05.21.12

‘American Idol’ Winner Lee DeWyze on His Career

Two years ago, the paint salesman won American Idol. His record label, RCA, dumped him after his album debuted to the lowest numbers of any Idol winner. Lee DeWyze explains what went wrong.

Truthfully, having gone through the process, I would say that I didn't really know what I was getting myself into. It's kind of like when you go to a carnival and you see the basketball game, and you're like, “I'll just take a shot and see what happens.” I was never the Idol guy. I was never the guy that would go on American Idol because in my mind I thought that was cheating.

I went with friends to the audition. I've never actually told this to anybody before, but it's the truth. Sitting in the United Center, there was a point where we had to sing this Katy Perry song "Hot n' Cold" over and over and over and over again, as a group. The whole United Center had to sing it for B-roll for the show. And after about 30 minutes of that, I was like, dude I'm ready to go. I'm like the singer/songwriter/acoustic guy and I'm sitting there in this group of 15,000 people singing Katy Perry thinking, "What am I doing here!?"

I'm not a very self-conscious person, but I had a very self-conscious moment where I was like this isn't me.

My buddy told me to stick it out. I finally got to the judges’ table and my mind did a complete turnaround, thinking—you need to do this and you need to do this well. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do this. When I hit Top 24 and I had to go on national television for the first time, like live, that's when the fear set in. I just went from playing in bars to me up there with 20 cameras. I kind of forgot who I was for a second. I don't think I changed myself, but I wasn't having fun in the beginning because I was so worried about sounding good. I was second guessing myself.

My goal was never to get up on stage and beat everybody else. Never once did I go up there and think I need to do better than this person. I can't sit here and say winning American Idol was everything I thought it would be and that it's perfect. I remember the first question I ever got asked after I won American Idol was, "Who do you think is going to replace Simon Cowell?" It being Simon's last year, I felt at the time I was being kind of lost in all that mix. There was just so much happening.

“I can’t sit here and say winning American Idol was everything I thought it would be.”

After I won, I definitely would have done some different things. To be honest, I probably wouldn’t have released some of the singles. I don't want to represent myself in a way that isn't me. I wanted to be a part of the writing process. That made it more stressful; having to write an album while you are on tour is overwhelming.

I just don't think RCA and I were on the same page. It wasn't their fault or my fault; I think it was the kind of music I was making. I don't think we were a really great fit together from the beginning. I was really looking forward to making a second album with them and taking it in a slightly different direction, but it just didn't pan out that way.

You could say technically yes, they dropped me, but we had multiple talks and it was fairly mutual. I didn't necessarily expect it to end like that. I was on tour promoting my first album and to find out, “hey, we aren't going to be making a second album”—it was definitely disheartening. I guess it just wasn't in the cards for both sides. That's why I'm doing what I'm doing now, which is working on this other album I'm putting out.

Today, I'm in the studio making a couple of acoustic songs that I'm going to release for before the album comes out to hold the fans over. When the time comes and I do release this album, I'm going to be happy, because I know that what I'm doing right now is what I'm supposed to be doing. And I'm really proud of it. The songs I'm writing are from a very honest place. Whether I sell 100 billion albums or one, I'm still the same person. I'm going to Missouri to play a gig there for awhile, and I'm going to be playing with some other people that were on Idol. I'm excited to show everyone my new music.