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Interview: Devin Velez Talks About Competing on American Idol

As FOX’s powerhouse reality singing competition, ‘American Idol,’ has been making headlines in recent months for the antics of two of its new judges, Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj, the current 12th season of the show is getting back to its true intention: finding the next musical superstar. As the competition moved onto its top eight performers last week, singer Devin Velez was the third contestant to be voted out of the top 10. After singing a solo rendition of ‘The Tracks of My Tears’ by The Miracles last Wednesday, March 27, and receiving criticism from Minaj for his trio performance of ‘I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch),’ with fellow contestants Lazaro Arbos and Burnell Taylor, Velez was voted off the following night.

Velez generously took the time recently to participate in a press conference call to talk about his elimination from ‘American Idol.’ Among other things, the singer discussed that he wouldn’t change any of his decisions, as he’s a firm believer in staying true to who you are; how the contestants had little time to actually work with the judges, but Carey approached him after he was voted off to express interest in possibly working with him in the future; and how he does agree with Minaj’s criticism to some degree that his trio performance felt more like Hollywood Week than the Top 8.

Question (Q): Do you think the group song did you in, was it that you were unfairly judged?

Devin Velez (DV): Not really unfairly. I think that I am a little at fault, though I didn’t forget my lyrics. I think that when you’re in a group, because one person is representing everyone else, it should have been my job to be a brother to the other two. We could have discussed learning the lyrics a lot better. If we knew that we were going to be so unsure of our lyrics getting on stage, we probably should not have done the song.

But what happened happened, and I tried to save the song to the best of my ability, but it wasn’t my job to do so. I know that, though my solo performance went well, since our group performance was following the solo, that’s what America remembered freshly in their minds.

Q: Now that you’re off ‘American Idol,’ you want to win Prom King at your military school. How do you go about winning Prom King, and what are your chances and when do they decide?

DV: I don’t know, man, it’s difficult. Prom is June 1, so I’m hoping that with all this publicity, I don’t get too busy. I am still a kid and I still do have my last teenage years ahead of me, and I want to live them up. My dream has always been to just win Prom King, and I won Homecoming King this year while I was still there, before I came to ‘American Idol.’ It’s always been my dream. So if this dream was achievable, I don’t think that one’s too far out of reach now that I’m going back home.

Q: Are you ready to concede that a girl’s going to win this year?

DV: You know, you can never be sure. I know that the odds are scary right now, but if the guys step it up, they do have a chance. I think that with all the people that are left, it’s really scary the way this competition is going to go, just because the talent that’s left is amazing. These people are some of the best singers I’ve ever heard.

Q: When are you going back to Chicago? When you do, are you going to go right back into classes at Rickover, and are you going to continue to work at Starbucks?

DV: I’m stopping in New York for a couple of days and then I’m going back home. But when I do get back, I’m hoping to go back to school. I’m not sure how that transition’s going to work, just because we did have to sign me out temporarily and I had to miss time for ‘American Idol.’

As for Starbucks, I want to for money reasons-it was my job. That was another passion of mine, but I don’t know how that’s going to work out because it might be a little hard. Now that people know who I am, I’m not just going to be writing caramel macchiato on cups, but I might be signing them and passing them off, and that’s going to get crazy. So I’m debating whether I’m going back to be a barista or not.

Q: What about your plans for college this fall, do you still want to go to music college this fall?

DV: It depends on how the ‘American Idol’ tour goes, if I have time when I get back. I can always enroll into college, but I would still love to get my degree in music education there at VanderCook, I think it’s been my dream for the last year and a half, and I keep in contact with those people. I’ve fallen in love with the team there. The students and the faculty are just really good, and I think I’d learn a lot from that school. So yes, I’m definitely thinking about it.

Q: Being far into the competition now, which week did you find the most challenging and why?

DV: The most challenging, I’d have to say, was when I sang ‘Temporary Home.’ That theme was past ‘Idol’ songs. It was interesting just because there were so many song choices, and yet I didn’t feel that I could have done any of them justice, as the meanings weren’t that great. When I heard ‘Temporary Home,’ I had an emotional connection with the song meaning. But I don’t think that I had any moments to shine in the song, so that week it was really not that great for me. It was the first week that I was in the bottom two, so I think that was the most challenging.

Q: Is there any week that you would have chosen to do a different song for any reason, looking back now?

DV: No, even with the week that I first was in the bottom two, when I sang ‘Temporary Home.’ While I didn’t have any moments to shine vocally, I’ve always had a personal connection with that song. I’m a firm believer in staying true to who you are, and I make decisions as an artist after thinking them through. So the fact that I’ve gotten to where I’ve gotten, it was my doing and no one else’s, and I wouldn’t go back and change anything.

Q: What critique do you think you’ll remember the most from any of the judges, or even Jimmy?

DV: It’s from all of them, which is stay true to yourself. I think that I’ve been pretty consistent in doing that on the show. I’m the same before the show, I was the same on the show, and I’m going to be the same after the show. ‘American Idol’ hasn’t changed me. I have grown as a person, but I haven’t changed who I am. I think that America fell in love with me for a reason, and I don’t want to change, not just to let them down, but also not to let myself down. I think that you should be proud of who you are and the decisions that you’ve made as a person. So I can say that I have no regrets on the show, and if I could go back and change anything, I wouldn’t.

Q: Who are you going to keep in touch with from the show?

DV: Oh man, I’d have to say Burnell, Curtis, Angie, Kree, Janelle, Amber and Candice. Oh wait, that’s all of them! Yes, there’s no way I can narrow it down. These people are my family. We’ve been together for three months. I’ve fallen in love with these people. Most of the top five guys, I’ve had as roommates, and the girls and I have gotten closer and closer throughout the weeks. I think that’s the saddest part about leaving the competition; it isn’t leaving the stage, but it’s leaving your brothers and sisters.

Q: You have such great fans, the Devineers, what would you like to say to them?

DV: I’d like to say thanks for the love and support no matter what. I know that everyone was really, really upset when I left home last night, but I just want them to know that as long as I have my Devineers and the support from my parents, I think that anything is achievable. I know that I’m going to go far in life, not just because of ‘American Idol,’ but because of the great support that I do have.

Q: When you were told to go backstage after the group number, how did you guys deal with that?

DV: It was a little difficult, because right when you get off stage as an artist, you’re your worst critic. You’re always thinking about all the negative things that you had during the performance and how you could have changed things. You’re trying to play it back and changing it in your head. I really was okay. I did feel a little embarrassed just because this far into the competition, we shouldn’t be having little mistakes like forgetting the lyrics.

I totally agree with Nicki Minaj when she said that it felt like it was Hollywood Week, but mistakes do happen and the pressure does get to us. We’re still human. But it was a little disappointing just to see that once you’re so far into the competition, that that was the mistake that we made. That’s a mistake that shouldn’t even be; right now, we should just know our lines and know our parts. But what happened happened and I know that stuff like that shouldn’t happen again. I think that that was a wakeup call for all of us, whether we went home or whether we stayed.

Q: In regards to the trio performance, after you performed Burnell said he didn’t want to throw anyone under the bus and you said you tried to save a couple of people during the song, and it seemed like you were both pointing fingers at Lazaro, but obviously wanted to be polite. Would you mind talking about that a little bit? Do you think Nicki actually overreacted a little bit?

DV: Looking back at the video, I know where Nicki was coming from. I agree with the first half of her critique when she said that it felt like it was Hollywood Week, that it was a joke, that stuff like that should not happen and that she was going to pretend that she didn’t hear it. I agree with that.

But hearing that, yes, it is a little cutting while you’re on stage. It’s hard to be up there seeing your team, and seeing your team get criticized like that is hard. But what happened happened and we’re growing, and I think that it was a great wakeup call. I don’t think that’s going to happen again on the show.

Q: Did you have a feeling that you’d be saved, or did you know you’d be going home?

DV: I kind of knew the writing was on the wall, man. Nothing of course was definite until the moment of, but even the night prior I was getting this feeling. I was like, all right, now I think I’m going home. I wasn’t sad about it, and I’m still not sad about it now. It’s weird because people are expecting me to be all mopey and crying, but my thing is making top ten was winning for me, everything after that was falling action. It’s a great accomplishment.

Some of the contestants on the show that are still left, they’ve auditioned two or three times. This is my first time auditioning and I’ve made it this far. It’s a great accomplishment and I’m so blessed to have made it this far.

Q: After you sang for the judges save, Mariah Carey was egging on the audience yelling out, “Save him, save him.” Randy Jackson hesitated for a while before even making the announcement that they weren’t going to save you, so what was going through your mind in that exact moment?

DV: It wasn’t that tough. Like I said, I think it was already set in stone. I felt like it was just going to happen. I thought I was going home, and sooner or later we all have to go home, so it was my place to go home.

I think that they’re going to save the save for someone really, really special. Not that I don’t think that I’m special. But with all the talent that’s left, if someone is in the bottom two that doesn’t belong there just because they have one bad song day, I think that they should use that save on that person.

Q: You mentioned that this was the first time you ever tried out for ‘American Idol.’ Now having gone through the whole experience, was there anything that really surprised you that you didn’t think would happen?

DV: Yes. I think that looking back at the show, after watching every episode of every season, you see the top ten you see the photo shoot and the commercials. You’re like, these people are just rolling in money and they’re sleeping in and getting room service. The biggest wakeup call was we get no sleep, call times are super early and we have to go through hair and makeup, and dress rehearsals, and run throughs and press.

Our schedules are really, really tight. So one of the things I’m taking away from this is a lot more respect for people that work on television programs like this. They work so hard to make us look good and it just looks so nice and sweet on TV, but there’s a lot of effort that goes into it.

Q: Have you ever seen an ‘American Idol’ summer tour before?

DV: I haven’t been one to one of the tours in all 12 seasons, but you know what, I am so excited to do it. I think it’s every performer’s dream to do that, to perform across the country and have fans shouting out your name and singing with the people you love. I think what I’m looking forward to most is singing with the same people that I was a couple of weeks ago, except we’re not competing in a competition. So the fact that we’re going to just be able to sing and not have anybody go home, and we’re going to still be together. I think that’s going to be the greatest experience ever.

Q: Everyone’s been declaring this season a girl’s to win, and there’s just been so much talk about how fantastic they are. Do you think that automatically put the guys at a disadvantage voting wise, and do you think that has a direct correlation to why the remaining three guys are all ending up in the bottom?

DV: Oh, there’s an explanation for that. Of course I can’t speak so much on it just because I’m not America, and I don’t know who votes for what. But I do know that though the judges aren’t voting, I know that their critiques do have a very big influence on America’s votes.

As for the guys being in the bottom three, I think that our group performance is what put us there and I think it was well deserved. I think that we weren’t prepared and we went up there and it was unprofessional, and so because of that we were in the bottom three. I wouldn’t change that for anything, just because I don’t want to be treated unfairly. The fact that we weren’t prepared showed that that’s how serious it can be, where you can go home. But, yes, the girls they have power. They’ve been consistent with their performances and the vocals. None of them have gone home yet, and that’s crazy. But they’re fighting strong.

Q: The week before you were sent home, Jimmy Iovine said he believed the judges were being too nice and easy on the contestants. Then the viewers noted that Nicki started to be especially aggressive and critical in her commentary. Do you think Nicki’s behavior was a result of Jimmy’s complaint, that maybe she was trying to be a little harder on the contestants?

DV: It could have been. You never know what you’re going to get with Nicki Minaj. But I know that I love her as a judge and I love that she’s always truthful.

Q: When you got eliminated and when you originally landed in the bottom three, Mariah Carey was especially emotional and she cried during your save song. What was your relationship like with her?

DV: Our time with the judges isn’t that not much. It’s a little bit during rehearsals and maybe backstage before we go on, but it’s not like we get to sit down and talk. But after I got voted off, I actually had a conversation with her. She was saying things like how she was so proud to see the artist that I have been becoming, and that if nothing works out that later on down the road, that she would love to contact me. Hearing things like that from Mariah Carey, it’s crazy because she is so big this woman in the industry. So hearing that was a little reassuring and I’m a little more at peace, just because if nothing happens, I know that I always have that to fall back on.

Q: Did you get any advice or have any conversations similar to that with Nicki, Keith and Randy?

DV: Nicki might have had to step away earlier because I didn’t get to say bye to her, she had prior engagements. But Keith gave me a big old bear hug, and he was just being Keith and I love him. He said that he was sad that I had to go, and he said to keep going. He added that no matter what, we were still one of his idols, that I was an idol in their eyes. Randy said the same thing that Mariah did, where if nothing happens that they would love to contact me sometime down the road, just because I had true talent. So hearing that from such great people, it makes you feel good as an artist but also as a person. I enjoyed every moment of the results show.

Q: Devin, do you have any final remarks?

DV: Yes, I want to say thank you guys for having me. The fact that I’m leaving the show doesn’t mean that this is the end of Devin. I’ve spoken about this before, that I’m not changing who I am for America and I’m not changing who I am for family or friends. I’m not changing who I am unless I want to change, and right now I don’t. I think that America fell in love with me for a reason, and I’m going to continue to give them 100 percent. So whatever life brings, just as long as I have my Devineers out there and my God, I think everything’s going to be all right. So thank you guys for this awesome opportunity and keep voting for me in life. Just support me in life. That’s all that I ask.

Written by: Karen Benardello

Interview: Devin Velez Talks About Competing on American Idol

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As a life-long fan of entertainment, particularly films, television and music, and an endless passion for writing, Karen Benardello decided to combine the two for a career. She graduated from New York's LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic. While still attending college, Karen began writing for Shockya during the summer of 2007, when she began writing horror movie reviews. Since she began writing for Shockya, Karen has been promoted to the position of Senior Movies & Television Editor. Some of her duties in the position include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, producing posts on celebrity news and contributing reviews on albums and concerts. Some of her highlights include attending such festivals and conventions as the Tribeca Film Festival, the New York Film Festival, SXSW, Toronto After Dark, the Boston Film Festival and New York Comic-Con.

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