'American Idol' Daily: visiting with the Christmas tour
I had the opportunity Tuesday afternoon to drop by the rehearsal studios of the American Stars in Concert for the Holidays tour. In an unassuming studio space in Burbank I found Idol giants Kimberley Locke, Diana DeGarmo, Chikezie and David Hernandez running through a rendition of "Mr. Sandman" adapted to the season as Mr. Santa (see videos below).
Leading the performers through their paces was the associate music director of "American Idol," the man who has taken the giants through their songs since season one, Michael Orland. Below are excerpts from my chat with him, followed by my conversation with the Idols themselves.
LAT: How has it been working with this group, whom you knew back when?
Michael Orland: So great to see how far they've come. Kimberley I've worked with recently. She did a cruise and I went along as musical director. Diana is an incredible performer. She was great on the show but she was 16. Now she's 21. She's amazing, so talented.
LAT: So what have you been up to since the finale?
MO: I'm just back from doing the Radio City Music Hall Christmas show, with 18 Rockettes, camels, little people as elves and a living nativity scene. Right when I got back from Radio City, I did Hollywood Week at the Kodak Theater for season eight. It was fun watching the newbies.
LAT: Can you spot the stars?
MO: I definitely can spot them. I remember in season two I spotted Clay, Ruben, Kimberley and Frenchie Davis out of the crowd. I definitely saw some incredible performers this week. They're all numbers at this point, I don't even remember names, but I definitely saw some incredible singers.
LAT: What advice do you give them?
MO: We tell them, when they come in for Hollywood Week, we've already done Carrie, we've already done Ruben, we've already done Chris Daughtry. Don't copy them. You've gotta be original.
LAT: Were there any changes afoot?
MO: Well there was the new judge. I was waiting to see a clash between the two girls but they got along great.
LAT: On the meanness scale, where did she fall between Simon and Paula.
MO: On the Meanness scale ... leaning towards Simon for sure. But she's really great. She adds a really interesting element.
LAT: How do you make an Idol concert work outside of the context of the show?
MO: You have so many people who are such great performers now and its so much fun to take the ones from the different seasons and see how they interact. It's basically like being on Idol again except they're all professional now. But the chemistry between the performers really helps, I thought it was going to be interesting to see how everyone got along. The first day of rehearsal everyone jibed. There was no diva or anything. They all totally got along with each other. And I think people will pick up on how much fun they have together.
LAT: What do you go through preparing for this tour?
MO: These guys have literally had five days of rehearsal for this whole thing. We're going to New York on Friday to rehearse with the band, then Saturday morning we're doing the CBS morning show. And then we get right on a plane to Pittsburgh and open Saturday night in. And Friday we're going to be in the air all day, so its going to be crazy. But we'll do it. That's show biz. I love every second of it. We put on those shows at Idol every week, its like doing a full-blown concert every week, so this is the same thing.
LAT: This is supposed to be your break before the season starts.
MO: Oh, I can't wait for it to start again. I'm like a kid waiting for summer camp to start. I love it.
Next I sat down with the four stars themselves for a brief chat.
LAT: So how's it coming?
Kimberley Locke: Going on the road, it's a process. Five days ago we knew nothing. We come in and pound it out for six hours a day, every day for five days. And you're still missing steps, But its a lot to learn.
Diana DeGarmo: Unlike most tours where you have maybe a month to come together we have maybe five days. But everything is coming together. The harmonies, it all comes together.
LAT: How many songs are in the show?
KL: It's an hour and a half show with intermission. It's about 40 songs.
David Hernandez: We're literally singing every holiday song you could possibly think of.
KL: They forgot one!"Dradle, Dradle, Dradle."
Chikezie: I'm sure there's a Kwanza song out there somewhere they missed.
LAT: How do you remember it all?
DD: We keep doing it over and over again. The more we try to get it into our heads, the words to "Mr. Santa," which is the "Mr. Sandman" song.
KL: You know how you have a dead zone with your cellphone? Well, there are spots on stage where you have dead zones with your head. You forget the words, you forget the moves.
C: Or you do the wrong one.
KL: Or you do the wrong one.
C: You're doing stuff from the end at the beginning.
KL: And then you just inhale. That's the best you can do.
LAT: Are you drawn to the Christmas songs?
DD: Over the years, I've done a lot of Christmas shows. It's been kind of ironic, but every couple years I'll be doing something in the Christmas vibe.
KL: Most people will say Christmas is their favorite time of year. Everybody has their favorite Christmas song and the song they can remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard it. People come out and they're going to be saying, "I hope they sing my favorite song." And they're going to be waiting for it. And you best believe if we don't do it they're going to say, "You didn't do my song."
LAT: What's it like coming back to an Idol-related show? Is it like coming home?
DH: It's like coming back to the show, but it's better than that, because everyone is so relaxed and we're with people we actually like. Because to be honest when you're on Idol, you don't necessarily get along with everybody.
DD: It's a competition still.
DH: But now its like we have our own careers, we come together and do this ...
C: Now I actually like David!
KL: I think that after it's been so long for me, it doesn't feel like Idol. I went on a Christmas tour last year with Dave Cox so it doesn't feel very different from that. It feels like working. But it's nice to be on the road with people who share the same experience. We all know what each other's been through. We're kind of all on the same journey at different places in the journey. So it feels very natural. And it's nice to be in the stage with different Idols. Why not?
DD: It has been a while, so it doesn't feel like I'm back in the loop of Idol. It feels like I'm doing a Christmas tour. But we all have this common bond. The trip is going to be great. I'm really excited.
LAT: When Idols from different seasons get together, what his the first question you ask each other?
DH: How much are you getting paid!
KL: Diana and I went to breakfast the other morning and I feel like I grilled you.
DH: At dinner we talked about it.
KL: We talk about our experience and what we've learned.
DH: It's funny because we'll all talk about it, we'll all have a common idea, like, "Oh yeah, I felt the same way about ..."
KL: It's not the same as what we expected it to be. The industry, not Idol. We'll talk about a lot of industry stuff and we share our stories and I think we all have had different experiences, but we can help each other in that way. And we can say, "I went through that, and this is what happened."
DD: We all have very different careers and personalities and ways of approaching the industry. But it's all somehow very similar.
KL: So we ask the basic questions: How's it going? Are you signed to a label? Do you have management? Do you have a problem with this because I have a problem with this.
LAT: Can you each tell me what you were doing before and what you're planning on doing after the tour?
C: Before the tour I was on a tour.
C: I had a little time to rest after that, but I've been writing ever since. Hopefully, in the next month, probably in the beginning of next year I'll have my album and that's it.
LAT: Can you tell us anything about your album?
C: Ummm ... it's funny. I thought that I had it all figured out at the beginning, the whole idea for the album. But as I'm going out and doing gigs and meeting with people I'm finding out, I want to work with this person, I want to work with that person. I met these guys called Thrasher who did this one song called "Ray Gun" and he's so hot, had such amazing guitars. And I was like, I want to work with you! We're going to have to make some space on this one. We're going to have to make a song together.
DD: I've been living in Nashville, writing and recording. Working with a producer named John Rich. And we actually just went through two weeks of shopping my deal to see who bites in this lovely economy. But either way after this I'm going back and continuing my writing, which has really blossomed.
LAT: And you're doing country?
DD: I'm doing country music, yes! My writing has been very specific and focused and it's been a very artistic expression, for lack of a better term.
LAT: And how did you feel after your Howard Stern appearance?
DD: I loved it! It was definitely a one-of-a-kind experience. For a long time I didn't want to do it, and finally I gave in. It wasn't too bad. There were a couple awkward moments when I was like, "Really? You're going to ask me that question, I'm not even going to answer." But they were really cool.
LAT: Are you looking forward to seeing [Stern wack-pack member and Diana obsessive] Eric again?
DD: Yeah, I'll probably see him out and about somewhere along the way. He'll probably show up at one of these tour dates.
LAT: What about you, David?
DH: Well, thank God the music has been coming in. Since the show, I started my own show at a place called Barcelona, Scottsdale. It's an upscale club. I have my own band and we do Thursday, Friday, Saturday nights. And currently I've been recording. My manager and I are working on getting a deal but we're still in the recording process. So after the tour I'll be going back into that while doing the gig. I'm going to be going to New York a lot and working on it there. I'm going for an alternative kind of vibe. I want to go for David Hernandez meets Dave Matthews kinda deal. But they'll be a couple mainstream things. And then I'm working on acting on the side. I'm doing some pretty extensive acting classes, getting ready for the pilot season coming in January.
LAT: You've got a lot of irons in the fire.
DH: A lot of irons. Actually, Syesha is in my acting class with me. It's a pretty small world. A lot of irons burning at both ends.
LAT: Kimberly ...
KL: It's been so long ago since I came off Idol. I got signed to Curb records. I had two solo albums. My last album came out last March. I have a Christmas album that's out now that's available on iTunes. I own a restaurant in New York, Croton Creek wine bar. We celebrated our two-year anniversary on January 4. Right now, I'm currently preparing to start on a new project after we get back from the holidays. And I've got a cruise on the books, its called Locke and Loaded. I've partnered up with Harvey Walden from Celebrity Fit Club and we're doing a music and fitness cruise.
LAT: Music and fitness?
KL: Well, I came up with the idea because I've had like five No. 1 dance songs and everybody says, 'I heard your song in the gym this morning in spin class or in boot camp class.' So I went back to Harvey and said would you be interested in doing a cruise with me where I book all the musical talent and you come on and do boot camp. And do workout sessions on the cruise. So we're going Sept. 12 through the 19th on Royal Carribean Liberty of the Seas, which is an awesome, awesome ship. And we're going to the Carribean. St. John. San Juan. And we're just going to do a week of sailing. So before then, hopefully we'll have been in the studio and have half of the album done. Staying busy! Just like everybody else. That's what it's all about!