‘American Idol’ Castoff Chikezie: What’s Next? ‘At Least One Grammy — That’s For Starters!’

If a name alone made a pop star, “American Idol” could have skipped season seven altogether and just handed the crown over to Chikezie.

As it turns out, performing also matters (who knew?), and “Idol” fans weren’t feeling the Inglewood, California, 22-year-old’s ultra-mellow take on Brenda Russell’s “If Only for One Night,” making Chikezie the top 10’s first evictee.

We caught up with the charismatic contestant to find out his next move, what he thinks of the new mosh pit and whether he really is that cheerful all the time.

(We found a group of folks in the Army’s 82nd Airborne division who are as obsessed with “American Idol” as we are! See what they thought of this week’s episode in our Newsroom blog.)

Q: You seemed to be happy all the time on the show — is that for real?
A: I wear my emotions on my face most of the time. If I’m nervous, you can usually tell. I’d probably be, like, sweating without doing any kind of work. [Laughs.] I am happy because I feel so blessed to be in this position, to have this opportunity.

Q: What were you thinking during the results show?
A: I was glad that none of the other guys had to go. That’s probably the hardest part of the show, to say goodbye to your friends. And things couldn’t have gone better. I didn’t have to say goodbye to anyone, and honestly no one has to say goodbye to me, because you’ll be seeing me more.

Q: You said on Tuesday that the band urged you to sing a ballad despite your doubts. Are you upset that you went with the slow song?
A: No, I’m very happy. If I got another chance to do it, I’d do it the exact same way, because that’s the only way that I could have gone home happy — by following my heart. If I did something that wasn’t me, and then I’d gone home, I would have been so upset that I didn’t follow my heart. I would have been so upset and so distraught about it, but I’m so glad I did what I did.

Q: You tackled a lot of genres during your time on “Idol,” but what kind of music do you hope to record?
A: I love the idea of fusion. I love the idea of bringing together several different styles to make something new, make something fresh, make something people have never heard before. Gnarls Barkley was willing to take risks with music, and they ended up on top because they were really dedicated to it.

Q: How did you pick your songs each week?
A: I would listen to a song, and first off would see if I could change a song. If I felt it had space for change — because you have so many songs that are just so complete and so established that you feel you can’t even touch them — but you have some that are insecure, like they didn’t get the fame like the other ones, and you think, ‘Oh, maybe I could do this or that.’ If I see that potential, then I’ll go for that. If it’s a complete song, you can’t touch that. And I have to make the most of it, so it has to touch me first.

Q: Were you surprised by the judges’ reaction to your performance?
A: I didn’t care, honestly. I already knew that Simon wasn’t going to feel it no matter what. I knew when I picked the song that Simon was not going to like it. Knowing that, I did the song anyway. I did what I felt was right. I felt it represented me.

Q: Were you nervous about doing another ballad when your last slow songs hadn’t been that well-received?
A: It’s kind of like running on a diving board. You know the diving board is eventually going to end, so you run even faster, you know? That’s the way I looked at it. … I knew that Simon would not like it, so it took a lot of the pressure off. I didn’t have that to worry about. [I was] just performing for the sake of performing, which is what I love to do.

Q: What was your relationship like with the other “Idol” hopefuls?
A: It becomes a family, because you’re basically a group of people going for a similar goal. And it’s not necessarily to win; it’s to be successful at what it is you love. So we basically form these bonds where we help each other out. It’s an amazing support system. If one person is having a bad time, then two people come up and back them up.

Q: What’s next for Chikezie? Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
A: In 10 years, I would like to see myself getting at least one Grammy. That’s for starters! [Laughs.] I really want to get started with my singing career and get to work with that. Start making albums, start making music that ultimately makes others feel good so that I feel good. Also, acting. I mean, who knows? Why not? I want to try everything. I’m the type of person that I like to see what I can do. I want to know what my boundaries are. I’m always testing myself to see what I can accomplish.

Q: You’ve named Michael Jackson as one of your influences. Would you like to emulate his career?
A: What’s so great about Michael Jackson, and what I tried to get from him, is he’s an inventor. I don’t believe that he has a routine ever. He gets onstage and he does what he does and he works it. He works it and works it and works it, and that’s something that anybody should look up to. It’s that freedom that allows us — that separates singers from artists.

Q: How do you feel about the new mosh pit? Are the fans down there distracting?
A: No, it’s exciting! I have never heard people scream so loud. [Laughs.] It’s really — it shocks you every time right away. I swear, some little girls can throw their voices like nobody’s business. It’s funny. Even if it’s like, “What are they doing?,” it’s still funny.

Q: Having auditioned for “Idol” during past seasons, what did you do to make it past Hollywood Week and into the top 24 this year?
A: The biggest difference is realizing that, yes, I can sing, but what else? That was probably what hit me the hardest. Last year, the previous year that I auditioned, was, “What’s wrong? Why am I not getting anywhere? Why don’t people get what I’m trying to do?” And I came to the realization that, “OK. I got into this competition thinking all I got to do is sing.” Then you realize, “Hold on. That’s what everybody else is doing.” So you think, “What else can you do? Can you perform? Can you work a stage? Can you entertain?” And that’s the realization that I had to come to to basically step myself up and get to where I got.

Q: Were you surprised to be eliminated?
A: I knew I was in the bottom three. I knew I was going home. And that was OK with me. I followed my heart and knew throughout the entire competition that eventually I’d have to go home. So I was fine that it was at a point when I would be able to come back and do a tour.

Q: Did you ever imagine participating in something as big as “Idol”?
A: This magnitude, I could never imagine this. This is just God’s plan, and I never thought I would be doing things this big. Before “Idol” came along, I thought if I could just get by singing here and there, maybe I would be able to have some sort of mini-career. Like how you look back at some things and think, “Oh, you know, I tried. I had my time.” But now it’s like, “Wow, I could really do something with my life.”

Katie Byrne


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