I find that it’s hard to ignore talent. The main reason I continue to watch American Idol after all these years is to see what each season’s crop of talent brings to the table. This season we were introduced to 23-year-old Tim Halperin, a singer-songwriter from Fort Worth, Texas. After making it through to Hollywood Week, Halperin moved on to the Vegas round where he had a stellar, standout performance, which helped take him through to the Top 24.
After falling short of making the Top 13 this past week, Halperin headed home to Omaha, Nebraska to be with his family. He graciously took the time to chat with me over the phone this weekend about his American Idol experience.
I know it’s been only a couple days, but how is post-Idol life treating you?
It’s good. It’s a transition, for sure. It’s crazy going from being on the number one TV show in America to being back in reality. I feel like I’ve had a smooth transition for the most part.
How did you first get your start in music?
I grew up just loving music, started taking piano lessons at six-years-old. In middle school, I started playing with the worship team at church, and then eventually started playing with bands in high school. And when I went off to college at TCU, I had started recording and playing some more shows. Then I graduated from TCU here in May.
Wow, so you’re fresh out of college?
Yeah, timing-wise it was really perfect for Idol to happen.
So, when did you really start working on your songwriting?
It was about during my sophomore year of high school, I believe, when I wrote my first kind of serious song. It was really slow at first. You know, I’d write a couple here. When I got to college, I just started writing some more. I played a talent show my sophomore year of college, and people were wondering when I was going to release some of the songs that I had written. And I was like, maybe that’s a good idea. Maybe I should do a short CD. I recorded a five-track CD and put it up on iTunes by the winter of my sophomore year in college. That led me to keep songwriting.
And songwriting, you know, is just like anything else; the more practice you have, the better you get. I feel like I really started figuring out who I was as an artist and who I wanted to be in the last year and a half or so. I started to write a lot more and started to feel where I was headed.
When you’re working on a song, do you start with the lyrics or do you start with the melody first?
I usually start with lyrics first. I’m not the type of person that has, you know, two hours every day I’m going to song write. I usually feel just the urge to write. Either I’m going through something personally, emotionally, or I’m affected by people around me who are going through something. Or I notice something I never have before; it’s usually kind of an epiphany type thing. But I try and really embrace whenever those moments happen and make time, make space for me to sit down and write.
Where have you been drawing musical inspiration from lately?
I think after I settle down and transition back into my daily life, I’m going to pull a lot of inspiration from the journey I’ve been on with American Idol. It’s funny, the songs I was writing before Idol happened, I had one song called, “Crash Course to Hollywood.” That song was just about me coming to terms with after college I wanted to pursue music and give it a shot for a couple of years. So that’s where that song came from, and of course any kind of relationship that I’ve had. I’m single right now, so it’s kind of been this whole transition out of college is where I’ve been drawing my inspiration lately.
Very cool, now switching gears over to Idol, you tried out in L.A., right?
I did. I actually tried out on MySpace.
That makes a little more sense to me, because when I was looking back at your journey on the show prior to talking to you today, I was wondering why you had tried out in L.A., because you’re not from L.A.
Yeah, that’s funny, because they went through Austin. I actually tried out for Idol three years ago when they went through Omaha. I hadn’t really figured out who I was as an artist, and I hadn’t had as near the amount of performance experience on stage. I was really nervous and the audition didn’t go very well. I was kind of content on not trying out ever again. Someone I respected, who also plays music, called me up and said, “Hey, they’re doing MySpace auditions. You might as well send in a webcam video.”
Had you been a fan of the show before trying out?
Was I an Idol fan? Um…no. [laughs] Especially if you play music, and I was booking my own shows and recording my record, you kind of look at that show and go, “That’s not fair. Those people are getting all this free exposure,” and here I am working my tail off.
I never really watched [the show]. I wasn’t the biggest Idol fan. But now, after going through it, it’s so legit. The people that they have working with you are incredible.
How did you feel after your initial audition with the judges?
I felt like it went well. It was frustrating on one hand, especially with Randy’s comment of “Figure out who you are vocally,” because, like I said, I feel like I do have a grasp on who I am as an artist.
I was pretty nervous in that first audition, because it’s such an overwhelming experience. You can hear that when I hit my falsetto notes in “She Will Be Loved.” But on the other hand, I had some confidence as well. Jennifer really loved my tone. It was encouraging, but I was definitely ready to move on to Hollywood Week.
Very cool. What was your initial goal after making it to Hollywood Week?
The American Idol experience for me, which I said from the beginning, was hopefully to get some good exposure. I want [music] to be my career. I wanted this to give me a great launching pad to release a full-length record. Prior to Idol, I was actually working on a full-length record for a couple of months. I had a lot of the tracks already done prior to the audition.
I was just like, if I play my cards right and I pick the right songs, perform really well, and put out my best this could really be a great launching pad for my career. And so that’s what I was hoping to get out of it. I feel like I got that and much more out of it for sure.
After your initial audition in front of the judges, the next time the audience sees you is during the Vegas round. How did the Hollywood rounds go for you and what songs did you perform?
Hollywood Week went really well for me. The first round I sang “How Sweet It Is” by James Taylor. I felt like it went really well. That round, as you saw, they don’t give you any feedback, they just tell you if you made it through. So, I made it through, and the group round I was with the Gutierrez brothers. (The group performed “Some Kind of Wonderful,” by Grand Funk Railroad.)
Aaron (Gutierrez) got cut. That was kind of frustrating, because I felt like the song went really well, but the feedback that we got was that the judges didn’t really enjoy it, but the crowd seemed to enjoy it. And then the third round I did The Fray’s “You Found Me” on the piano. And that to me was definitely kind of a turning point when I did that song, because I was able to finally get behind the piano and show my strongest suit, and that’s a song that’s definitely a good fit for my voice. It went really well. I felt really comfortable on stage. So that’s what happened in Hollywood Week.
Alright, so during the Vegas round you performed “Something” with Julie Zorrilla. How did that collaboration come about?
I heard Julie rehearsing in Hollywood Week at the piano. I saw that she made it through, and I remember thinking how talented she was, and also it was cool that she played piano too. We got to pick who we wanted to have — we could do groups of two or three for Vegas — and I was just like, oh man, it could be really cool if we could do like a piano/duet thing. I went and talked to her and she felt the exact same way. It was great, because we really had the creative freedom to put that together. It just worked really well. Our voices were able to blend very well, and she’s a great performer, as well as being comfortable on stage. And the song that we were able to do, “Something,” it just all worked really well. That was probably my best moment that they televised for Idol.
Let’s talk about the Green Mile. How was that day for you?
That day was crazy. This year the crop of talent was insane and seeing those people go was really hard.
I was supposed to go later in the day, right before dinner. And right before I’m supposed to go, they call break for dinner. That half-hour break turned into a hour and a half break. Needless to say I didn’t eat much. I’m about to find out if I’m in the Top 24.
Finally get back from dinner, and I walk all the way down for my final judgment. I get to the stage, and they yell out that my mic is having technical difficulties, so I had to walk all the way back. I had to walk all over, got to the stage and they didn’t show it, but I was so excited and so relieved when they told me I was in the Top 24. It was just the greatest feeling in the world.
In part two of my interview with Halperin, he talks about Top 24 week from how he chose his song (“Streetcorner Symphony (Come On Over)” by Rob Thomas), how he was feeling during the period in between performance night and the results, and what we can expect next from him.
In the meantime, check out “The Last Song,” a recently released original song by Halperin, which is available as a free download as a thank you to fans for their support of him while he was on the show.