David Hernandez of 'American Idol' Talks 'Motown Memories' at Talking Stick Resort
New Times: Catch us up on what you've been up to the past 3 years since you've been off American Idol.
David Hernandez: I just re-recorded "The Climb," the song by Miley Cyrus, for Olympic gold medalist (figure skater) Evan Lysacek. I went on three national tours, opened for John Legend and Maroon 5 for (Barack) Obama at the inauguration. Looking at it all on paper, I'm like how did all that happen in the past 3 years, but it has, and it's been really, really cool.
NT: Describe your original songwriting style.
DH: It's pop/R&B with a little bit of a Latin flair. Life influences my lyrics--break-ups, hard times. I'm really good about writing songs that describe struggle. My challenge is finding songs that are party, party, party, because I'm a really deep person.
NT: How has life been since you've moved to Los Angeles?
DH: LA is a whole different beast. You get here (Arizona), and people are real. In LA, it's very surface. It's like, "Call me, let's get together, let's write, let's go out," and then no returned phone calls some times. That just comes with the territory of living in a city where everybody's trying to be something bigger than what they are.
NT: How do you deal with those pressures?
DH: There's definitely some phone calls home to Mom, like, "Why are people so mean?" But at the end of the day, if you have a great foundation and great roots, that carries you through the challenges of LA. At the end of the day, it's just another major city--the people are just different.
NT: You've put out a Christmas album since you've been off the show but not an original one yet. Why the wait?
DH: The record industry is terrible right now. A lot of your favorite singers and performers are going from having record deals to single deals. There's really no need this day and age to put out an entire record. The singles do incredibly well, and the records tend to flop. It's a tough industry right now. You can't walk into Clive Davis' office and start wailing and have them say, "You're a talent--we're going to sign you!" It's more like, "Show us why you're marketable, and show us what you've written, show us your image." You have to come prepared already so that they can put money at you, because there's a million other people that can do what you do. Talent's just not enough.
NT: Why not just put out an album on your own?
DH: A lot of what popular music is pushed by is marketing. Promotions and marketing is the most important thing, which is why I'd want a distribution deal or a major record label to push me is because I think I need the finances for it. Anyone can sit in a home studio and make an amazing record, but that's as far as it will go is among them and their friends. When it comes to releasing something that is of my soul and my first record, I want it to be right. It might take a few years. If I didn't have music, I don't think I would be the person I am today, so I think I'm going on a great path. It just takes a little bit of time--more than I expected, but it's gradually getting there.
NT: How did you get involved with Motown Memories?
DH: I did a New Year's Eve show at Talking Stick this year. The band manager went to put together this show, and I was offered the part.
NT: What's your favorite part of the show?
DH: Performing The Jackson 5 and singing "I'll Be There." It's cool to be able to join the stage with such incredibly talented singers.
NT: Since you've spent so much of your recent years singing covers, do you ever get sick of singing other people's songs?
DH: I do get sick of singing covers I don't like. "Brick House" was always one of my least favorite songs, but then they gave it to me (in Motown Memories), and it's actually become one of my favorite numbers in the show. Own it, walk it--if you have a horrible outfit on, just act like you love it.
NT: What are your goals in the industry?
DH: I would love to have one Grammy under my belt, be in a major motion picture, and then be on a dramatic or even a comedic television series. People think fame happens so quickly, and really, it takes twice as long as you'd think it would. It's a constant hustle.
NT: What are the biggest challenges you've faced?
DH: A big challenge I've faced is finding out who I am musically. You get to a point where yeah, you can sing anything. It's like, "What do I sing?" Identifying who I am musically has been the biggest struggle.
NT: Are there any negatives to having been on American Idol?
DH: I was a nobody before Idol. It gave me the platform I have now. There's definitely negatives that come with fame, but that's with anything, whether Idol or not. You take the good with the bad, like a marriage.
NT: What's your comment on some of the conspiracies surrounding your elimination? [Writer's note: Hernandez was rumored to have worked in a Phoenix gay strip club.]
DH: I think what's hilarious to me is that we are so quick to judge people--it's our human nature--but when we take a look at ourselves, we are those people. We make mistakes, we're human. There are moments in our lives where we think, "OK, maybe that wasn't the best idea. Maybe I could have chose something different." But I am who I am because of those decisions. Do I think "the conspiracy" got me off? Who knows? Who really cares? It's funny, I don't really have any regrets.
NT: Do you still watch American Idol?
DH: I'm watching it now. Pia (Toscano), Stefano (Langone) and Hailey (Reinhart) are my favorites. I'm going to see a dress rehearsal this week. Jennifer Lopez saw my show Ballroom with a Twist.
NT: What's it like being an American Idol alum?
DH: 120 people have all shared the same experience I have, which is pretty exclusive if you think about all of the millions of people around the world. When we get to meet each other, we just get it. We get to share that and the struggles that come with it. No one's entitled to any amount of success.
NT: Why would you encourage people to come see Motown Memories?
DH: Motown, I think, was the era of music where the most feeling was involved. That's where babies were made. On top of the talent we have, I think it's just a great show to watch.