Chris Medina: The 'Idol Worship' Interview
The Season 10 standout opens up to THR about his early elimination, future in music ("X-Factor," anyone?), and fiancee Juliana's healthcare -- paid for by Starbucks before donations started pouring in.
Eliminated American Idol hopeful Chris Medina's inspirational story prompted super-producer Rodney Jerkins (Britney Spears, Michael Jackson) to put pen to paper. The result: a just recorded single, "What Are Words," and an accompanying video premiering on Friday at 2 p.m. EST on aol.com. "The song embodied what I'm going through and the promises that I kept," explains Medina, who pledged to take care of his fiancee Juliana following crippling car accident.
Medina's Milwaukee audition made him a instant household name, but his fan favorite status didn't save him from the judges' wrath -- which, in Jennifer Lopez's case, turned into a full-on meltdown. How did Chris Medina handle his early exit and where is headed next? THR caught up with the Oak Park, Illinois native 24 hours after his farewell episode aired, and just before he went shopping for a new blazer to wear on Friday's Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
THR: How hard has it been to be home and keep all of your Idol experiences a secret?Chris Medina: It was pretty easy. I didn't go out. I just stayed in my house and didn't talk to anybody. Every week, I’d get a phone call saying "Hey, this is so-and-so from TMZ, is this Chris Medina from American Idol?" And I'm, like, "No! But I've been getting that all week." I kind of pretended I wasn't myself and just ignored them. THR: Every Idol hopeful has that moment when he/she realizes the show is much bigger than they ever imagined, when was yours? Medina: The day that my audition aired. I was at a bar with my family watching [the show] – kissing, crying and happy – and my buddy pulls me aside and says, "You’re the number one trending topic on Twitter and Google." I was, like, "This is not happening.” It was this weird Twilight Zone stuff, like it isn't real." The a few days after it aired, Juliana's cousin, who’s a volleyball coach, invites my whole family to this grammar school game, and as soon as I walk through the parking lot, someone recognized me. In the gym, this kid asked me to sign his arm. I look at the stands and everyone is going berserk. I hugged a kid and he started crying. A mom got red in the face telling me, "You need to take a picture with my daughter!" That's when I realized that this was way bigger than anything I'd ever done. THR: What was your first concert? Medina: Foo Fighters at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago. I saw Dave Grohl duel with Taylor Hawkins on drums. It was so cool. But Nirvana changed my life. It converted me from being a hip-hop, R&B guy to loving rock music. THR: You were sent home after Vegas week, but is the Wild Card an option for you? Medina: I don't think so. Rumor is that it's just for people who get eliminated from the top 24. But if it was, it'd be cool for me. I'd love to give it a crack again. I feel like I was thisclose to pulling it all together. THR: How about trying out for The X-Factor? Medina: I would be terrified to audition in front of Simon. I have to work on my chops a little bit, work on my A-game. Honestly, my performance on American Idol wasn't really strong enough. I feel like if I went on there with Simon he would tell me how it is way too much, and I would have to really try. So I'd have to work on it. THR: What was your impression of the judges? Medina: Steven Tyler is a maniac and so cool. He's someone I've been listening to since I was a kid. My mom loves him and thinks he's gorgeous. And so do the girl's my age. It’s amazing that someone so iconic with such superstar power can be so down-to-earth. He has an aura about him, he makes you feel comfortable. On the very first audition, he gave me a kiss. In Vegas, when he was walking by me, he touched my face... He's like a hippie with a mission -- just a free spirit, rock 'n rollin man who loves people. THR: And Jennifer? Medina: She’s just really sweet. I'd heard all these rumors about her being this diva. Like, you can't call her [J Lo], don't look at her in the eyes or you'll turn into a statue… but she's not that way at all! She's just super kind and egr comments have substance. She'll tell you "You're almost there, you're doing good. Just a little more less of this, a little bit more of that. I felt you, you gotta sing like you own it.” THR: How about Randy? Medina: What you see on TV, that's the way he is. THR: You and Ryan Seacrest seemed to get along well… Medina: Ryan is very cool. He's a master at delivery and I love the way he holds his cool. THR: Ryan was surprised by your exit, but Jennifer had a total meltdown. Medina: Ryan seemed shocked, but he's seen it happen a hundred times. I heard about Jennifer, but I didn't get to see it in person, otherwise I probably would've started crying. She was really concerned with how she gave me the axe. But actually the way she said it, I was just, like, “cool." And then she gave me a hug that made it all better. I don't think Jennifer could have said it better way, she was being too hard on herself. She hit it right on the head: I had some good performances and some not-so good performances, and there were people there who’ve had consistently really awesome performances THR: Do you still plan to get married? Medina: I sure hope so, that's the goal. I've already told myself that it's okay that she's in a wheelchair. It doesn't mean anything to me. It's okay if she has a hard time speaking. What's not okay is if in a couple years, she’s not 100% and we can’t could have a conversation with each other, because that's the essence of a relationship. I don't mind helping her into her car, but I don't want to be feeding her or taking her to the bathroom everyday from this day forward. I want her to become somewhat independent. Those are more my own personal issues, and I know that it might be rough for a lot of people to hear, but that's the truth of the matter. To me, Juliana is still beautiful, but I want to be able to sit down and have a meaningful conversation with my wife… I want to get to a point where I feel less like a caretaker and more like a fiancé. But to say, "We're not going to get married until you get better" is unfair to her, too. So the only thing I say is: "Babe, if you keep trying, I'll keep trying." And that's the truth. THR: Does Juliana have decent health insurance? Medina: She’s on my health insurance from [working at] Starbucks. They recognized her as my domestic partner because I had been living with her for eight years. After [the audition episode] aired, I had no idea that it was going to blow up the way it did. People donated equipment, a van, money, offered to pay for hospital bills, a few doctors offered their services for free. It wasn't like I wanted to be an American Idol, I just wanted to help her and had to figure out a way to do it. Because steaming foamy milk is not going to cut it. And I think I did something really good for her and her family. I accomplished it. THR: How was your experience recording this song? Medina: Rodney Jerkins was too cool. He made me do things I didn't think I was capable of. I'd be, like, "Man, that's too high," and he'd say, “No, you just think it is. Your emotion is going to bring it out and you're going to hit those notes." In the vocal booth, I told him, “It’s really hard to be sad when I'm so happy to be here!” There was a point when I lost it and started crying just thinking about the lyrics. "Every promise I'll keep / You'll see / I'll be there wherever you are / I'll be near / Wherever you go." I remember having those conversations with her. "If I got burned from head to toe, would you still love me?” "If I were paralyzed, would you still love me?" "If I got hit in the head and got amnesia, would you still love me?" And I'd go "Yeah, I'd still love you." THR: So what's your goal at this point? Medina: I want to write music and see what happens with this single. I want to work on my stage presence. I want to play 250 shows a year. I want to be a complete artist. I want to take care of my fiance. I have this fantasy that I make enough money to build us a house where she can get around and I could take care of her for the rest of our lives, whether we get married or we don't. I want her to just be happy. That's all. THR: Did you want to be famous? Medina: My idea of being famous was being in a band that gradually grew. I always wanted to write music that people loved and I always wanted to be popular, so yeah, I guess I did want to be famous. But I never thought that it would be like this. And I wouldn't necessarily consider myself famous yet. Like, Jay-Z is famous, When he walks into a club, peoples’ eyes open real wide, they point with confidence and say, "That's Jay-Z." When I walk into a bar, people tilt their head and maybe raise a finger and say "Do I know you from somewhere?" So I'm not there yet. But we'll see where I end with X-Factor.