When 17-year-old Aaron Kelly started out on [url id="http://www.mtv.com/news/topic/american_idol/index.jhtml"]"American Idol,"[/url] he quickly earned comparisons to season-seven runner-up David Archuleta. What set the teen crooners apart was Kelly's country twang, and it seemed like that secret weapon could take him all the way to the final two, just like his predecessor.
But his run to the title match was cut short after a passable performance of "Fly Me to the Moon" during Sinatra Week. So what's next for the high schooler? We caught up with him on Thursday (May 6) to find out.
Q: The judges had some conflicting advice for you throughout the season, but you seemed to stick to your guns. Was staying true to yourself important in this competition?
Kelly: Absolutely. You don't want to change who you are in this competition, because the people send you through from who you are in the beginning, and if you change who you are, then you're changing the person that America fell in love with.
Q: Simon Cowell gave you an uncharacteristic hug after the results show. What did he say to you?
Kelly: He asked me what I felt my best week was, and I said Country Week. And he said that's when I really shined. He said I just gotta figure out the kind of artist I am and the road I want to go down, and country is what I feel most content with, and I'm hoping to go down that road of country music.
Q: Was it difficult to sing after you found out you were out of the competition, or do you think you did better than during Tuesday's performance episode?
Kelly: I didn't get to watch it back after I had sang that night, but ... I let everything go. The difference for me between Tuesday night's performance and last night's performance is I was over-thinking it Tuesday night, because when I go out there, I want it to be perfect. ... I think, in a sense, it kind of pulls you back a little bit, because you're trying to clean everything up, whereas Wednesday night, I just let it all go and had a great time with it.
Q: A lot of people have been critical of this season, saying the talent level isn't as high as in previous years. What's your response to that?
Kelly: It seems like they say that every year. These are all talented people. We're all working very hard up there, and sometimes, when people watch the show ... they think we just go up there and sing. But there's a lot more behind the scenes that we have to go through, and it's very difficult singing a song or a genre that you're not very comfortable with. So it's a very difficult task, but we're all doing it pretty well, I think.
Q: While the older contestants only have to worry about the competition, you had to go to school during the day too. How did you balance your schoolwork with "Idol"?
Kelly: I looked at it as, the [other] contestants, they have to worry about their performance or the results, but I have to worry about astronomy, so I'm not thinking about all this stuff. I had school to take my mind off of it, so I used it as an advantage.
Q: What's next? Will you go back to high school, or would you like to start making an album?
Kelly: I'm actually on the verge of finishing up with high school. I've got all of my senior credits, so after I finish that, I'll be all finished, and then I'd love to record an album and get to do some original music, stuff that I've written, because we're not allowed to do that on the show. I don't know if people know that I write songs, but it's also another huge passion of mine.
Q: When Rascal Flatts performed on the show last week, did you get a chance to talk to them?
Kelly: I did. I got a chance to meet them and take a picture with them, and they're really down-to-earth guys, and that was incredible. That was one of the highlights for me, was getting to meet somebody that inspired me so much. And they thanked me for doing their music on the show. I mean, it's an honor to do their music on the show. And it's an honor to hear them say that, because I look up to them so much.
Q: Who was your favorite mentor to work with?
Kelly: My favorite mentor was Harry Connick Jr. He worked with us on such personal levels. He did all of the arrangements, and he worked really hard in making sure that we all shined on our performance night. Just to have a mentor that cares so much and is such an iconic figure — I mean, it's Harry Connick Jr. He's incredible. So it was such an honor getting to share the stage with him, and I felt really privileged to have him as a mentor.
Q: Could you see Harry replacing Simon when he's gone next year?
Kelly: Actually, we were talking about that a little bit today. He would be a great replacement for Simon. He's very honest, and he's gonna tell you straight out, and I think Harry Connick would fit the bill perfectly.
Were you sad to see Aaron go? Will you listen to his post-"Idol" music? Let us know in the comments!
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