This week I was able to participate in a media conference call with eliminated contestant Leslie Hunt. She had many interesting things to say about her experience on American Idol. I have a much different opinion of her after this interview. She will definitely be missed in this competition.
Iím curious to hear why you think that maybe you were eliminated this week.
L. Hunt: I have no idea. I have speculated it could be a little bit of how Iím just not really that mainstream. I chose a couple of songs that just arenít top of the charts, but I just donít know because I donít know the show very well. I just auditioned on a whim and ended up going really far. Iím not really familiar with the formula, what works and what doesnít. I had some people helping me, but for the most part was on my own.
You and AJ ended up singing the same song and both going home. Do you think that was a bad luck song?
L. Hunt: I donít know. It got Alaina through in L.A., but I donít know. I know that other contestants have done it in other seasons, even so far as the same song in the same night. I guess I donít know. It could be cursed. It could be the curse of ďFeeling GoodĒ.
You have a reference on the Idol Web site to having your life being saved in Brazil. Iím just curious if you had a near-death experience and if you could tell us about that.
L. Hunt: Yes, I had an adverse reaction to the Yellow Fever vaccination. Basically, my system started to shut down, my organs started to fail and my brain was swelling because I was getting the Yellow Fever times 30, so I definitely should have died. Iím the only person that ever survived that sort of thing, and I was in Brazil, so that was definitely like near-death. I donít remember any of it. It pretty much changed my outlook on things, as you can imagine.
I was going to ask you one thing, but after hearing your answer to Coreyís question Iíd like you to tell me a little bit about what a life-changing event that was, surviving that Yellow Fever in Brazil. How has it changed your outlook on life?
L. Hunt: I just donít know if I would have auditioned for American Idol had I not suddenly been reminded that I am mortal. Itís easy when youíre in your early 20ís to rest on your laurels and be relying on your youth for all the time in the world. I realized that because I do have lupus and my system is very sensitive and strange that I donít have all the time in the world. If Iím going to do something I really have to dive in. I thought, what a better way to do that than American Idol because itís a lot of hard work, but itís very fast, in the grand scheme of things.
You look very healthy, you seem like a robust person.
L. Hunt: Yes, I am, actually. Against all odds, I really am. I have found this mediation that is like a miracle thing. It doesnít have any side effects and it makes me feel like a million times better. I ended up finding that way late in life. If I would have found it sooner I would have been way better off. Yes, I definitely have lupus. Itís very mild compared to some other people.
First I have to tell you that I thought you were hysterical with your whole utterly flapless thing. I thought that entire thing was funny. Youíre great.
L. Hunt: Nice. Iím happy you enjoyed it.
Just going on that, you said that being at home, performing with your band, what was it like being at home and maybe a more intimate setting, performing with your own band and then moving on to American Idol, where itís in front of a million people?
L. Hunt: I donít even feel like itís the same craft. I donít even feel like theyíre in the same family. Itís so, so strange to go from something so intimate where you can have an exchange with the audience members and look into their eyes and affect them on an intimate level and then having to look into this camera, into this machine and just imagine. I felt like it was so foreign to me and I might have been distracted by that to where I couldnít perform as intimately and as emotionally as I normally do.
Do you have any regrets about the process at all?
L. Hunt: I would have liked to have had a chance to rock out a little more. To choose two really big songs, I donít know that did me justice because I kind of had an epiphany after watching myself do ďFeeling GoodĒ. I was just like Iím white, Iím totally white. Nobody told me. This is the first Iíve heard. My roots are more like piano vocal stuff, so maybe I should go back to my roots. That was my plan for this next week, but too bad for me.
I wanted to make sure the timeline of a couple of things. When did it happen in Brazil?
L. Hunt: It happened exactly a year ago.
How long ago were you diagnosed with lupus?
L. Hunt: I was diagnosed at six-and-a-half.
Youíd known it for long. It must be a very mild one.
L. Hunt: It was really bad when I was a kid. Then when I hit puberty it kind of got a little better. It got really bad again. Itís kind of come and gone. Right now itís in this really long stretch of nothing.
The other thing I was going to ask is when they put the little signs of what you are on there, they put dog walker. Ö big income thing, are you strictly a dog walker and a singer or do you do some other day jobs, too?
L. Hunt: Not really, not lately. I was a student for a little while and then about a couple of years ago I started dog walking and gigging. I also worked in a grooming shop as a bather. I did that for a long time and dog walker, pet sitter, too. I do a lot of vacation care for people, sitting their dogs. Iíll have like seven dogs at my house at one time.
One other thing: you said you werenít familiar with the show. Had you seen it at all before you auditioned or just a couple times?
L. Hunt: I saw the episode where Kelly one.
That was it?
L. Hunt: Yes.
Not a lot to go on.
L. Hunt: I bought some DVDís.
L. Hunt: Yes.
After you got to L.A. or after you accepted for L.A.?
L. Hunt: Right after I bought my plane ticket to go to the cattle call to go to L.A.
I wanted to start out by finding out what your plans are in the future.
L. Hunt: Well, it all depends on what comes knocking. Iím really hoping that some things will open up for me, some different opportunities. If they donít, then Iím just going to kind of pursue what it is that I think I should be doing. This whole experience has really inspired me to write. I used to write really actively and then I kind of slowed down a little bit in the past year or so. Iím really excited to get back into it.
Would that include possibly returning to the band that youíve been performing with around town?
L. Hunt: Our main guitarist is the backbone of that. He actually moved down to Mississippi, so thatís not going to happen, but some of that material Iíll be able to bring to a different band. Iíd love to start up a new band, but I donít know. Itís kind of daunting to start at ground zero.
Just lastly, Gina seemed quite upset with you being voted out.
L. Hunt: Yes, weíve grown to be incredibly close. Sheís been my roommate here. Itís like when youíre sleeping in the same room with someone for a whole month, we hung out a little bit back home, thatís a friendship thatís going to last a lifetime. I think that if the tables would have been turned I would have been sobbing hysterically as well. It was an even feeling between us.
Some of what you did the other night was a little different in terms of style, which I liked and Iím sure some people do, but do you think when itís different or not as familiar with people or larger voting base, that can hurt?
L. Hunt: Yes. It was a risk that I kind of felt like I should take just because I feel better and more in my element when Iím doing things that are true to me. Why whip out the big guns later? Why wait to tell people what Iím all about until itís too late? Itís like, wait a minute, I didnít know she liked jazz. It was a risk I was willing to take because I thought Ö really big deal in this show and I was willing to set myself apart. I just I just donít know America that well.
Just on a different topic, what do you think of having the dedications before each performance?
L. Hunt: It was really hard. They didnít show some of the clip, but when I was actually doing that interview for that package I couldnít even get out some words. Itís just really tough because I miss my grandpa a lot and it kind of added to the drama of the whole thing. It kind of distracted me to be able to perform. I should have dedicated it to somebody with low emotional ties.
Do you think that might have influenced viewers, how people were dedicating and the emotions?
L. Hunt: Yes, maybe. I feel like itís definitely a theme among the girls to shed a tear or two, just to dedicate to somebody that means a lot to you. You mean like my dedication versus other people?
Yes, just in general because it seemed sometimes theyíre looking beyond the singing. Thatís another element of you guys that shows.
L. Hunt: Right. I donít know. I would just hope that it would translate. My grandpa and I had a very positive relationship. He was a big role model in my life; I really looked up to him a lot. I miss him. Itís a tragedy that he passed away when he did.
You know, I realized last night that I see so little sense of humor from so many performers. You were funny several times. They showed little clips where you said funny things earlier and then your remarks about why Ö, nobody likes Ö anyway or something like that.
L. Hunt: Right.
First of all, is this typical of you? Do you have much more of a sense of humor than people realize? Is it hard to use that sense of humor in that kind of setting?
L. Hunt: Yes. I mean, thatís one of the things. My sense of humor is very much intact. Iím hugely goofy. I spend a good majority of my life laughing and making other people laugh. That actually does translate well on the stage in normal settings. In this setting I found it to be easy to get stifled. Itís easy to fit into the mold and compare yourself to other people and be like gosh, my laugh is so much louder than everybody elseís, or that was kind of off-color, I wonder if I offended this person. You never know with that sort of thing, so I donít know.
Just one other thing. When some of these voices unleashed, like Lakishaís voice and Melindaís voice and that, what was your reaction? Youíre sitting there, youíre competing with these people and yet all of the sudden, these huge voices.
L. Hunt: I know. Iím honored to be in the midst of them. Now Iím not, obviously, but when I was it was like those are the people that Iím going to be very happy for. I feel like thatís such a God-given talent. It thrills me that people that have that kind of gift. I canít wait to partake in what they have to offer.
I was wondering, you were talking about how you felt honored to be in the midst of these other singers. Do you have a particular wish for one of them to win?
L. Hunt: You know, thereís just no way I could say that. I really feel pretty evenly about everybody. I know certain talents that some people have and certain little qualities that I enjoy in every single one of the performers that are still in it. I canít really predict anything like that. Iím sorry.
As a follow-up question, itís just seems like you have more talent than some of the contestants who are left.
L. Hunt: Thanks.
L. Hunt: Yes. I donít know. I guess there are certain kinds of hype that come with her. Thatís not really something that I understand. It doesnít excite me that she has pictures like that. Who doesnít? Itís like whatever, get over it. Itís a singing competition.
As far as youíre a better singer than her in my opinion.
L. Hunt: Right. I knew getting into this that it wasnít just about singing. I just had a feeling. I did a little research before I got involved. Even though I didnít see any episodes, I did a little research about who was eliminated and then when. I made a point to research what their voices sounded like and their song choices and things like that. Thereís really no formula. If someone has a personality, sometimes that will take them way farther than a good voice.
After the show did you have a conversation with Gina? Can you share with us a little bit about what you two talked about?
L. Hunt: You know, we didnít get to talk right away because they basically swoop you up and take you to different places because itís still a TV show. I basically talked with her all throughout the night. We were both pretty hysterically still into the night just because it was so surreal and youíre put through so much. She says that sheís really sad to see me go, both as a friend and as a fellow musician. We have very similar backgrounds as far as our experience in performing, so we have a mutual respect there and on a friendship level.
I know you didnít want to predict anything, but what do you think her chances are? Do you have a sense that sheís in for the long haul here?
L. Hunt: Man, I hope so. Sheís fabulous. I think if itís not through American Idol, she deserves something great. I hope for the best for her and everybody else. Weíre exceptionally close, but it doesnít mean that I hope for better things for her than anybody else. Everybody is very deserving.
I just wondered if you thought that you guys should be allowed to blog during your experiences at American Idol.
L. Hunt: I can see why weíre not allowed to. Now Iím allowed to. Now I can kind of respond to my fans and stuff, which is awesome, but I can see just because it could get really hounding. To tell you the truth, they actually really discourage you being online at all because of what it can do for your self-esteem and for your performance. I guess in past seasons people literally read a really, really negative comment about them online and then walk onto the stage a second later. It doesnít do anybody any favors. Sometimes when youíre in the spotlight itís just a good idea to turn a blind eye, to keep things in perspective.
Yes. You said you did some Idol research, which I find funny. At the beginning of this season there was all this hype about how the judges were crueler.
L. Hunt: Yes.
In your research, do you agree with that?
L. Hunt: All they really sell are the best of and worst of DVDís, so they never really show full episodes. They basically show the people that got first and second in seasons one through four, their auditions and all the stuff behind them. There are some random bad ones, so it really didnít give me that good of a taste. I actually have no frame of reference for that. Thatís what people are saying, but I donít know. They donít seem too bad to me. They pretty much say stuff thatís right on.
Did you have any sense that you might be going home yesterday, any sort of triggers or anything that made you think that might happen?
L. Hunt: I guess I just looked around me and was like well, itís going to be tough because there are certain people that you can assume are safe just because theyíre so darn popular. I had a little bit of a feeling, but for the most part I was very, very surprised.
Last week the judges kept reiterating the importance of song choice and showing your best personality in your performance. Do you think in your case your elimination was just the song choice or you just werenít able to show your personality?
L. Hunt: You think it was about my song choice or my personality? Is that what you said?
The judges kept saying in your performance you should be able to show your personality, your identity. Do you think that was the case?
L. Hunt: I donít think so. I donít think there was really anybody else in the competition like me. I have a different way about me. If it was anything, I donít even know if it was the song choice either. I just think that other people grabbed people more. Itís really hard to speculate about because itís me and itís hard for me to look at myself like an outsider.
If you knew that AJ was doing the same song, would have you changed your song choice?
L. Hunt: I knew, I actually knew all along because we communicated with each other while we were rehearsing. I had all these other songs in mind, but I just kept wanting to do ďFeeling GoodĒ so, so bad just because itís a song that Iíve done so many times. I just love it. I donít know. I took the risk and I did it anyway. It might have hurt me; Iíll never know.
Thank you to FOX for allowing us to participate in this AI media call.