AT&T sponsored a concert/meet-and-greet outside Nokia Theatre last Tuesday with 15 former “American Idol” contestants and made several available for press calls, too.
The top 3 people requested by you, the readers, were Michael Johns, Diana DeGarmo and Elliott Yamin. Ask, and you shall receive! I last spoke with Yamin when he was in Atlanta in 2009 promoting his last U.S. release, “Fight For Love,” which sold only a small fraction of his self-titled debut album in 2007, which benefited from a world-wide hit “Wait For You.”
Yamin, who finished third season five and now lives in Los Angeles, is currently working on his third U.S. album and recently did commentary for the Hollywood Reporter about the top three. Not surprisingly, given his own predilections to soul and jazz, he loved Haley Reinhart and wasn’t excited about the top two.
To be honest, I’m kind of baffled by the final two. I’m sure Jimmy Iovine will find hits for these kids, but I just don’t see anything that unique about them, and I think we’re learning more and more that oftentimes, it takes a lot more than just a good voice, or even a great voice. I don’t hear a great voice in either one and it’s a singing competition.
Haley, he told me Monday, has “that raspy tone that I love. Any good-looking girl who can hold a note like that always raises the attractiveness factor. What put me over the top was that jazzy number she did with Casey Abrams. That was right up her alley. It’s a shame she’s not in the final. All the love she got will carry her a long way.”
He said Haley got rougher treatment from the judges than Lauren Alaina or Scotty McCreery. He felt the judges were sometimes “patronizing” to the teens. “I just think those were the times when I wish Simon was still on the show. There’s nothing patronizing about his comments!”
For Lauren and Scotty, he said before the finale, “they are in good hands no matter how they fare in the finale. This show has focused on developing the artist and really finding a lane for those artists. It’s kind of cool to see, especially young artists who are trying to find their way.”
Yamin was one of the least experienced singers ever to make the top three. He had virtually no stage time before “Idol,” unlike many others who have finished at No. 3, including Reinhart. In many ways for us viewers, that was his charm. He grew before our very eyes.
“I was totally learning on the fly,” Yamin said. “I was very green to the whole process. I wouldn’t have changed a thing about that. I learned so much.”
Yamin said he was treated relatively well by the judges, even Simon. But he still remembers how rough Simon was on Bucky Covington and Taylor Hicks (he calls him Tay-Tay), two of his closest friends from that season. “He trashed them any chance he could get,” Yamin recalled. The one that stuck was when Simon felt Taylor was like his drunk uncle at a wedding. He is also friends with Ace Young (”he lives right around the corner”), Blake Lewis (”I was actually texting him before this call”), Kimberly Caldwell, Michael Johns and Diana DeGarmo.
“There’s something about the show that all alums can relate to that very few people in the country can say they experienced or know what it’s like,” he said. “I think that common bond ties us tighter for eternity. I’m proud to be part of that fraternity.”
Yamin said he’s happy and his diabetes is under control. But without a hit song in a few years, his profile has gone down gradually over time and he knows it. “I will say it’s not a cake walk,” he said. “It’s only gotten harder. I know with each season that starts up, it turns out a new crop of Idols. So the further removed you are from the show, I find it a little harder to stay afloat. A lot of that has to do with how I’ve handled my own thing. One thing I’ve learned is nowadays it’s easier to get a song or record out than ever before. I want to work on utilizing all the tools and resources around me a little better. I don’t want these lapses between albums to be so long.”
He said he needs to nurture his his fan base. “I really need to work on my touring base and my online community,” he said. Touring is a challenge because that takes money he doesn’t have without label support. (He is no longer with Hickory Records.)
Interestingly, he’s had bigger success not in the United States but in Japan. He’s toured there four times now and has visited eight or nine times.
He even released a Japan-only album earlier this year. Why? “I haven’t wasted a lot of time trying to figure it out,” Yamin said. “They really appreciate soul music over there, soulful singers and genuine artists. And I feel like my career has enabled me to grow in my artistry. When I first came on the show, I was still trying to figure that out.”
Yamin has even tried to learn some basic Japanese. “It’s a sexy language,” he said. “It’s a difficult language.” He hasn’t done songs in Japanese though he has dueted with Japanese artists, who sing their parts in Japanese.
He said he will take some of his songs from his most recent album released in the U.S. and integrate them with new songs he’s working on now. He hopes to put together a cohesive album, something he still believes in despite the fact the world is now focused so much on singles.
“I’m not making music for yesterday,” Yamin said. “I’m trying to make music that’s timeless and has a lasting impression. Too many songs in the pop contemporary world are hot today, forgotten tomorrow. I want to have a sustaining career.”
He admits he does not listen to radio at all nowadays but gets his new music from the Web or from friends. He likes Florence & the Machine, Lady Antebellum and Amos Lee.