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Interview: Backstage with American Idol’s Hollie Cavanagh

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After having her American Idol dreams dashed by being eliminated just short of making the Top 24 in season 10, 19-year-old Hollie Cavanagh returned to compete during season 11 firing on all cylinders.

The pint-sized balladeer and this season’s fourth place finisher proved to be one of the contestants to watch, as she slayed big diva ballads, such as Christina Aguilera’s “Reflection,” Whitney Houston’s “All The Man That I Need,” and Celine Dion’s “The Power of Love,” during the first few weeks of season 11’s live shows. 

This past Sunday, hours before taking the stage with the rest of season 11’s Top 10 at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif., Cavanagh sat down with me for a quick chat backstage. The singer spoke candidly about the tour, a time during the competition where she felt the judges misinterpreted the intention behind one of her song selections, and her advice for season 12’s Idol contestants.

Hollie Cavanagh performing in San Jose, CA on July 22, 2012. credit: Kirsten CoachmanHow’s the tour been going, so far?

Good, really fun.

Is it everything you expected it to be?

Yeah, I was kind of expecting to get more comfortable on stage and that’s what’s happening.

That’s great! You originally tried out in season 10 and now you’re on tour with season 11, how does it feel to make that whole journey?

It’s really exciting. The whole point of coming back this year was to make Top 10, and then I did, me and DeAndre both, that was our goal for the year. When I got fourth, I was like, “Ooh.” I was shocked, because I was just hoping to make Top 10.

Is anything about the tour and life on the bus that you maybe didn’t expect?

There’s bathroom rules.

Strict bathroom rules, I’m assuming?

Mmm-hmm. I mean, not really. There’s a lot of us, so there’s a lot of rules you have to follow just out of courtesy to everyone else. Other than that, it’s fun.

What has been your favorite moment/performance from one of your fellow contestants on tour?

I love Elise’s “Whole Lotta Love.” She does this scream in it and it’s crazy. I love that song.

Switching over to the show, we’re you surprised at all that both Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez decided to leave the judges’ panel?

I just found out about that. I’ll be interested to see who the new judges will be. I’ve heard its Mariah Carey, and I’m not happy about that at all. Cause she’s my idol. That’s probably a good thing, because if I was to sing in front of her on the show, I’d probably pass out.

As somebody who competed on the show, what are some qualities and attributes that you think the new judges should have?

I think just knowing music and having a good ear, you know? Knowing what’s right and not giving mixed-up, like mixed-up comments. Like, one day, it’s this and one day, it’s that. It has to be solid. They have to know exactly what to say.

It seemed like the judges handed you a few mixed reviews throughout the season.

Yeah, one minute it would be like, “Well, you need to do this,” and then I’d do it, and then its like, “Well, you shouldn’t do this.” You want them to give you good comments, because at the end of the day, America is listening to what the judges say. So you are trying to please America, but at the same time trying to please the judges, and when they’re giving you mixed up stuff, you just get lost. That’s why I think Phillip won. That’s exactly what he did. He just didn’t listen. He just did what he wanted to do every single time.

I know that your performance of “Rolling in the Deep” was deemed the big turning point for you on the show, but I thought that “Perfect” was also really good, although I was pretty surprised at the judges’ comments.

The thing with that one was I felt like they were making TV, kind of. When I [sang] that song, and I enjoyed that song and I love that song, and I got a lot of good comments on that song. But the only bad thing they had to say was that I said in my interview, “I want to be perfect, and this is a good song to be perfect.” I think they took that way too seriously, because the only thing they said after it was, “Well, it’s not all about being perfect.” The whole point of that song, to me, was that I had been getting a lot of bad rep from them the past few weeks, so that song was for me to be like, “You might not think I’m perfect, but at the end of the day, I’m going to do what I do, you know?” That was the whole meaning of the song, and I think that they took it the wrong way.

When it came to the judges’ feedback, did you value what one judge had to say over the other?

I wouldn’t say like valued over the other, but I think a lot of the girls look up to Jennifer. I think with JLo being in the music industry and then being a female, and being as powerful as she is in it, we all look up to her and want to see what she does. I mean, she’s not Jennifer Lopez for nothing. So, we all wanted to take advice from her.

What do feel was your standout moment of the Idol season?

Hmm. Probably “The Climb,” because that was when I got my first standing ovation. So, I’d probably say that. But, that song I had with me since last year, so I thought it was an appropriate time to bring it back.

Being that you competed during season 10 just shy of making the live shows, and then got all the way to number four this season, what advice do you have for season 12’s crop of Idol contestants?

I think, you have to know who you are and who you want to be as an artist, because if you go in there not having a clue, they’re going to throw you in every single direction. That’s what I did at the beginning, because I was new to it, I wasn’t sure what I should listen to and what I shouldn’t listen to. I thought because they were professionals they knew everything exactly about me, and exactly everything I was to do, but that’s not the case sometimes. Like, if something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. If you go home on something that someone else told you to do, you’re going to be mad at yourself then. So, you need to go home on something you wanted to do, which happened to me.

Lastly, what’s next for you after the tour wraps up?

Hopefully get signed. That’s what I’m hoping for. And then make an album and hopefully do good things.

You can catch Hollie Cavanagh, along with the rest of this season’s Top 10 during the American Idols Live! tour this summer. For tour dates, please check out American Idol’s official website

Photo credit: Kirsten Coachman

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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.