You know what? Honestly, people always ask me this question, and to me, there were no cons. Everything was all pro for me. I had been trying since I was 11 to break into the industry through traditional means of shopping demos and all that stuff, and nothing really worked for me. American Idol was my catalyst.
I think the most difficult thing about being on the show is that everything is so fast-paced. There’s really no time to get used to it. People who get traditional record deals have time to get used to the build-up of people recognizing who they are, but with American Idol, it’s one day you’re living in obscurity and the next day you’re famous. That was the biggest shock to my system, figuring out, “Wow, I really can’t go to Wal-Mart by myself anymore.” [laughs] It’s funny, because Wal-Mart is my favorite store and I still go. I catch myself jumping when people call my name out, because my whole life, I’ve gotten used to being able to do those kinds of things without being recognized. That was the biggest shock to my system, but everything else was a blessing—from the opportunity to work with Clive Davis to working with the biggest songwriters and producers in the industry.
Since American Idol, there have been a lot more music-based reality shows. What do you think about that trend?
People enjoy watching people sing on TV. It just is what it is. I can remember how fond of Star Search I was when I was a kid. The networks have really caught onto that. American Idol was such a huge success that people have really tried to emulate that. It doesn’t surprise me that several people have done their own versions. I actually enjoy some of the shows. I really like Sing Off; Simon [Cowell]’s new show X-Factor is cool. But I really, really like Sing Off, because it reminds me of being in choir in high school and college.
Have you had to do anything after American Idol to rebrand yourself and your image, from being seen as a reality TV contestant to who you are as an artist in the eyes of the public?
I was just me, man. A lot of people try to sort of get away from that brand, but the show is what made people know who I am, so I never try to disassociate myself with that brand or being a part of that show. Of course, I’m older than I was when I was on the show. I’m way past 24 now; that was almost 10 years ago. So my subject matter is different, because I’ve had so many different life experiences, but I’ve just been great.
How is your new album coming along so far?
I’ve been working on it for about six months. It’s a really good album and it’s ready to come out. I think we’re going to release it at the end of February, and hopefully we can have some really great success with it.
Will you be taking a new direction musically on this project?
This is the first album where I’ve only worked with one producer and one writer, so it’s kind of like going back to the days when Gamble and Huff would do people’s whole albums. Or Holland-Dozier-Holland did a whole album for Motown. Same concept. We just wanted to do a great album, and we wanted the sound to be consistent and we didn’t want it to be all over the place. It really turned out exactly how we envisioned it.
Are there any songs in particular that stand out to you?
The whole album is crazy, but I have a guest appearance on there from Heavy D. Growing up, he was one of my idols. I was a huge fan of his work, and I’ve been a fan forever, so to get him on the album was a blessing. I have a duet with Chrisette Michele, which is crazy. I’ve got my girl K. Michelle on the album. It’s just a great album, it’s good music.
Are you pleased with the trajectory of your career thus far?
I told God my whole life that I wanted to sing and for music to be my career, and it’s become that. It’s had its ups and downs, and I embrace everything about the journey. I look at the careers of all the greats, and nobody’s careers I’ve seen come up has been on 100 the whole time. There are always peaks and valleys. So I’ve been able to sustain through the peaks and through the valleys. This is my fifth studio album in eight years, and a lot of people don’t even make it past the first one. So it’s a blessing.