Last year, the decision to not eliminate any contestants during “Idol Gives Back” week was billed as the most shocking results show in “American Idol” history. Well, Michael Johns fans might beg to differ.
Although he had spent no previous time in the bottom three, the 29-year-old Aussie was given the boot after wailing Aerosmith’s “Dream On” on Tuesday. And to add to Johns’ distress, Ryan Seacrest implied that history might repeat itself with another no-elimination week — only it didn’t.
We caught up with the aspiring rocker to talk about Ryan’s cruel tease, how his professional background affected his time on the show and why Nicole Kidman got in touch with him.
Q: How were you feeling after you were eliminated?
A: I would be lying to say that I wasn’t shocked. I hadn’t been in the bottom three, and I thought definitely the last two or three weeks had been my strongest. We’re in this competition, and stuff can happen — and it did.
Q: During the results show, Ryan made you — and the rest of us — think that you might be spared for “Idol Gives Back” week. How did you feel about that twist?
A: You know, look, I get the television aspect of this competition, but yeah, it was tough, because I thought, “OK, I’m going home.” And then they did that, and I thought, “OK, wait a second, I’m not going home, and they’re having a good laugh.” And I haven’t been in the bottom three before, so I was thinking that was a possibility. But then reality set in, and Ryan gave me a look that said, “I am so sorry I had to do that.” You get it. You’re in this business, so you get it. … And after this, I’m going to make a great record, and it won’t be the last you see of me.
Q: What did the judges say to you after your final performance?
A: You know, Paula’s been — I think Paula’s been spot-on this year. It’s been kind of a weird judging year, so all the contestants kind of feel that. But Paula just grabbed me and goes, “Look, I have no doubt in my mind that I’m going to be sitting in a concert you’re doing very soon. You’re super-talented.” And Randy gave me that kind of advice, like, “Dawg, you know I can’t wait to see what you’re going to do with your career.” And the fact that Simon told me that he’s going to miss me and that I’m a good guy, you know, “You’re a good guy,” from Simon, that’s really cool.
Q: How has it been a weird judging year?
A: I’ve watched the show for about six years, and sometimes the judges just got it wrong this year. Like, I think Syesha’s performance Tuesday night [of Fantasia’s “I Believe”] was absolutely stellar, and some of the notes she hit and everything, and she got bagged for it. And Carly’s the same way. We’ve all been there. What I’ve learned from “Idol” is, you’ve got to stay true to yourself. You can’t go out there and go, “I’ve got to go out there and sing this song because it’s going to impress Simon,” you know what I mean? You can’t plan those days when the judges are going to like it.
Q: What do you think about Simon Cowell’s comments?
A: Sometimes Simon is just off the mark, to be honest. I mean, most times he’s on, and I respect his opinion a lot, but you know, he wanted me to sing that blues/soul stuff every week, and … I’m a rock/soul singer. I like to do both genres, and so I wasn’t necessarily going to pander to what the judges say every week. You have to go out there and say, “This is the kind of record I’m going to make, and this is the sound I do.” And some weeks they loved it, some weeks they didn’t. That was all.
Q: How important do you think the judges are as far as voting goes?
A: Simon’s very influential. They all are. But for me, what was more important was showing America what kind of record I’m going to make after the fact. … That was more important to me than getting the three thumbs-up at the end of the day, you know what I’m saying?
Q: What was it like to work with Dolly Parton?
A: Absolutely amazing. I even got to speak to her this morning. And she was just saying … what a fan of mine she is. And that’s just, it’s just so surreal to hear Dolly Parton saying, “I can’t wait to sing a duet with you one day.” I mean, that’s awesome.
Q: Have you heard from celebrity fans other than Dolly?
A: Yeah, I got a reach-out from Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman, saying that I was their favorite and they watched every week and just — it’s just amazing how far this reaches. Everyone from Dolly Parton to Keith Urban. It’s just amazing.
Q: You’ve been rocking an ascot during your past few performances. Do you think your fashion choices had anything to do with your elimination?
A: [Laughs.] No, I don’t think so. I mean, the ascot that killed America? It was a fun outfit, it was time to step it up a bit stylistically, and I went for it and I have no regrets.
Q: The top eight sang a pretty overtly religious song during the results show on Thursday. Was there any debate about having all the contestants sing a Christian song?
A: Religion is personal. I think there’s a big difference between spiritual and religious. But with “Idol Gives Back,” it’s a bigger picture out there. Just to be a part of something like that, it’s just magic. … You think [you’re in] this singing competition, but then Sunday night [the “Idol Gives Back” taping] happens, and it’s like, “Oh, my goodness.” It’s amazing seeing these artists giving back. I was happy to sing it.
Q: What does it mean to you that people are so shocked about your elimination?
A: Nothing has sunk in just yet, but the backlash I’ve been seeing … means a lot, and it means that I struck a nerve somewhere. And this year more than any year, I really believe, especially with this top eight, you can’t look at the person that’s your favorite and go, “Oh, he had a good week,” or, “She had a good week. I’m going to give them half of my votes and give my votes to the other one that didn’t do as well,” you know what I mean? A split vote like that happened, and unfortunately the people you thought were going to be safe went home.
Q: Did you feel any of the backlash about people not wanting a foreigner to win “American Idol”?
A: If you look at all the contestants, it’s been a pretty amazing year. It really has been “Melting-Pot Idol.” … It was really cool to see that America didn’t care about that part as much. They cared about the fact [of], “Are you a real person?” and “Can you sing?” I think that’s all that you can ask for out of this kind of competition.
Q: A lot of early “Idol” front-runners have been eliminated before their time, like Chris Daughtry and Jennifer Hudson. Do those people give you hope that an early exit isn’t the kiss of death?
A: Yeah. Look, I mean, especially this year, it’s been written in the press [that] this is the best top 12 they’ve ever had. … But if I had any season I could have been on, to be a part of this one was just really special. There was no laughing stock, there were no jokes. I think we had a lot of respect in the public eye, and that’s something I can be really proud of.
Q: How do you think your previous professional experience affected your time on “Idol”?
A: Yeah, I wasn’t sure how that would work out for me. The thing about this season is a lot of us have made records or worked with producers, and we all had something cooking, you know what I mean? And I think that’s why you’re seeing such a strong top 12. It’s really refreshing for me to be on a show that had so such talent this year, you know? … So did it help me or hurt me? I don’t know.
Q: Your farewell video showed a very goofy side of you, but you seem so serious onstage. Why didn’t we see more of that fun side?
A: When I perform, I go into it — even when we’re in dress rehearsals and stuff, I go up another notch from there. I don’t know what comes out of me. But offstage, that’s a whole different person — I’m just Michael, I have a bit of fun — but onstage is where I go to work.
Q: What song were you planning to sing for Mariah Carey week?
A: I was going to do a really cool version, a soul version, a soul/blues version of “Vision of Love.” And it was hot, too, so I’m a little bummed.
Q: What are you looking forward to on the Idols Live Tour?
A: Just getting out there. I mean, how many chances [do you get] to have 10,000-plus people at a show? That’s a pretty rare concept that we get to do this for the show. It’s an honor. I just can’t wait to get out there and rock.
Q: Do you have any advice for future contestants?
A: Absolutely. I think so highly of the show. I liked the show before as a fan, but after being through it and coming out the other side, it’s like you’re in the best hands with people who actually care about you. Just go in there and stay true to yourself, and good things can happen.
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