Performing on the huge "American Idol" stage is surely overwhelming, but no one seemed more daunted by it than Brooke White.
The 24-year-old nanny from Mesa, Arizona, was a mess of emotions, whether she was rambling on and on in response to the judges' critiques, shaking uncontrollably at the piano or crying her way through Neil Diamond's "I Am ... I Said" after her elimination Thursday night. But we're not saying her vulnerability was a bad thing. Obviously, America felt for the girl, supporting her all the way to the top five.
We caught up with the latest castoff to talk about her struggle with confidence, what's next and why Paula Abdul's flub was not so off-the-wall.
Q: What was going through your head when you were eliminated?
A: I kind of anticipated it, in a strange way. It was in my gut. I thought I was strong, I really did. I felt so grateful and happy. And then, boom, it hit me: This is done. This is over. The finality of that phase of the experience being over was sad. And then the fear of going back into the real world and what does the future hold and also excitement. It was just a lot of feelings. It was emotional, and I hoped so much that I could have been stronger, but I'm an emotional girl and I'm passionate, and that really came across on the stage, because I felt really vulnerable every time [I performed].
Q: How did you control your nerves during the competition?
A: I don't know if you really have a choice! ... I think there's just been something within me when I thought I wasn't able to keep going. You totally feel like you're sinking, and then it's like, "OK, swim!" [Laughs.] You've got to. You realize you're here, you have to make the best of it, and the pressure is so incredibly difficult, but you know what? I was here to do my absolute best and be as true to myself as possible, and I can say in my heart, even with the challenges I faced, I think I was able to do that.
Q: Ryan pointed out some lyrics written on your hand Tuesday night. Did you use different tricks to remember lyrics?
A: I had not had any problems with the lyrics until "You Must Love Me" [during Andrew Lloyd Webber week]. All of a sudden, it freaked me out, and I started thinking, "Oh my gosh, what if this happens again?" You play head games. When I was singing ["I Am ... I Said"] in my rehearsal, I kind of felt like [the lyric] "palm trees" was not sticking in my brain. Even the practice of writing it down on my hand helped me remember it. I didn't even look at it, because it was on the underneath side of my hand. ... We don't use teleprompters. And I was playing an instrument and singing on two songs, so it was a lot of things to remember in a week's time.
Q: What were you thinking when Paula made her flub during Tuesday's show?
A: It's live television — anything can happen. I mean, last week, I stopped and restarted my song. It's just human moments that happen on the show. I don't know exactly what happened with Paula, but stuff happens. On the show, when it's live, things can change very quickly. They decide in the middle of the show to change something. I'm sure she just got lost in the moment.
Q: It's been an emotional few weeks for you on the show, so was it somewhat of a relief to be going home?
A: Well, yes and no. I think after Tuesday night, I was ready. I was re-energized, my spirits were up, I wanted to keep going. And then I woke up Wednesday morning, and I knew. It was like, "Oh my God. Brooke, you're going home." Part of me was like, "I want to keep going," and the other part of me was just thinking, "You know what? This has been amazing." It is kind of a relief. Song selection and the pressure has really increased with two songs and then preparing for the finale. It's just an incredible amount of pressure. And in that sense, it does feel kind of good to be done with that. But I was welcoming the challenge as well.
Q: Did you have any survivor's guilt when Carly Smithson was eliminated from the show after your do-over?
A: I don't know if guilt is quite the right word for surviving — I was grateful. You know, this show is very interesting. The voting process is very interesting. That's why I always say, "You never know what's going to happen." I think you take what you can get, and I was grateful to people for seeing past my mistake. I think beyond the mistake, I did my very best and emotionally connected with the song. For whatever reason that people felt motivated to vote, that's beyond my control.
Q: Carly told us after last week that it was hard to be a woman in the competition this year, because female voters are backing the boys. Do you agree with that assessment?
A: The boys are awfully popular this year, and I know that because their fan mail came in great, humongous stacks, and us girls got, like, three a day. It's amazing. But the boys are very talented and very charming. Oh, to be a boy this year! It probably would've been helpful. [Laughs.]
Q: Was it hard to be friends with your competitors on the show?
A: I'm not very competitive by nature. We're all very different from one another. It's not like we had two similar voices. It's just a matter of what people like. One of the vocal coaches said, "You know, Brooke, when I'm listening to the Carpenters, I'm not saying, 'They're so much better than Van Halen!' " [Laughs.] It's two different things. If you're constantly caught up in comparing the two, you're missing out on the joy of the music. Yeah, it's a show, it's a competition ... but we really related to each other because we're all going through this similar experience that no one could possibly understand.
Q: Neil Diamond told the singers not to listen to what Simon says. How did you handle Simon's criticism?
A: It's quite a challenge, because every week you go up there — not that it always turns out the best, but I always gave my best — and when you're standing there in a place of vulnerability, it's hard to know what you should take and what you should not take. I think sometimes he has some valid points, and I think sometimes his delivery is just plain mean. [Laughs.] And I like him! I think he's a good guy. When Paula said last night, "Someone has to give hope to them for their dreams. Someone has to be positive," I think she gets that. I think Simon comes from another side. He wants to push you to do your best, and his way of doing that is being harsh and very blunt. So that's his style. Sometimes I take it, sometimes I leave it.
Q: During your first audition, Simon threatened to bring you over to the dark side. Did he succeed?
A: He joked with me last night that he thought he might have brought me over to the dark side, and I just said, "Absolutely not!" [Laughs.] I've had a lot of support from people to remain the same person that I am.
Q: What was your reaction when you found out contestants could play instruments this season?
A: I was so excited, because I felt so insecure that my singing wasn't going to be enough. I'm not a good enough singer for this show. I'm learning to get over that as well, because just because you think your voice isn't good enough doesn't mean there aren't people out there who appreciate it. Part of what I want to do is be a singer/songwriter, and for me, that means playing an instrument. ... I didn't even know going into it that they were going to do that this year, so when I found out, I was like, "Gosh, this is it. This is the year I needed to do this." It's something that I love to do, but it's very difficult. It increased the workload a lot, especially this week. It was basically like doing four different things: playing the guitar and singing and playing the piano and singing.
Q: Were there any songs you couldn't get cleared that you wanted to sing?
A: Absolutely. I would've loved to sing a Fleetwood Mac song or a James Taylor song. [I did perform "You Got a Friend," but] Carole King wrote that song, so she owns the publishing. That was very close.
Q: Who are some of your musical role models?
A: I spoke to Carly Simon this morning in an interview! It was amazing. She was incredibly supportive, very generous in her comments. It actually really boosted my spirits. It kind of gave me a motivation and hope to keep going in the direction I am, and I do relate to her and those singer/songwriters of the '70s. I connect with what they do, and I hope I can make that happen in 2008, in a more modern way.
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.