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We all have burning questions for the American Idol contestants, but how many of you were dying to know how Mandisa Hundley gave up her thumb-sucking habit? Recently, Mandisa sat down with reporters to discuss a variety of topics, some as innocent as thumb-sucking, as well as some that were a little more controversial.
Q: Why do you think you were voted off?
A: I really do not know. There are a lot of theories floating around today. And it could have something to do with my song choice; it could have something to do with my stance on my faith. It could have to do with people thinking that I was safe and not voting. I mean, really, it could be just about anything. I have no idea.
Q: And how surprised were you when you found out?
A: I was surprised in a sense. Looking back, I could see just my actions that day; I was being very encouraging to everybody and telling people I loved them and that I was just so glad that I met them. And I didnít realize that I was saying goodbye. But looking back, I realize that I was.
So when I was on the stage, I was surprised. But looking back, I realize that I was kind of preparing myself for it.
Q: I wanted to afford you the opportunity to clear up anything regarding the comments you made that were interpreted as being homophobic a few weeks ago.
A: Yes. You know, I just heard about that recently and it broke my heart because I really do try to live my life according to the value system that you treat others the way that you want to be treated. And so I live my life guided by love and absolutely hate nobody.
Q: Do you think, however, that just the hubbub that resulted and peopleís possible interpretation of what you said could have cost you some votes ultimately?
A: You know, Iím not sure. Itís possible. I donít really know what ultimately cost me the competition but that certainly could have led itself to it.
Q: On the Idol website, you wrote that Jesus is your hero because he saved your life. Is there sort of a story there?
A: Not anything in particular, just the fact that I was lost and did not know where I was going, what I was doing. But he absolutely saved me from that and I know that Iíll be living in eternity with him now.
Q: Thereís always theories when people get voted off and Iím wondering if you have heard a lot and if you have any and then also if you think that maybe the fact that youíve become more spiritual each week might have even play a part in that.
A: I had not thought of that. I really have not become more spiritual. I think I have a platform to sing a song that means a lot to me, In Shackles. And I had to take that opportunity. Itís absolutely my testimony. So I have no regrets there whatsoever.
Q: What is your reaction to Simonís comment that you were not connected to the Shania song?
A: I donít know. I love that song so much. I know that he does not care for country and I know he doesnít care for that song too much. But I absolutely love it and donít have any regrets. I realize that he knows what heís talking about and so I have to pay careful attention to what he says. But I think thatís a great song and I think that whoever wrote it is brilliant.
Q: Since the quality of the singers makes it so difficult for viewers to choose who to vote for and who not to vote for, do the judges have more influence this season than before?
A: I donít know if itís more influence. I feel like the judges always have influence. Ultimately America decides, so I think America listens to what the judges have to say as well.
Q: I want to ask you about your presence on the show this season has been like no other contestant before you, in my opinion, in terms of you being yes, a large woman but as Ryan Seacrest called you last night, a great spirit, too. Youíve become quite the role model for a lot of women out there and youíve been compared to Patti LaBelle and Aretha Franklin and Jo Scott.
Can you tell me maybe a little bit about how that makes you feel and also what kinds of fan response have you gotten because you have been a role model to so many women out there?
A: Itís so humbling. I did not set out, necessarily, to be a role model. I was just being me. And I think that what I stand for is the fact that you can be beautiful at any size. But at the same time, Iím also very vocal about the fact that I realize that my weight is something that I have to deal with and I am dealing with it.
So if that makes me a role model, I think thatís great because I think that anybody thatís my size, I would love for people to realize that you can be confident in who you are. At the same time, you can also be working to make yourself better. So Iím very honored by that.
Q: Along those lines, by being a role model, too, you are a very sexy woman. Did you feel sexy in these beautiful clothes that you were wearing when you were singing? I mean, you kind of owned the stage, I have to say.
A: I just felt beautiful and when Simon said that I was sexy that one night, I was a little bit embarrassed by it all. I donít get called that very often. I absolutely felt beautiful, though, in those clothes.
Q: How did you come to choose the song you did Tuesday night? Did you have a list to choose from or did you have that in mind all along when heard it was country night?
A: You know, they do provide all of us with a very long list of country songs but I didnít even look at it because when I heard Shania sing Any Man of Mine, I absolutely fell in love with that song and I felt like it was a great song for me because it showed my personality and I have such a fun time singing it. So it was an easy choice for me.
Q: Any regrets on that front since song choice seemed to come up a lot in the show and again last night about why you may have ended up being voted out?
A: Gosh, I kind of flip back and forth on this. I can say that I do not have regret about it now. Hindsight is 20/20 and so I could say that based on what people are saying. But I love that song and so I think I would have chosen the same thing if I had to do it all over again.
Q: I guess it must be for this cruel irony that the Nashville person gets bounced on a country night.
A: Isnít that something? Yes, that was wild.
Q: And Iím just wondering also, now, youíve done a lot of singing in the Christian music industry and back out on tours and things like that. When you come home, where do you think youíre going to concentrate?
A: Oh, gosh, thatís such a hard question and I just have to think and really pray about it because I do have a heart for leading worship and for doing gospel music. But I also have a heart to want to pursue R&B music as well and just bring positive music. And so I hope to do both but I just need to pray and see where the Lord leads me.
Q: Kimberly Locke sort of faced the similar choice when she came off the show and Iíve been talking to some Christian music labels here today, and they said a lot of them had met with her and she made that choice. So I donít know, might you seek out that counsel or how do you think youíre going to arrive at your decision?
A: Yes, I definitely need to seek out counsel. I want to get all the information that I can. But ultimately itís just going to be me and the Lord working it out and trying to see what is the best avenue for me to take.
Q: Some people have called you a female Ruben Studdard, which we love here in Birmingham. How do you feel about that comparison?
A: Well, I love Ruben so I will take it. But I think thereís a little bit of a double standard when it comes to plus size males and females. I think males are a little bit more accepted than females are. And I am so glad that I was able to get this far and I just feel like America is able to embrace a woman thatís a plus size, just as much as a man can be called a velvet teddy bear. I think America can say that a woman can be as well.
Q: Where do you think that attitude comes from? That guys can have extra poundage but not women? Where does that come from?
A: Well, I just think that women so often in media, we just see lots of different images for how weíre supposed to look. And you donít see it quite as much with men. And I think that thatís got a lot to do with it.
Q: So, can Birmingham claim you now?
A: Please do. And tell Ruben to call me. Iím trying to let everybody know; he needs to give a sister a call.
Q: A duet, maybe?
Q: Have you picked a song yet for the Idol album and have you started recording on that?
A: Yes, we did start recording. Iím singing Iím Every Woman.
Q: Do you know what other people are singing?
A: I do not, no. I donít know what anybody else is singing.
Q: Do you think Ė American Idolís all about wanting the package. Do you think the American public really cares about size? I mean, does size really matter in this competition when itís all about singing?
A: Thatís a good question. I think itís got more to do than it just singing. I think it really is about the whole package. And while I feel like people can embrace somebody thatís plus size, I think it could have played a factor as well. But not ultimately. I feel like ultimately it has more to do with who I am than how I look.
Q: Did you feel as if you had an advantage or a disadvantage competing with the other girls who were either petite or slim?
A: A little bit of both. I feel like my platform immediately had to do with my weight because of Simonís comments and so that kind of got me in the spotlight a little bit. However, I had to work to stay in the spotlight and everybody on that stage, especially those Ö, theyíre absolutely beautiful. And so that probably could have been a disadvantage to me as well.
Q: Back to those comments from Simon about your weight. You guys kind of seem to have or get some understanding after. He really seemed to genuinely like your voice. I was just wondering, will you keep in touch with Simon after?
A: You know, probably not. Not at my choice or anything. I just think that the whole show Ė itís really about business. Itís about making a good show and making good music and we really donít have much contact with the judges. So it would be nice, but I wouldnít expect any phone calls from him anytime soon.
Q: Did he say anything to you when you left last night?
A: Yes, he told me that he really liked me. He said that he thought I had a great voice. But he said itís all about the song and he could not stand my song.
Q: Thatís funny. And then, a while ago actually, you told us that you had a little crush on Ruben Studdard. And I wanted to know if he had reached out to you at all or if you were going to call him?
A: No, not yet. But Iím expecting it.
Q: You think heís going to call you or are you going to call him?
A: Well, Iím not going to call him. Heís going to call me.
Q: You think you guys will go out on a date or anything?
A: That would be nice.
Q: So I know you had done some back up singing and things like that prior to this experience. What was it like moving from the background to the spotlight?
A: It was really interesting. Before I had done American Idol, I did do background singing, but I also led worship for large womenís events and so I was used to that. But it was a lot different being on the stage before 35 million people. So itís a little bit more pressure when youíre out in the front. When in youíre out in the back, you can kind of hide behind people.
Q: Yes. And Iím curious, not just with regard to last night but overall, how self-critical are you? Do you go back and watch your performances and say okay, I see what the judges are saying there or Ö better or?
A: Yes, I think as artists, I think it would be hard pressed to find an artist that does not want to look very carefully at their performances. And so, I would always watch the show back because they aired them later here in Los Angeles. And I would want to listen to what I did because what you hear while youíre up there is a lot different than what the audience is hearing. So I would critique myself and hopefully try to better myself for the next performance.
Q: I wanted to ask you about the bottom three last night because obviously a lot of people were shocked not only that you were in it, but that Paris and Elliott were both in the bottom as well. What was your thinking when they announced that?
A: Well, I think, when we were the six standing up there, the first thing that comes to my mind was season three when the three divas were in the bottom and everybody was so shocked. So when we went to commercial break, I actually turned to them and I said, I just want to remind you what happened season three and that we cannot assume what we think is going to happen.
A: I was right. No surprise there.
Q: And why do you think that America voted that way? Like, none of you had been in the bottom three before? Was it just the theme or whatís your thinking on that?
A: Well, it could have been. I didnít realize until today when I started talking to reporters that it was three of the soul/R&B singers. And so that makes me think it could have had something to do with the theme. But Iím not really sure.
Q: And I just wanted to ask you quickly, because you had made a comment just a few minutes ago that you are dealing with your weight. What does that mean?
A: Well, you know, since my first audition in Chicago up until now, I have not gotten on a scale.
A: But I do know that Iíve lost a considerable amount of weight, probably around 30 or 35 pounds. And so I am working on it. I exercise, I try to eat healthy and Iím just trying not to let food dictate my life.
Q: How big of a factor do you think sort of like the cute, bubbliness is? I mean, a lot of people have said that thatís come into play this year, especially with Kellie and things like that?
A: Well, I think Ė the show is not just about singing. Itís about personality. And I think the cute, bubbliness is irresistible and I love her just like I love the rest of the contestants that are there. I mean, what youíre seeing is really who we are and so I think it definitely plays a role.
Q: And then also, each week when we talk to these contestants, everyone seems to be interested in crossing over into film or modeling or something like that. Would you put yourself into that group and why do you think that people go into American Idol as a singer and come out wanting to be everything?
A: Yes, I would put myself in that. And itís interesting what happens when we come in here. Weíre not expecting to do these things but opportunities start being presented to us and itís things that we realize that weíre interested in and Iíve had several things come my way of people asking me to do things like that and itís such an honor. I would absolutely love to do things like that.
Q: Anything at the top of that list?
A: Youíve got to wait and see.
Q: I was just wondering how youíre prepping for the tour? I think youíre going to be going on the Idol tour, right?
A: Yes. Iím so excited. It was well worth it to make it to the top ten for that reason alone. Havenít started working yet. Itís kind of in a whirlwind since yesterday. But I imagine that eventually we will start working and hit the ground running for that.
Q: And have you ever done anything like that before?
A: Not being out in the front. I have been on tour singing backgrounds for different artists, but this will be quite different.
Q: You seem to be in the middle of that Ryan and Simon thing that happened on Tuesday night with the whole Desperate Housewives comments. How uncomfortable was that for you?
A: Very uncomfortable. They didnít have the camera on me, but I was trying to hold my hand up between them and I was asking where the love was. It was pretty bad.
Q: Did you think Ryan was really upset about that or was it kind of - ?
A: Iím not really sure. I donít know how he felt about it.
Q: Matt from TVGuide.com asked you about the comment you made before you performed Want To Praise You. I donít know how Ė you said you only found out about this recently, but another thing that added fuel to the rumor that you might be homophobic was that you listed Beth Moore as one of your heroes. And as a writer and lecturer, she seems to believe that gay people should reform their ways.
So really, I have a two part question which is were you aware of that about Ms. Mooreís writings and lecturings and also do you think the show does a disservice to contestants when these things come out that they canít speak out on their own behalf while theyíre still on the show?
A: I donít think itís a disservice. Weíre really there to perform and so eventually, I know we get the opportunity to speak on that.
As far as the first part, I was not aware. But I respect her so much, she has Ö into my life like no one else and so I have the utmost respect for her and sheís been an invaluable resource to me.
Q: I know you said that you do get a chance to respond to these things, but if this at all contributed to your getting the lowest number of votes, it seems like youíre getting the chance to respond to it possibly too late. Do you agree with that at all?
A: Itís a possibility. But my life is in the Lordís hands and I totally trust him with everything.
Q: I am no vocal coach, but I have seen comments from some vocal coaches who say you have a great voice, but if youíre going to have trouble, itís when you are in your lower register. Youíre not quite sure how to handle that. Is that a fair criticism? Or not?
A: No, absolutely it is. I am definitely a soprano, so when I get into the low register, itís something I have to work on very, very much. So that is a fair criticism to say.
Q: And so this issue of song selection, which we hear so much about all the time, were you looking for songs that emphasized stuff that would not make you go into the lower register too much? If you know what I mean?
A: Yes. You know, I didnít focus on that and in hindsight I probably should have a little bit more because thatís definitely my trouble spot. So if I had to do it all over again, thatís probably the one thing I would change.
Q: Just to be clear on this thing, when you referred to lifestyle during the comments people were talking about, what did you mean? Just to clear that up?
A: You know, that song was a very personal testimony for me and Iíve been dealing with a food-related addiction for much, much of my life. And so that song was me proclaiming that there is nothing, there is no addiction. Iíve been living a lifestyle where Iíve been giving into every indulgence to food that I have had. And so that was just me saying that God is freeing me of it.
Q: In an earlier episode of American Idol, you admitted to having sucked your thumb for 24 years. Do you think all this thumb-sucking has affected your vocal ability or changed the shape of your mouth?
A: I hope not. I really donít. I think it has affected my teeth, but I donít think itís affected my voice too much.
Q: After the results of the show, did you think of reverting back to the thumb-sucking, just for comfort? Because I know I would have.
A: No, Iíve been delivered from sucking my thumb and I will never go back to it.
Q: And how were you delivered from it? What got you beyond that?
A: I read a book called, The Financially Confident Woman and it said if you want to start a good habit or get rid of a bad habit, you should do it for 21 days. So after 21 days, I found, well, gosh, I can keep doing it. And so it turned into five years now.
Q: I know youíre so good at doing rock songs, so I was a bit upset that next week is Queen week.
A: I know.
Q: And youíre unable to do it because I know that you would have nailed it. So which song were you thinking of doing, actually?
A: I was going to do, Who Wants To Live Forever. I know it from the movie and the series, The Highlander and it is just an absolutely beautiful ballad that I was looking forward to singing.
Q: Well, itís such a waste and I was just wondering, when the results show was over, did you have a good cry after that? I mean, what were you doing right after?
A: Not good enough. As soon as the results go, we immediately start doing press and then there are people on the stage wanting to do interviews and so I still have not let it go yet. Itís going to come, probably in the middle of the night tonight.
Q: But did you have like a dinner or get-together with the rest of the contestants and they cry on your behalf then?
A: Yes, we did. We always get together afterwards for whatís called the Kiss-Off Dinner. And it was a very humbling time, a very emotional time for me.
Q: Who were you closest to in the group?
A: All of them. Theyíre so great. But my roommate was Kellie and so Iím going to miss her terribly.
Q: How far did you think you would make it in the competition?
A: How far?
A: I really Ė my goal was the top three. But I did not know how far I was going to make it. Thatís definitely where I wanted to be. But I just recognized that this is where Iím supposed to be now and I cannot wait for whatís going to happen next.
Q: And who do you think will win?
A: Oh, thatís such a hard question? Honestly, I stand very firm on this. It is the greatest top eight that we have ever had and I honestly feel like no matter who America chooses, youíre going to get a great American Idol.
Q: People spend a lot of time analyzing what the judges are trying to do with their comments in terms of psyching out voters. Thereís the theory that if Simon really rips someone, then that will rally their base and those people will really turn out to vote. How much do the contestants think about that? Do you guys discuss that kind of thing?
A: You know, Iíve not really discussed anything like that. Itís possible that others may have, but weíre so focused on what weíre doing, I donít think we really have the energy to put into what the judges are trying to do.
Moderator: Thank you. We have no further questions at this time. Please continue with any closing remarks.
A: I just thank everybody for taking the time out to speak to me. Itís been the biggest blast of my life and I would not trade it for anything in the world. So thank you for all of your support.
Many thanks to FOX for providing access to the contestants this season.