Last week was the finale of the last season of American Idol. At first I didn’t think I would be able to go. It was scheduled for April this year when normally they had it in May. When they first contacted us previous contestants to attend I had already had things scheduled. A few days before the finale was to air, I felt something tell me to look at my schedule. I realized that even though I had already said I was unavailable back in February, I saw that my schedule had changed. I asked my manager if it’d be too late to still at least attend so that I could say goodbye to so many people that had influenced my life during my time both as a viewer and a participant in the show. I was happy when I got a response that despite it being just a few days before, I’d be able to go.
(These next sections you’re going to see a lot of names, both familiar and unfamiliar. I say them all so that you get an idea of how many people are really involved, and how many people that I’m personally influenced by from a show like this—regardless whether the y’re well-known faces or not.)
When I got there to the rehearsals Tuesday, I was nervous at first. I began seeing familiar faces though. Carly Smithson and David Cook from my season. Then Melinda Doolittle, Ruben Studdard, Kris Allen, Alison Iraheta and many others. I also saw many familiar backstage crew members like Jackie and Debbie, the stage managers, Michael Orland and Dorian, song coaches. Drina, Megan, Sam, Patrick, Charles, Nigel, Wylleen, Mike, Ricky Minor, Paul the guitarist, Pete, Katie and many others.
I eventually saw even more contestants: Scotty McCreery, Lauren Alaina, Jordin Sparks, Justin Guarini, Tamyra Gray, Danny Gokey and many others. I met new ones, Colton Dixon, Candice Glover, Jessica Sanchez.. There really were so many of us there! New crew members like Cinthia from Guatemala, Nina, Rachel, Paul, Geri, Becca, Kelsey, Margot, Omar, Alex, Cameron and Mary Jane.
I met this season’s contestants Trent Harmon, La’Porsha Renae, Dalton, Gianna, Lee, Olivia, Avalon, and more. Trent Harmon had mentioned my name in an earlier episode, and that was really touching to me to watch. To know that the work we do can influence or inspire another means the world, so it was a real privilege to meet him and see how humble he was, along with how kind the others were.
During rehearsals and being around everyone that I had worked with and worked for before, It was funny in a way to think of how 8 years ago as a 16/17 year-old I let it really get to me and I prioritized what they all thought of me. Now I’ve become my own person and have higher priorities than pleasing heads and producers of shows, record labels, and companies. I realized how much we all had grown up—how much I had grown up. I was grateful for the growth from the show as a performer and person, and for the more uplifting growth I’ve had since.
I had an interview with Fred Bronson from Billboard. (His books on billboard charts and songs had inspired me at the ages of 13-15 and introduced me to a lot of new songs that I didn’t know before.) He asked how I felt being in the middle season, Season 7, looking at those in seasons before me and in those after me. I realized the Dolby Theater was before known as the Kodak Theater. It was here I watched Kelly Clarkson win at age 11. My dad had surprised me with finale tickets because I was such a big fan. I remember being a few rows back from Natalie Cole, who also attended. I remember watching Kelly’s crowning moment as the first American Idol winner and all the confetti falling. I held onto some to keep for a memory (although I’m horrible at keeping things and unfortunately have since lost it.) Now I was there for the last season, but on the other side of that same theater—this time on the stage for the finale— I also thought how I was in a finale myself as a contestant 8 years prior for this same show that inspired me so much.
I remember watching the first season. There were Justin Guarini and Tamyra Gray present last week. Tamyra greatly influenced me—particularly with her performance of “And I’m Telling You, I’m Not Going.” I never heard nor saw anything like that performance in my 11 years of life. I had never watched anyone put so much soul and energy into a song the way she did. I told her how she influenced me more than any other contestant with that one performance. I told her how I had tivo’d it, memorized it, and learned every part down to her expressions. She said “You need to stop or you’re going to make me cry.”
There were a lot of Polynesian security guards. I decided to talk to them since usually at least 1 or 2 are Mormon, because a lot of Polynesians are Mormons. It turned out 3-4 of them were.
There was a red carpet. I never like doing red carpets. I feel like it’s a “Look at me! Judge how I look! Compare me to everyone else walking down here!” kind of experience and I just don’t like it lol. It gets my anxiety really going, but once I get out on the carpet, as awkward as I stand there, the anxiety goes away once you’re focused on something else. I’ll have to be honest that I can’t wait for it to move on. I saw some familiar photographers that I enjoyed seeing, and also the FOX publicity folks like Jill Hudson, Jen, Alex, and Nicole who had helped us get through so many interviews and pictures throughout the years. Jen told me about how I had called her one time in between my American Idol auditions because a TV film crew had showed up at my door; my mom and I were freaking out. We had no idea what to do. We just didn’t answer, haha.
Before our opening number, “One Voice”, I was feeling anxious. I tried breathing to calm myself down. There were a lot of people backstage and a lot of noise with everyone talking, which all triggers my feelings of anxiety. Everyone was excited, but I was quiet. I usually am in those kinds of situations to not get overwhelmed.
Jordin Sparks was behind me, and asked with her bubbly energy that she always has, “Do you want to say a prayer?” I said, “yes!” She shouted around her “K, everybody! We’re going to say a prayer if you want to join us!!” No one could really hear. Colton Dixon and Danny Gokey came over to join us along with Blake Lewis, and Jordin started praying. During the prayer I felt my fears calm down. Prayers usually do calm my fears. It’s interesting how that works. When we finished the prayer and said “amen” I heard a lot more amens then I expected. I looked up and saw that just about everyone of the group on our side of the stage had huddled around us to join us. It was a special moment. I’m glad that Jordin was willing to be mindful of quiet little me, and also wasn’t afraid to get all of us together like that. It was a unifying experience, which is one of the many powers of prayer—it brings people together and unifies us in a higher purpose with God.
Right before we were about to go out, Tamyra Gray called me over, grabbed my hands and told me “I want to take in this moment with you out on that stage. I want to feel your energy and share this with you.” It was a cool moment.
Near the end, we watched from side stage that last moment of Trent Harmon being crowned as the final winner of Season 15. It was an emotional moment for all of us past contestants and all of the crew. We were all a part of this legacy and had worked hard to make it as good as we could. I had to work hard to keep my tears back. We all went out on stage to congratulate Trent and say goodbye to everyone. There were a lot of hugs, tears, and phones filming. (I always automatically avoid the phones and snapchats. It’s just 2nd nature for me for some reason.)
I never did get to congratulate Trent, but so many people were mobbing him, I thought I’d give him time to breathe. I did get to congratulate his family. They were really sweet folks.
American Idol was probably the most difficult thing I ever had to do in my life. The most draining, emotional, challenging, overwhelming times in these first 25 years I’ve had. A lot of people told me my 2-year mission in Chile would be. It really wasn’t though. Nothing challenged my character more than American Idol. Never did I feel so alone, never was I so tempted in my life. Never had I had such a drastic change. Never was I surrounded by so many superficial things and people. Never had I had so many people talking so much good and so much bad about me, having cameras follow me around and making stories up about my life just for the sake of more unwanted attention. I can’t tell you what that did for an introverted person who had always considered himself a recluse, lol. But it has definitely made me stronger. I owe so much of who I am today to my experience on that show. I learned to get over my camera phobia quickly. I learned how to carry conversations with people. I learned how to accept both criticism and compliments—To be honest it was harder to learn how to accept compliments. I had to learn to be gracious and say “thank you.”
I made some wonderful friends from my time there. Even though I don’t speak to many of the crew nor contestants anymore, I care about a lot of them. They’re dear to my heart. I’m so glad I went through it. I have so many stories to tell now. Being there for that final show helped me gain closure for a lot of unresolved feelings I had about that whole experience being a naive, oblivious teenager in a crazy world of the Entertainment Industry. American Idol was the opportunity of a lifetime. I tell people it was a once in a lifetime experience, not only because I don’t have the desire to do all of that again but because it brought me to places I never would have even dreamed of going to, and experiencing things I never imagined I’d experience. I thank God for prompting me to go. It was a prompting that I needed to go to learn something. I thank my dad for motivating me to keep going because I would have been fine just stopping after the first audition. He sure did get a lot of flack from the media, but none of you would know who I was today had he not continued motivating me and telling me there was more in me than I gave myself credit for.
Thanks to everyone who watched that show. Thanks to all of you who have voted for us. You each had a part to play in that whole experience for every one of us on that show. Even though it’s hard for me to grasp the whole concept of fans, I am ever grateful for your support throughout the years and for your willingness to give me your lending ear. I know that the other contestants feel the same way. It’s nice to know that someone will listen to what we have to say and share.