Carly Smithson had a lot of things working against her going into the "American Idol" top 12. There was the negative buzz about her previous professional experience, her somehow-offensive menagerie of tattoos and her Simon-panned fashion choices.
On the plus side? Her unequivocally powerful pipes, which took her all the way to the top six before her unexpected ouster Thursday night. The Irish barmaid ripped through a booming version of "Superstar" during Andrew Lloyd Webber night, but fans scrambled to the phones to save Brooke White from botched lyrics and Jason Castro from a botched song choice, hanging Carly out to dry.
We caught up with the eternally upbeat castoff to see how she handled Simon's extra-tough critiques and to find out more about one certain tattoo.
Q: What were you thinking when you were in the bottom two and then got sent home?
A: I think at this stage, we're in the top six, and I feel that everybody was kind of thinking they were going home. Not one person feels safe anymore. We're all just so grateful for the experience. I feel like "American Idol" has given me such a gift, such a platform to be able to launch myself off of. ... I'm actually not that sad to be leaving. I enjoyed every minute thoroughly, but we're back in two weeks to start preparing for the tour and the finale, so it's like a small break and I'm gonna be back. I think anywhere after top 10 is just a bonus. I think I made enough of an impact to be able to reach a good fanbase. Now I just get to be me without a theme night and make a really cool record, so I'm excited.
Q: Were you bummed to be eliminated after one of your best performances?
A: I loved every minute of [singing "Superstar"], I really did. I had fun. I think maybe it was too late. I realize not to take everything so seriously. Early on in the show, they had set the standard so high for me, and they were a lot harder on me than other contestants. And I think it kind of got to me for maybe a few weeks. By the time I met Mariah Carey, I had kind of changed my mind. She was just so cool and so normal and so nice. Obviously, we come into this and they want us to be a star, but I come from a bar, and I have no idea what a star really is supposed to act like. ... When we met her, I was just like, "You know, I can just be normal, and that's cool."
Q: Why did you stop singing for a while after having a record deal at age 15?
A: I had worked really hard to try and break the music industry, and I just wanted to kind of get away from it and love it again, because it started to kind of become something that was so out of my reach for so long. It started to become something that was — not negative to me, but I needed to leave it to love it more. It had just been such a struggle and an effort. ... I started singing at the bar [where I was working]. I just started to want it so bad again. Music, to me, is just everything. Whether I'm singing in my living room or on a stage like "Idol," I love every minute of it.
Q: A lot of recent castoffs have called "American Idol" their second chance, after failed attempts to make it in the music business. Is that how you viewed the show?
A: I'm not sure that I even had a first chance. I did get signed before, but it just never really happened. [My album] went to stores, but it was never promoted. It just kind of crashed beneath my feet. The record label imploded. ... I understand ["Idol"] was a second experience, but it feels like it was my first chance. I like to see it in a fresh mind. I like to not dwell on things that had happened before and just like to see this as the first real experience that I really had. I learned so much more with this and had so much more of a positive experience than I had ever had in the past.
Q: What did you think of Randy's comment about the competition being a popularity contest?
A: I agree a little bit. I think that I kinda started out on the show with some bad press. I don't think it really helped me that much. [Laughs.] Early on, people accumulate their fanbase. Every week, I gave as good as I could. I enjoyed every moment on the show. Everything was just so amazing, the response that I had, [but] women vote for this show, and they vote for the boys. The boys are adorable, and I definitely feel that the girls had more of a struggle this year with trying to get the popularity vote. I think the boys are definitely charming the females a lot. And they're very talented too — everyone's very talented — but I think it was definitely a bit of a struggle for the ladies.
Q: How do you think Brooke and Syesha will fare as the final female contestants in the competition now that you're gone?
A: I was like [the] camp counselor. I was always there drying everyone's eyes, saying, "You've gotta pull yourself together! It's your moment!" But I honestly don't know. I think they're so different from each other as artists. Syesha's got the whole R&B thing going on, and she's got this huge voice. And Brooke always says that she's not got that huge voice, but I just think there's something so special about her that she just stops you dead in your tracks when she opens her mouth. They're so amazingly different from each other and so amazing in themselves. I'll still be there on the phone. I'll always be "mom." This entire show, I've looked after everybody. We're only a phone call away.
Q: How did you survive the extra pressure from the judges, particularly Simon?
A: It's like [Simon] set this high bar for me straight away. And I was trying to beat myself every week, to be better and better and better. I felt that I did a great job. I gave it everything I had, and I was satisfied for myself with my performances. I guess Simon just had a different idea in his mind, and I'm not sure he really wanted me to be who I am. I don't think they liked the whole pop/rock, Heart idea that I have about myself. I can't please everybody, and he's only one person. And he said to me the other night that he truly believes in me, and he thinks that I'm very good and he has high hopes for me. I think all of his criticism wasn't necessarily negative; he just really wanted me to do well. And I gave it everything I could. I made it to sixth place — I'm truly happy with that.
Q: Do you have a favorite in the competition?
A: My favorite went a long time ago. My favorite was Amanda Overmyer. I thought she was fantastic. Obviously, I love the rest of the people, and I could never pick a favorite.
Q: Do you think the finale will be between David Cook and David Archuleta, as many are predicting?
A: I have no idea. It's kind of anyone's game. ... People have their favorites already. It could be anything. Castro could look into the camera and bat his eyelids and go into his amazing falsetto voice, and Brooke could just melt someone's heart. ... They just give these amazing performances every week, and everyone's so different. I honestly have no idea who it could be between. I mean, nobody saw Michael Johns going home, nobody saw Alaina Whitaker going home, nobody saw Amanda going home. There were all these shocking eliminations. There could be another shocker. You never know what lies up the sleeve of "American Idol"! [Laughs.]
Q: What Neil Diamond song were you going to sing next week?
A: I was planning to sing "Sweet Caroline." I wanted to do a ballad-ish [version], because I did such an uptempo song this week. I was gonna do it with a cello and a piano and make it like a slower, big, big, big song, because it's such a recognizable song.
Q: What's the story behind your Amy Winehouse tattoo?
A: That's so funny — it's [actually] a geisha. It looks nothing like Amy Winehouse. It's just not colored in, and everyone keeps asking me why I have Amy Winehouse on my arm. It's actually been on my arm for two years, before she even came out. When it's colored in, you guys will all understand. It looks like she has big hair, but she actually doesn't. It's just because it's black-and-white and it's not a close-up photo. But I have an actual painting at home, and it's actually a Japanese geisha. Even Andrew Lloyd Webber said, "Oh, look, you have Amy Winehouse on your arm!" And I'm like, "No!"
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