would be going home. Honestly, based on all the things the judges have said about my vocals, I thought that I would definitely be in the bottom three, [but] I didn't think I deserved to go home. Everything happened for a reason. But when I was on the show and I said, "Wow," I was genuinely like, "Wow." [Laughs.] I was definitely shocked, but I'm very happy. There's probably going to be a lot of doors opening with this one closing.
Q: A lot of people thought Kristy Lee was the one getting the boot. Why do you think you left instead?
A: The competition right now is so intense — and everybody can sing — that there's nobody who's safe right now. Vocals, they're very important, but I think at this point, song selection is very, very important for people. I can't really say why it was my time to go or why so-and-so stays.
Q: In your interview package on Tuesday night, you talked about taking a Beatles class in college. Do you think your experience this week proved how tricky it is to sing their music?
A: With the Beatles being so legendary, it's really tough to cover them, kind of like how it's tough to cover a Whitney [Houston] or a Celine [Dion] or a Luther [Vandross] song. Most people already have it set in their minds how they want the song to sound. It's hard to change it and make it your own. ... Actually, ["I Saw Her Standing There"] wasn't my first choice. My first choice was "Let It Be," but that was already taken [by Brooke White]. ... In my mind, I did the best I could and made it my own. ... The [Beatles] course was really an elective course, and just because I took the course doesn't mean I was going to sing the song any better.
Q: What did you miss most while you were on the show that you're looking forward to doing now?
A: I'm looking forward to eating pork-flavored ramen noodles and having a deep, deep breath away from the paparazzi. I'm definitely looking forward to that. I just want to go to my mom's house and lie on the couch with her cats for, like, 48 hours and watch nonsense TV.
Q: Are you a fan of reality shows besides "Idol"?
A: I'm going to stay away from reality shows for a while. [Laughs.] I've just been on one for the last eight months, and I'm just needing a break. I'm probably just going to watch reruns of "Friends." I just want to relax and take a deep breath.
Q: What did you learn about the music business from this experience?
A: I've learned that all's fair in love, war and entertainment. [Laughs.] You know what? It's been an interesting experience, and I've only begun to see the tip of the iceberg. I really believe that this is the beginning of my career, and I've been given an amazing platform. ... I have huge aspirations for myself. I've learned a lot about self-confidence and about being a great performer.
Q: Would you encourage other aspiring singers to try out for "American Idol"?
A: Absolutely. ... You have to realize that even being in the top 24, millions of people are watching you. I used to dream about having a fanbase of about 1,000 people. Now I have I don't know how many millions of people who would go out and support me and come to a concert. No matter how far you get in this competition, especially this season, I think that all the top 12 will be winners.
Q: What do you have planned next?
A: I'm going to be on "Ellen" and the "Today" show, and I'm actually going to shop around for a record deal. I'm looking for labels who are interested in me right now. I would like to have an album released in the next year, and then there are definitely other options, like Broadway. I'm definitely keeping my mind open to all that kind of stuff. I would love to do Broadway, but more importantly, on top of everything, I definitely want a record out in the next year. So that's my long-term goal. I have been singing for a while, and that's one of my passions — I mean, that is my passion.
Q: What will your first album sound like?
A: My first album is definitely going to be pop- and R&B-influenced, and I would like to collaborate with people like Alicia Keys, [producer] David Foster, and also I would like to write my own songs on the album. It's definitely going to be an eclectic kind of vibe. I'd like to put a little bit of rock and R & B in it too. That's the kind of image I want to put out there. I'm more of an R&B, grit-and-grind kind of singer.
Get your "Idol" fix on MTV News' "American Idol" page, where you'll find all the latest news, interviews and opinions. And relive six seasons of "Idol" hot messes and high notes in six minutes with our video timeline.