Entering the world of American Idol is a surreal mixture of superstardom and ordinary people who are just trying to make sense of it all. At their summer tour stop in Tacoma, Washington I got an up close look at a day in the life of an American Idol.
In part one of a five-part series of backstage interviews with the Idols, I talked with Michael Johns. Johns has put his surprising eighth place elimination from American Idol behind him. Currently he is focused on the Idol summer tour and recording tracks for an album he hopes to release later this year. Having talked with him a few weeks before, this would be my second interview with Johns. As with the first interview I found him to be friendly and open about his time on Idol, his musical interests, and his plans for the future.
Johns came into the interview with his left arm heavily bandaged. The injury was obviously recent because no one in the room seemed to know what had happened to him. Carly Smithson took time out of her interview to find out what caused the injury. He explained, "David Cook threw me a pass, and like, we're running back – and Archuleta's dad was right there – and then BOOM! I went straight down."
I did not know until that day which of the Idols I would be talking to, so I had prepared some general questions that I could ask anyone. I told Michael that I had already asked him most of the standard questions I had prepared. "It's okay – let's just talk. What's with your bracelets? Live Strong? And what's with the multi-colored one? I'll interview you, how about that?" he teased.
We chatted briefly about the Live Strong and David Cook American Brain Tumor Association bracelets I was wearing. Johns was the most easygoing of all the Idols I talked with. He genuinely seemed interested in talking with everyone and keeping the mood light, despite his injured arm. As I was preparing to delve into more serious interview questions I noticed liquid was slowly spreading out on the tablecloth beneath his bandage. For a moment I was concerned but he assured me it was just an ice pack that was melting. "Yeah, fluid is just draining out of my arm. But I will sit here and do this interview, that's how dedicated I am." So we got down to business.
Okay. What was it like when you went on The Tonight Show and Gene Simmons was there?
It was awesome. We were backstage and he's got his platform shoes on, the whole thing. He's in character, you know. Once we did the [on-air bit], we went back to the dressing room and he gave me some advice and we talked about some things. You know, you don't get to his level of success [and not] have some perspective. And I got to sing a Kiss song on bloody national television – awesome.
Were you expecting to sing that?
We were originally supposed to meet with Smokey Robinson, which would've been cool too. But it would've been definitely a different segment with Smokey.
How are you enjoying the tour so far?
It's great, until 25 minutes ago when I busted my elbow. It's all good. Look, anytime you get to play in front of 10,000 people every night – that's reserved for the U2s, the Madonnas, the Paul McCartneys of the world. I try to instill that in everyone. I'm like, 'Guys I know you're young.' I'm 29 and I'm the oldest guy. Do you know how many records you have to sell to get back to these kind of venues night after night? So hopefully they're listening to me because I'm just soaking it in and loving it – every night.
Do you get to see any of the cities you perform in?
We get days off. We had two days in Portland and that was great. Got to see a bunch of that – played golf, went to the Nike campus. I would love to see more of Seattle. It's been one of my dreams to come here. I honestly think it's the home of the last great era of music. I really believe that. I mean, for me. And I would love to go see some of those old clubs.
You're recording right now, right?
Yeah, I have been since April actually. Working on writing and getting songs submitted. I'm one of those guys, like, if I write it – great. If I collaborate – great. Or if someone comes in and says 'Dude, this song's perfect for you', and I really feel the lyrics and the sentiment, then I'll record it. It's good – it's like a rock/soul record, it's fun as hell. It's kinda Stones-meets-INXS with a bit of Gnarls Barkley kind of stuff.
So who's your favorite artist of all time?
Only The Beatles. I mean come on, it doesn't get better than them.
Were you excited to do the Beatles weeks on American Idol?
Yeah, of course. I mean, it's the first time they got the songs released. It was amazing. It sucked that we couldn't get the whole catalog obviously. We only had 25 songs to choose from. [I did] "Across the Universe," one of my favorite songs of all time. Absolute joy. Out of the second week, we had another 25 songs to sing from. That was just like, 'You know what? I don't think if I suck really bad it's going to get me voted off the show this week.' So I chose a song that meant a lot to one of my good friends who passed away. So, you know, one of those good things I got to do.
How was rearranging "A Day In the Life" for only 90 seconds? What that hard?
It was hard, but it actually worked. And then Simon didn't even know the song. He said, 'It sounds like three songs in one' – and I was like, 'It is.' You know what I mean? So for me – if they gave me praise, if they gave me criticism – it didn't really bother me. Because I was like 'Okay you've got your opinions, but it doesn't actually affect what I do.' So I don't know. I kind of like… ahhh, anyway, it doesn't matter.
[Being a big Beatles and classic rock fan myself, I wished that I could have spent more time discussing music with Michael. However, knowing that my time was limited I decided that I should try to discuss the tour a little bit more.]
Has the tour been…
…everything you hoped it would be?
Yes. Amazing. I love it.
Do you go out and greet the fans?
Every day. Except today 'cause I can't frickin' sign anything 'cause of my left arm.
It's not going to affect your performance tonight?
Movement might be restricted. But that's alright. It won't affect my voice, of course. I've got some fist pumps I can't do – might throw in some kung fu kicks instead.
As promised, Michael’s arm injury did not adversely affect his performance later that night. He turned in an excellent three song set – though I did not see any kung-fu kicks.
Next week in Part 2: Chikezie – the quiet Idol.