You don’t have to win American Idol to become a pop superstar: Just ask Chris Daughtry, Clay Aiken, Jennifer Hudson and Adam Lambert. Could Season 13 runner-up Jena Irene be next in the long line of the premier reality singing show’s also-rans to storm the charts?
The 17-year-old pop-rock singer from Farmington Hills, Mich., became the second Wild Card contestant to make it to the finale but lost to rocker Caleb Johnson. You can see both perform, along with the rest of the Top 10, on Saturday night at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale. Irene talked to the Miami Herald about her journey and what comes next.
What can we expect from the show?
What I love about this season so much is that we’re all so different, but we’re all really good friends, and it comes across onstage. So even if you don’t like a particular genre of music, there’s always gonna be something there for anybody who comes to the show.
What were your expectations going into “Idol”?
I didn’t have any expectations. I thought it’d be cool if I got past the auditions and into Hollywood week. I never even thought I was gonna get into, like, the finals, especially when I was a Wild Card. I was like, “Well, this is it!” And then each week it felt really good to get to the next step.
What surprised you most about the whole experience?
I think getting into the final two. The home visit was really cool, because I remember watching those episodes when I was a little kid, with Carrie Underwood. But I think once I got into the finals with Caleb, that’s when I was like, “Wow, people must like me!” So that was really cool. And I got to meet all these amazing musicians, like [Paramore lead singer] Hayley Williams, who I got to perform with, and Demi Lovato, and even people like John Legend, because [contestant] Malaya [Watson] sang with him. It was just such a cool experience.
First thought when it was announced that Caleb won?
I was not surprised. We would always tell each other, “You’re gonna win — no, you’re gonna win!” but I really did know that Caleb was gonna win, I think, just because he had so much more experience than me. And I think he deserved it. I mean, I’m 17 years old, and I still have so much more to learn and to grow on, so I’m really happy with second place.
What was it like meeting judges Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban and Harry Connick Jr.?
Well, the first time, I was really, really nervous, in the audition room. But they were so sweet, like looking back on the audition, because I kind of blacked out because I was so nervous. And seeing them every single week, we kind of built a relationship where even though we weren’t on TV they were giving me really good advice.
You graduated from high school right after “Idol” ended. Was that kind of strange, to go back to normal life?
Yeah, it was [laughs]. It was so weird, because I got to see all of my friends and the whole senior class for the first time when I walked into graduation. And some people were really nice, but some people were kind of jealous and mean. Which is fine.
What’s next for you after the tour?
As of right now, I’m still under evaluation by 19 Entertainment, which is the label that Caleb is signed to. And I love every single person there. I’ve worked with them on Idol for the past six months, so I would definitely like to get a deal with them. But if that doesn’t work out, there’s a couple other deals that I can negotiate around where I live. And if I do get a deal, I wanna write with as many people as I possibly can and get my name out there in the business and produce an album. That’s my dream.
American Idol Live! takes the stage at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale; 954-462-0222 or www.browardcenter.org; $50.50-$90.50, $145.50 Club Level.