In an American Idol season where the judges are being noticed for their kindness more than their critiques, Haley Reinhart took more flak than just about anybody. While the judges, particularly Randy Jackson and Jennifer Lopez, offered words of support to the other singers, they'd harp on some aspect or another of Haley's performance.
As a result, the 20-year-old singer from Wheeling, Ill., finished in the Bottom Three four times before her elimination last night. Yet time and again she came back -- sometimes within a single show -- to give performances strong enough to keep her in the game.
"I believe their intentions were simply to push me along further," Haley says of the judges. Now, she's looking forward to singing for the fans on the summer's American Idols Live! tour.
"I'm going to enjoy just letting loose, knowing that I'm not going to get judged one more time. I'm just going to love that crowd and look out into each and every seat and show them how much I appreciate them."
She's also looking forward to recording an album, which she expects to have "a sultry, bluesy rock feel."
Haley talked with reporters in a conference call as she rode to rehearsals for next week's finale. Here's an edited transcript of that call.
Over the past few weeks, there has been a giant groundswell of support for you. A lot of celebrities and past Idols like Adam Lambert have supported you on Twitter. Have you been attuned to what people have said about you? Has that been extra motivation?
Definitely. I'm not too big on the blogs. I don't like to look into anything that could possibly be negative. But I look at the tweets. I pretty much ready everybody's that they send me. Getting that support from Adam was just amazing. He's spectacular. He's one of the best to ever set foot on that stage.
If you could take one cover that you did this past season and put it on your debut album, what would it be?
There were so many different types of songs. Bennie and the Jets launched a lot of different stuff for me. I took a different route with the song. I started it slow and jazzier, like I wanted to. That would be pretty cool. There's a bunch of different ones I could think of.
Beautiful. I totally changed Carole King's. It was beautiful the way it was written, but I changed it up and kind of funkified it. That was a different kind of cover.
It was fun seeing you sing with your dad. Tell us what it was like singing with your dad for the first time when you were 8 years old.
My parents have basically taught me the rules of the stage since I was 8. The first big thing I ever got to do, it was on my 9th birthday that day. I got to play the International Tattoo Festival. It was huge! I sang Blue by LeAnn Rimes. That's when I had figured out I could yodel. I heard LeAnn doing it and was captivated by it.
I think I was overwhelmed and probably cried afterward, but it was an amazing feeling.
Going from that to Wednesday, it has always been a dream of mine to get somewhere. Just as important to me, it would be an honor to have my mom and my dad with me up there. I got to go home and play with their band. Having him on the stage and giving him a couple licks to show America what he can do was so special to me.
Paul McDonald said that hanging around with the teenagers on this show was like going back to high school. What were the culture differences this last week when you were hanging with Scotty and Lauren?
I've grown up on the stage and I've grown up around adult crowds, so I've taken a lot of that with me. It's been fun, you know. Lauren, she takes me back to when I was younger. Five years can be a big difference. It's been really fun to hang out with them. I like being a goofball, so I always make the best out of it and have a good time.
The judges were more critical of you than they were of Lauren and Scotty. Did you think that helped or hindered you in the competition?
It could go both ways. I believe their intentions were simply to push me along further. It was apparent that they liked to get me to where I could be at the top of my game, get me a little fired up inside so I came out with something that they didn't expect. As far as if it hindered anything, I got to top three, so that was quite all right.
Would you have done anything different Wednesday, if you could go back?
I don't live in regret. I do nitpick; I'm a Virgo. Other than that, I don't regret anything. Each step along this way has got me to where I am today. All these different songs and the genres I got to show off in the early stages, I wouldn't trade that in for the world. I got to show versatility, and I'm proud to do that.
What do you believe America learned about you during the season?
I think I took a lot of risks early on, when you usually do the opposite. Maybe they didn't know how to take me, because I went along with the themes from week to week. I started getting into my own little niche -- the rock, bluesy, sultry feel. I think America started to catch on, and they kept me around.
What did your dad tell you after the show last night?
He was on cloud nine. He said he had a blast, that this was my best concert ever. This was a keepsake for life that we'll always have. Nothing can take that away from us.
You were in the Bottom Three four times before last night. Did you get the feeling it was only a matter of time before you'd be voted off? Or did it give you a feeling of invincibility because you survived so many times?
I kind of go with Option B a little bit more. I don't like to sell myself short. I believe that taking that all in stride and realizing that I had been in it so many times and I was still around, so there was something going on. I just gotta step my game up even more week to week.
By Michael Becker/FOX
Would it be fair to say you were angry last night when you heard the verdict?
Not at all. Not angry. Of course, everybody's going to be surprised with the verdict. All in all, I accepted it quickly and took it with a grain of salt. I said, "Hey, this happened for a reason. This is a good thing. This happened for a reason, and it only means that I am going to start my career as a solo artist even sooner."
Some people had this view of you as being aloof and not friendly on the show. But none of the people I talked to that know you gave me that impression. You talked about being a goofball. Do you think America didn't really see the person that other people see you as, back home?
Definitely. It's easy to get depicted in different way on the show. It's all in the way the cards end up playing out. I'm usually messing around with all the camera guys. Like, we're all cracking up together. I like to have a good time. I'm usually always bubbly. It's different to see what comes out, in all reality.
You're on that stage, and you've got to perform in front of the judges. It's not like you've got a one-on-one where you can talk and show everybody a little bit of that personality you have inside. It's really hard to get that all out in a minute and a half. It's time now that I've got to really get out there.
We talked about how the judges were harder on you from week to week than they were other contestants. You seemed to react to that on the show. Did you ever talk to any of the other contestants about how the judges were treating you? Did they ever say anything to you?
I don't know. It was apparent on stage, even, Lauren and them coming up to me, and they just don't understand it. The only thing that I can get out of it is that they really waned to push my buttons, push me as far as I could possibly go, to get whatever they wanted to get out of me. Most of the time, it was fire that they wanted, so I would try to take it out on stage. It is what it is.
Randy and them tell me, "It's all love." I'm like, "I understand. You want to see what you can get out of me."
You looked floored last night when you heard the news. How hard was it to pull yourself together? What did you think?
You literally have seconds to think about it. So I took a second to think about it. And then I said, "All right. All right." And I just kept saying it. "Okay. This is it. Guess what? I have to sing a song in about five seconds. Let's move on to that; let's have a good time with that and show America why they kept me there so long." Give them a good show.
What was it like backstage after the show?
I got offstage, and I was at peace with everything. I had that moment where I realized how much I was going to miss everybody, even the stage crew. Everybody is such a great big family, and I've gotten really close. That's one of the most wonderful parts of this whole experience, is to create bonds to everybody and make sure it's an enjoyable experience throughout. I knew I would miss them. But, then again, I'm going to see them, like, today. It's just that reality check.
Everybody was still supportive. They've got my back. I love everybody back there.
A couple other Chicago area folks who didn't make it all the way to the top -- Jennifer Hudson, Crystal Bowersox -- have gone on to do great things. What confidence does that give you going forward?
That's all the confidence the world. I absolutely adore Jennifer Hudson and what strength that woman has. Being a fellow Chicagoan, it's great to see what she has conquered. It gives so much hope and faith to me.
Having Crystal on the show and seeing her, in second place, getting to do the kind of music that she really wants to do in life, it's as a beautiful thing. I'm excited for the future.
What goals do you have for your time on stage during the upcoming tour?
Performing, it's such a different ballgame in front of the judges. Performing on stage is what I've done since I was kid. It's the passion that has started from the very beginning for me. And that's what I'm going to enjoy, just letting loose, knowing that I'm not going to get judged one more time. I'm just going to love that crowd and look out into each and every seat and show them how much I appreciate them and want to be there for them.
After he got voted off, Casey made it clear you guys were never dating, even though a bunch of rumors had floated. What was your reaction when you heard those rumors?
It started a long time ago. I forget which week. It was when we started bonding and getting really close. We could confide in each other and had a different kind of connection from all the rest. So we would sit by each other and all that jazz. I'm pretty sure that's when it all started.
We laughed about it. Obviously, we have a strong relationship. Maybe not dating, but the musicality between us has been wonderful.
Do you think the rumors helped our hurt either one of you in the competition? Did they become a distraction?
Not really. And we never really gave into them at all. We never said yes or no. That's probably the better thing to do.
We got so many questions about it. Either way, it's not going to hurt anybody. We had a lot of fun with it. We played the game.
The trip back home that you made, what will be the biggest memory you'll take from that?
It was raining out. It was very gloomy, yet I had 30,000-plus people waiting out for hours in that rain. I saw so many familiar faces, and it really got me. I took it right to heart.
Definitely the highlight of the whole thing -- other than everybody who showed up and gave me support -- was getting my parents and their band up there playing wiht me. We winged everything about it. We did Sweet Home Chicago. It was a really fun gig.
Have you ever gone to see one of the summer Idol tours?
No. I've watched the show since it started, but I haven't gotten to see the tour, so I'm really excited to see what it's going to be like.
The judges' advice can go from one extreme to the other each week. As a contestant, how hard is it to figure out what they're really asking for?
If I do get the positive, I stick with that. I'll take every kind of criticism in.
Steven, he really helped me out, to make me feel good about a lot of those performances that I got harsh critiques on. It balanced out. I really appreciated what Steven had to say, being the great musician that he is.
Do you sort of sing past the judges, figuring they don't matter as much as the voters?
Everybody's always saying, "It's not up to them, it's up to America." And that's ture. Thankfully, America let me stick around until I got to the Top Three. That's more than I could have imagined. It's just a blessing.
What do you think your album will be like?
I have a lot of ideas, even from now to the future, of what I'd like to do. I'd love to do an album that's sultry, bluesy rock. I absolutely love jazz, so if I can slip that in somewhere or, even, in the future, get more into jazz, but I'm definitely loving the sultry, bluesy rock feel.
On the show, you got to work with Lady Gaga, Jimmy Iovine, Beyonce. What did you take away from them?
It was really cool. I wasn't really that nervous. I was excited to meet them, but I wasn't really nervous.
The experience was so surreal. Then again, I walked up to them and I felt like we were both artists, and they treated me like that. The feedback that they gave me was so wonderful, every time, on an off camera. I walked away on cloud nine.
Who was the best mentor that you learned something from?
As far as mentors? I had a great time with Lady Gaga and Beyonce. And Sheryl Crow. She's definitely somebody I look up to and have grown up with. I could see me going into some of that kind of feel, her earlier stuff, especially.
They were all so down to earth and very generous with their comments and their feedback to me. It was very sweet all around.
What qualities do Scotty and Lauren have that make them the American Idol?
As far as the viewers of the show, this is perfect for them. We have a very young audience out there. They're both just so darn cute. They've got the country calling for them. This is a country year.
I'm excited to see what happens. But I definitely can see the young America being very captivated by these two.
Go out on a limb and predict who's going to be the winner.
Nah, you know I can't do that!
It's a close one. And it's such a close one because they're in such a close lane, as far as country goes. It's anybody's game, man.
As you start to think about your album, who would you like to work with?
I love classic rock. I've just grown up with rock 'n' roll in my life. If I could do something with Steven Tyler, that'd be fantastic.
There are plenty of people out there that I'd love to collaborate with. I adore Esperanza Spalding and Janelle Monae Those are women I think are very unique and powerful in their own way. I hope to do something just as cool, you know?
If you could pick one moment you want people to remember from the show, what would it be?
Well, I picked Bennie and the Jets last night, because that was a big turning point. I had good performances leading up to that, starting with You Really Got a Hold on Me.
With Bennie and the Jets, I had a whole vision of how I wanted that to pan out. It was may arrangement, how I started it off, jazzy and a little bit slower, then it rocked out by the end of it. I planned out that whole thing on the piano. It worked out very well. So I guess I would say that performance.
A lot of times people say you might be better off not winning, because you can make more of your own album. Do you think you might be better off not having been in the finale, that you might get more space to do what you want to do?
You never know. I'm excited to go out there and try to do exactly what I want to do. This is a great position for me to be in. I'm excited for the future.