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Jose ďSwayĒ Penala may be from South San Francisco, but his fans extend far beyond U.S. borders. Swayís media interview attracted reporters from as far away as Singapore and The Philippines, bringing an international perspective to Swayís time on the show. Read on to find out his thoughts on being the only Fillipino-American in the competition; his quest to understand Simon Cowellís mysterious fortune cookie comment; and the non-controversy over his contract status.
Q: I wanted to get to the scuttlebutt over the whole Six Day thing right away. Did you in fact or did you not have a contract with them, as itís been said?
A: Yes. Iíve been in that group actually for a few years, I believe, maybe three or four years. And we try to come out with something independently, but I made sure that in order for me to eligible to compete in Idol, that I provided them with all the contracts that they needed or releases. So I was straight from the beginning.
Q: I had heard that there were rumors that you had planned even to go back to them if the American Idol thing didnít work out. Is that true?
A: Yes, you know, that was kind of Ė I didnít know how far I would get. I just wanted to see how far I would get pretty much in the competition and see from there on.
Q: So you wouldnít rule it out that you would go back with them?
A: Iím not really ruling it out, but at the same time, I just want to explore all options that I have right now.
Q: You were a big surprise to me last night. So you have any theories on why you might have gone out?
A: Iím really not sure. The show was so unpredictable that no oneís really safe. But it happened the way it did so I donít regret anything.
Q: I happen to work with a guy from the bay area who goes by the name Sway. Did he inspire your nickname or whatís the story behind that?
A: When I was a kid, man, you know little kids, they would be butchering names and everything. My name is Jose, right, so like in fifth grade and things, my friends would go, ďHey, so Sway Ė Sway, come out and play some football with us.Ē And ever since then, itís just been Joseway and then it became Sway and as Iíve gotten older, all my friends just call me Sway.
Q: I just wanted to get your thoughts on what was going through your head when youíre up there finding out whether youíre going to be eliminated or not and then Simon and Paul are making jokes about pizza and salad and fortune cookies and stuff?
A: Yes. The suspense was killing me. I just wanted to know whether I got cut or not. As far as the fortune cookie thing, I think the fortune cookie was to me. I donít know. Do you know what it means?
Q: I have no idea. I think everyoneís trying to find out.
A: Yes, Iíve been trying to figure that out until now. When you figure it out, let me know.
Q: Okay. So you didnít mind at all? You werenít annoyed? You were just kind of Ė
A: Oh, no. Not at all. It makes good TV, you know?
Q: Did you realize you sang ďOverjoyedĒ better last night after you were eliminated than you did on Wednesday night?
A: Yes, I did. I was actually into it more, I think.
Q: Was it just no pressure?
A: Yes. I mean, I got a chance to just be me, you know? Not worrying about what anybody thought and shoot, if Iím going to sing it, Iím going to sing the hell out of it going out.
Q: Because I have a feeling you probably would still be in the competition if you had sung it like you did Wednesday.
A: Thatís what Iím saying, probably.
Q: Did it make the situation more unfair that Randy said he was shocked to see you and Kevin in the bottom three?
A: Did it make it more unfair?
Q: Right. Was it rough to hear that, to take somebody that the judge did have faith in you but still happen this way?
A: No, you know what I mean. Like I said, things happened the way they did and I just had a good time doing it. I donít regret anything, being on the show and I can look back and be like, man, you know what? I actually was on American Idol. I wasnít upset or anything like that. Of course, you know, whoever got eliminated, we would have wanted to stay on the show but thatís how the nature of the show is. So, somebody was bound to go.
Q: Who do you think should make or will make the final four?
A: You know what, and Iím not just saying to be safe. But there is like so much talent in the next like 16 folks that are remaining that it could go anywhere, man. You see the performers get better every week, so I really Ė Ask me that again in like a few weeks and Iíll be able to tell you.
Q: They keep talking, especially Simon, about music choices. You know, the songs that you choose are Ė You kind of live and die by those. When you look back, what do you think about your music choices? Did you tend to go with something that was maybe more personal than something that you could sell easier to the audience or what are your thoughts?
A: Itís a little bit of everything, I think. One, you want to sing a song that known and popular for people to be able to relate to. And two, whatever song you pick, you definitely have to own it, you definitely have to sell it and you have to be comfortable with it. I think that was what was lacking in my performance. I didnít connect with it. Other than that, I think it would have been that much better if I connected the way I did when I got eliminated.
Q: Do you think itís the way you sing that particular song that you held back or something like that?
A: Yes, a little bit. Like I said, if I had put myself more into the song, then maybe I could have still been in the competition but things happened the way they did.
Q: You have some fans in Singapore. I just wanted to let you know that, that Asia is also supporting you.
A: Oh, nice, nice. Thank you so much. Tell them thank you.
Q: You just said that you held back a little bit on that day and you did say on TV that you had an off day. What actually happened? I mean, did something bad go wrong that day?
A: No. It wasnít anything bad. Itís just I just had a lot on my mind and whatever I was going through or was thinking about, I should have Ė The most important thing is hang it up on the door and when you get on that stage, youíve got to be focused. And like the judges say, youíve got to bring your A game throughout the whole thing. Every time you get on that stage, youíve got to perform as if itís your last time, you know. In this game, you just always have to be focused.
Q: So what was your distraction, specifically?
A: Nothing really too specific. Just a little bit of everything. Just little things here and there. I canít really pinpoint.
Q: Did it have to do with family stuff or personal stuff or just the nerves?
A: Yes, probably a lot of it was the nerves also and just worrying a little about how Iím going to do.
Q: There havenít been many Asians that really represent Ė Very few have gone so far, so whatís your own theory on that?
A: Iím sorry?
Q: Not a lot of Asians have actually gone very far in American Idol for the past five seasons. Do you have any theory on Ė Iím sure Asians can sing but Ė
A: Oh yes, of course. Jasmine Trias made it - Ö round three. She made it pretty far.
A: It just really depends on, I guess, how you present yourself or how much talent you have. Itís not by particularly if theyíre Asian or not. Itís just Ė It is the peopleís votes, you know. So I think everyone has an equal opportunity to do this.
Q: Weíve seen over the years, Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson have changed so much from start to finish. Who do you think has changed the most on the show so far?
A: Let me see. Itís so early on right now that everyone pretty much that Iíve met from the beginning pretty much stayed the same.
Q: Who do you think is going to change the most?
A: Thatís a tough one. Iím not really too sure. Iím trying to think but I really canít. Everyone is just the way they are to me.
Q: Now that youíre off the show, are you going to keep in touch with anyone? Who are you going to miss the most?
A: You know, Iíve developed a lot of friendships with everyone there. I got close to Elliott and Taylor.
Q: Do you think theyíre going to go far?
A: Oh, yes. I think everyone has an equal opportunity. Everyone there Ė The remaining 16 contestants are very talented so it could go either way. You just have to see everybody progress.
Q: Do you have any advice for your two guys?
A: Just sing. Love what youíre doing.
Q: So how does it feel being the only Asian in the contest?
A: Itís been good, actually. When youíre here, you donít really think about it too much. Iím very proud, of course, definitely to be able to be like the first male to make it to the top 24 thatís a Filipino. You know, definitely proud. So, thatís a record for me.
Q: We were actually hoping to see more Asians there. Itís just too bad that Asia does not get to vote.
A: Yes. It probably would have been good if you were able to vote and get that much working for it.
Q: AI this year is practically a battle of not only of talent but of good sound choices as well. Tell me how you choose which songs to sing.
A: It has to be actually a song that youíre really willing to sell, as far as you like you have to be able to perform it. You have to be able to feel it while youíre singing it. And you have to be comfortable doing it. You have to own it pretty much.
Q: Do you think that was the problem this week?
A: Yes, probably a little bit. I wasnít connecting too well during my performance. If I had put myself more into it then maybe the outcome would have been different. But I have no regrets. It happened the way it did and Iíd do it all over again.
Q: What was really bothering you during that week and Paula said maybe you were not in the zone, maybe you were not feeling well?
A: Yes, it was just a little bit of everything. Itís probably maybe I should have picked another song or something.
Q: It wasnít anything personal though like you missing your family?
A: Oh, of course I miss my family, but I wasnít to that extent to where it will give me a bad performance. It was just Ė Itís a lot of hard work to do this.
Q: I saw you on the AI Web site, the first video right after you made it to the top ten before. And you said that you wanted to see more Asian-Americans there. Do you think because of what you did where it goes closer to seeing that coming true?
A: I think that if youíre talented, youíre talented no matter what race you are. And itís just proven that Ė Being on American Idol, itís definitely Ė There are no color lines or anything. You see different genders, you see different races on it. So, yes.
Q: This is just a funny question, but when you went into the top 24, what did you seriously think your chances were against all these cuter, taller and hunkier guys?
A: Iím sorry, what was that?
Q: Going into the top 24, what did you think your chances were against al these guys around you who seemed to be cuter, taller, younger, hunkier? I mean, was it intimidating?
A: No, not at all. Obviously, I was picked to be in the top 24 because I had something to offer. And everybody that got picked to be in the final 24 was unique in their own way. Thatís why they had a spot to be in the 24, so I wasnít intimidated at all because at that point, itís really up to the voters.
Q: Yes. Was there any personal front-runner among you guys? Were you ribbing each other whoís always going to make it? Who, in your opinion, was that guy?
A: I was just so worried about myself that I didnít really think about too much on who was going to make it or who wasnít.
Q: And also, you had a sort of like skirmish with one of the Britain twins, right?
A: Oh, yes.
Q: That was so funny because they were calling you and Elliott out on not preparing with him. So was there a sense of karma when both of you got advanced to the final stages instead of the twins?
A: No, it wasnít so much karma, I think. Iím not sure Ė I guess they didnít pan out on their background checks or something. Thatís the reason probably why they didnít. But I donít think itís karma so much as just bad judgment maybe on whatever activity they were getting into.
Q: But did you and Elliott kind of discuss it and realize the irony of it all?
A: No, we didnít even discuss it. We just moved on forward from there.
Q: So now that this part is over, what do you have up next for you?
A: Plan T. Music is my life and weíve gotten so much exposure from this show. Itís the number-one watched show that hopefully I strike a deal out there somewhere and make some records, some music above anything, and sell some records and whatever else it branches out to.
Q: When you sang your song and you listened to everyone else sing their last song, what was going through your head?
A: I came in this without anything to lose and everything to gain from it. So I was just thankful that Ė I feel really good that I even got this far and accomplished.
Q: So it wasnít when Brenna was saying oh, she deserved to still be here. It was just kind of just sense of accomplishment?
A: Yes, of course. Youíve got to look at it like that. It wasnít a negative thing. Youíve just got to count your blessings and things happen for a reason. Who knows, maybe thereís something big in store out there for me.
Q: When you made it to Hollywood, there were a lot of questions about your eligibility as a contestant. Were you aware of that?
A: Oh, yes. I was aware of that. I heard rumors about it actually, about me having contracts and buying them things. But from the beginning of the show, I provided AI with every contract that they needed and release forms or anything, just to let them know that Iím not in any way bound legally, that Iím free for any kind of representation and that I can get into any agreements.
Q: Since joining the top ten as far as making it in the American Idol contest, youíve gained a lot of following here. You have so many fans here in the Philippines now. I donít know if you know but you are very popular here.
A: Oh, wow. I was out there in September and I loved it out there. I was born in the Philippines. I went to school in La Salle Green Hill. I went back out there in September with my group, actually, Six Day. And now since youíre saying Iím popular out there, Iíd like to go back there.
Q: Of course, you should.
A: Yes, and just sing for you guys or anything. Come visit.
Q: Oh, weíd love that, weíd love that. Do you speak any Tagalog?
A: Yes, I can speak Ė I can understand it really well. But when Iím there, my Tagalog came out more, actually.
Q: Oh, thatís good. Would you consider building a career here since youíre already all popular?
A: Yes, definitely. I would definitely try to build a career out there.
Q: Any message to all your Filipino fans?
A: I was very proud to be a Filipino on the show. Iím the first male, I think, that made it to the top 24 thatís a Filipino. I wish I would have stayed longer and make you guys prouder. But I tried.
Q: Speaking of wishing to stay longer, did you know that on American Idol poll on their Web site, they were asking which of the four would online viewers want to go back, and do you know that among the four, you actually had the most number of votes?
A: Oh, really?
Q: Weíre still hoping you still might get back in the contest as a wildcard or something.
A: Maybe, but you know what though. It may be the end for American Idol for me to perform onstage, but itís going to open a lot more doors also as well. One door shuts, another one opens.
Q: Do you have any additional words to Simon?
A: Yes. I just wanted to know what that fortune cookie thing meant because Iím confused, too. Thatís about it. Iíve got nothing bad to say. Iím good.
Q: What about his opinion that it wasnít vocals between you and Kevin that was the reason for the votes? He said that right before the decision.
A: Yes. I think Ė My interpretation of it probably was it wasnít the vocals, but maybe the performance itself. Did I sell myself enough? Did I connect? I think thatís what he meant.
Q: In one of your videos, you actually made a very moving comment about being happy, seeing your parents together again and all that. So are they separated, divorced?
A: Yes, theyíve been separated since I was a little kid like five or six.
Q: So now that youíre out of the competition right now, does life go back to normal or has this all brought your family closer together?
A: I think in a sense it has brought my whole family closer together. I mean, it was just nice to have both of my parents be there and watch me perform for the first time on the Idol stage. It was just Ė I canít even explain how good it felt.
Q: Is your participation in Idol, is it kind of making your parents closer again? Is there more contact because of your participation?
A: Of course. Iím the common denominator with them. So theyíre always going to have a part in each otherís lives because they have children together.
Q: I see. Well, it was great watching you on TV, Jose, and good luck with your career.
A: Thank you so much.
Many thanks to FOX for granting the interview, and good luck to you, Sway.