"American Idol" castoff Matt Giraud was, as he dubbed himself Wednesday night, "the cat with nine lives."
From being chosen as a wild-card contestant early in the season to being saved by the judges two weeks ago, it seemed like the soulful singer from Kalamazoo, Michigan, was in it for the long haul. But after a mostly well-received performance of "My Funny Valentine" on Rat Pack night, Giraud's second chances ran out and he was sent home.
We caught up with the 23-year-old dueling-piano player to talk about Wednesday's surprising bottom three, Simon Cowell's high praise and much more.
Q: You had kind of an unusual response from the judges this week, with Simon praising you and Kara and Randy giving you a hard time. What were you thinking when that happened?
A: Yeah, Kara's usually on my side. It was a great way to go out. Going out with Simon calling you brilliant and comparing you to Nat King Cole was pretty much the best way I could go. It's better than going out with "That's the worst you've ever done. Have a good day." [Laughs.]
Q: Did this week's bottom three surprise you?
A: I was definitely surprised that Adam was down there with me. It's kind of a cruel twist to have him pick who he thought were the lowest vote-getters. We kind of played with him backstage, saying, "Why didn't you pick us to be the highest vote-getters?" [Laughs.] It felt kind of uncomfortable, but I've been there before, so I can deal with it.
Q: If you were put in Adam's position and asked to choose a side during the results show, what would you have done?
A: I would have pulled an Archuleta and just sat down. [Laughs.]
Q: How did it feel to be the first person in "Idol" history to be saved by the judges?
A: I can't wait to see my name on a trivia card. [Laughs.] I feel blessed, honored, and you know what? Being saved, I've never felt so much love in a room before. It was a really cool feeling, and it was probably one of the coolest moments of my life. It made me feel real special, and I hope that people think it was worth it.
Q: Do you think you could have done anything differently this week to save yourself?
A: I still think it wasn't my week. I picked a song that I loved, and I listened back to it, and I wouldn't really change a thing, and that's probably the first time I'd really ever say that. I could have probably picked a bigger song. Maybe I could've shown off a little more and riffed all over the place, but I just wanted to do something simple. I'm proud of what I did. I'm glad I went out on that note.
Q: What do you think the voters are looking for at this point in the competition?
A: At this point, it's more popularity than talent. We all know that. Everyone in the top five is talented, though, but someone's gotta go home every week. It's just whoever can rub America the right way, I guess.
Q: How important do you think it is to win?
A: I never came in wanting to be the American Idol. My dream was to play that piano on that stage. My dream was to play jazz on that stage. My dream was to meet the mentors. That was a dream come true for me. I wasn't like, "Man, I hope I win." Yeah, there's definitely a lot of perks, and I'd like it, and I was fighting for it. But that wasn't the goal. I'm not kicking myself because I'm not winning. Obviously, we've seen past Idols who go home fourth, fifth place do even better than the Idol, so all hope is not lost.
Q: The judges put a lot of emphasis on song arrangement this year. What's the process for that?
A: People don't really know, but a lot of these arrangements have been done before. They're just not really well-known. Sometimes a lot of people on the show get a lot of credit for those. [Laughs.]
Q: Who do you think will take home the "Idol" crown this season?
A: I always joke around and say I think they're gonna bring me back. [Laughs.] I have no idea, and I endorse all of them. I'd be happy if any of them win.
Q: How did you decide when to bring out the piano and when to leave it backstage?
A: It kind of might seem like it was some strategy, but it was more just kind of on a whim. I planned on playing this next week if I made it through. I just didn't want to overdo it. It seemed like the piano doesn't really help you on the show. It's more like a prop, I think. I love the piano. I'd love to play it every time, but I just can't.
Q: Did you already know what you would be performing for next week's rock theme?
A: I actually thought about doing "Simple Man" by Lynyrd Skynyrd on the keys and making it a bluesy version.
Q: We've heard a few different musical styles from you on the show, but what kind of album are you planning to put out?
A: I'd actually like to get more into rock, or maybe soulful rock with a twist of blues on it. I'd love to see myself as a lead man with a piano and a band around me, touring and doing good music, maybe [like] Gavin DeGraw and the Fray.
Q: The judges gave you a hard time when you sang rock songs. Did that affect the way you chose your songs each week?
A: It did a little bit, but not that much. I still picked the songs even if they were more rocky. I still picked them if they moved me and I loved singing them. At the end of the day, I'm not gonna change what I like. I'm still gonna keep doing the same kind of stuff. I got tons of e-mails and comments about those songs from fans that they loved them, so it kind of reassured me a little bit.
Q: Who were your favorite guest mentors to work with?
A: Jamie Foxx was one of the most helpful mentors, by insisting that I change the key and kind of showing me how to perform it. But one of the most influential ones was definitely Smokey Robinson. Just a legend. To sit there and sing a song for him on the piano and have him tell me that Marvin Gaye would have been proud to hear my version — you don't get told that every day as a musician.
Q: What did you think about people comparing you to Justin Timberlake?
A: It's a little annoying, but I respect him a lot. I really appreciate what he does. I knew that people were going to compare me. You know, a white guy with soul — it's just how it works. I love it. I was waiting for that to come. But I think I'm a lot different. I love his type of music, I can pull it off, but it's not really where I'd want to go musically. I'd rather be rocking out with some kind of piano band, like the Fray or Gavin DeGraw.
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