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Interview: Backstage with American Idol’s Erika Van Pelt

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The American Idol Live! tour winds down later this month, hitting up the last handful of cities before season 11’s Top 10 take their final bow in Milwaukee on September 11th. 

This past July, a few hours before she was set to hit the stage in San Jose, Calif., Erika Van Pelt sat down with me for a quick chat about the tour, the challenge of taking on theme weeks and showcasing her individuality, and which of the judges she valued feedback from the most throughout season 11 of American Idol.

AMERICAN IDOL: Erika Van Pelt. CR: Nino Munoz / FOX

How’s the tour been going so far?

Really well, we’re having a fantastic time. First couple shows we worked out a few of the bugs, but overall it’s been really fantastic.

So, DeAndre [Brackensick] was just in here bragging about you.

[Laughs] I love that boy.

He said that his favorite moment during the show is your performance of “Glitter in the Air.” How did you decide on that song to perform during the tour?

This was actually a pretty easy decision for me. I did “Glitter in the Air” as my first solo during Hollywood Week. I think about 10 seconds of it aired on the show, [and I] got a lot of good feedback. I consider P!nk to be completely my style. I feel like she’s got R&B chops, but she sings [this] rock, sort of R&B crossover. That’s my style, pretty much to a T.

I don’t feel like I got to show my style on the show, because of how regimented it was. So for tour, when they gave me the opportunity, I was like, “I’m singing P!nk. I’m doing this song.” Lyrically, it means a lot to me. I connect with the words. It allowed me a moment that I never got to have on the show. It’s me, and a guitar, and a piano. And that’s it.



As you mentioned, the show is very structured, like “Here’s this week, here’s what artist you’re going to sing.” How does that make you feel as an artist going into this show where you want to show your individuality, but you’re kind of stuck in this box, where you have to tackle the given theme week and you want to show what you’re capable of without disrespecting the original artist in any way? How did you find that balance while you were on the show?

It’s very hard. It’s a good question. Honestly, I find the whole thing to be kind of a giant contradiction. And I love the show. I’m part of this Idol family forever. But it is hard, the way that it’s structured. I come from a background of DJing and doing gigs, where in a night’s time I can sing anything from jazz to classical to country to rock. Honestly, I thought that versatility would help me on the show, but if anything, it was detrimental almost, because people couldn’t define me. They were just confused.

Were you surprised at all that both Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez decided to call it day after this past season?

Not really, to be honest.  I know Steven’s back touring with Aerosmith, which makes me happy as a clam, because I’m a longtime Aerosmith fan. Sad to see him leave the show, but I think that’s where he needs to be. He doesn’t belong behind a table judging, he needs to be singing.

I remember even last season watching, especially Jennifer, get super emotional. I don’t think it’s just because she’s a woman, but I think she feels for a lot of us. She knows the struggle and knows how much it hurts to get rejected. So, I know emotionally she was dealing with a lot of stuff, and now she’s got her tour going on.

Now that you’ve competed on the show, what qualities and attributes do you think that the new judges should have to offer the next crop of contestants?

For future Idol contestants, I would like to see some people that areand not to take anything away from Jennifer or Stevenbut some people that are heavier vocalists, like strictly singing. Not necessarily about the theatrics or dancing, or any of that stuff. I’d like to see some people in there, maybe even just industry people, that know the game. They know regardless of how someone looks at the end of the day, it’s about your singing ability first.

Out of the judges, whose feedback did you value the most?

It’s hard to say. I looked at all three of them very differently. Randy, obviously, I feel like he sort of had my back from the beginning, from my very first time in front of the judges to when he picked me for Wild Card. I was his Wild Card pick. And he’s been in the business. He’s not a singer, but he’s a musician’s musician. [He] plays bass, plays like a million other instruments, played with a lot of really heavy cats, and I feel like he knows what’s up.

But Steven I feel like is probably one of the best, if not the best, rock singer of all time. I very much respect him. Jennifer, I don’t look at like a powerhouse singer, but she’s definitely a triple threat. She’s been in the entertainment business forever, so there’s a lot of respect there as well.

Probably Randy. And that’s funny, because coming from the three of them, he’s the one non-singer of the group.

Last question. What is your advice for contestants going into season 12?

A lot of things about this show are going to be changing this year. A lot for the good, I hope. I feel like the biggest thing that people need to keep in mind is that at the end of the day, even if you get eliminated, you are going to be so much happier with yourself knowing that you went in there and did something that was 100 percent you.

Don’t let them push you around. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of being pushed into one direction or another. That’s the one thing I regretted about the show, actually. I wish I had stayed a little bit more true to myself. But, at the end of the day, if you get eliminated knowing that you did you 100 percent, there’s not much to regret.

You can check out the remaining dates of the American Idol Live! tour on Idol’s official website.

Photo credit: Nino Munoz / FOX

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About Kirsten Coachman

Kirsten Coachman is an Entertainment Writer from the San Francisco Bay Area. She has interviewed a variety of people from across the entertainment spectrum, including singer-songwriter/Matchbox Twenty frontman Rob Thomas, Andrew Dost from the Grammy Award-winning band fun., singer-songwriter Christina Perri, and acclaimed writer-director Derek Cianfrance.