March 21, 2012 1:04pm PT by Shirley Halperin, Portia Medina
'X Factor' Star Chris Rene On His New Album, Sobriety and Why Britney Spears Should be a Judge
The X Factor finalist Chris Rene certainly has no shortage of material to mine for his debut album. As a recovering addict-turned-role model, the 29-year-old Santa Cruz native rallied a nation of support when he went for the TV crown and came so close, finishing the competition in third place.
Now well on his way to becoming a bona fide major label artist (he was signed to Epic Records weeks later) and star, he’s working on music with some of the biggest names in the industry, from Claude Kelly to J.R. Rotem to Boy Wonder and beyond.
As for when his first album might street? The song “Young Homie” is well on its way and the rest should come by late spring, says the label. Rene sat down with The Hollywood Reporter for an in-depth preview of what fans can expect from the rapper-singer. Next month (on April 20 to be exact), Rene will celebrate one year of sobriety, an accomplishment he credits for “making this music great.”
The Hollywood Reporter: What was your goal when you set out to record the album?
Chris Rene: To make good music, have fun and keep it real. Also to have hits -- big songs.
THR: Can you clue us in to some of the lyrical themes or song titles?
Rene: There’s one called “Trouble,” another called “Back From The Dead.” There’s “Chains” and "Rockin' with You." I don’t want to give too much away, but I draw from moments in my life when I’ve had to overcome certain issues. I bring it all back to life through the music and the message is positive. There’s only one song on the album that I didn’t co-write. There's a song called "Yeah I Told You So," which is one of my favorites, the music is super cool. Who knows which one is going to be the next single.
THR: How has getting sober and staying sober changed your music?
Rene: Without sobriety, it wouldn’t be positive. It would be negative and that’s pretty much all I would focus on if I was not sober. I’m someone who's been to hell and back and would rather not be there, so I'm working on making good decisions. It feels good to know that people are inspired so it’s like a team effort. I inspire somebody, they inspire me, back and forth, its like playing ping-pong.
THR: What was the process of getting signed like?
Rene: I wondered what was going to happen. Straight up, I was, like, “Oh, you get a check?” And then, “Oh you have these responsibilities, but you get these super cool opportunities." I didn't know what the process was like, I just wanted it to come quick. But nothing is cooler than having a music industry juggernaut like L.A. Reid say, “Come with me, join my team, I believe in you, lets do this, we're gonna make you a star.”
THR: Does that include fixing your teeth? How did that get brought up?
Rene: The label said, “We thought we'd offer you this, what do you think?” I was, like, “Shit, I don't know -- let me think about it.” Because I like my teeth. Then I went to check it out and I'm like, “Wow, this looks really good!” So I was fighting back and forth. I didn’t want to be Hollywood or anything -- I don't want to change who I am. But I got the teeth, I feel good and I like them. It’s just a little improvement of what my teeth were originally.
THR: Are you singing as much as you’re rapping on the record?
Rene: I sing a lot more and I do a little ringing (rapping and singing). I can rap and get down with the best of them but I'd rather ring and do myself, not try to sound like anyone else. Now everyone is comparing anyone who sings and raps to Drake, but I compare it to Bone Thugs and Harmony.
THR: What album titles have you been considering?
Rene: “The Truth” was one. “Beast Infection” was another. Maybe “El Sea Monk” or “This Man Rocks,” who knows. … It's got to be something intriguing, like, “Oh no he didn't, oh yes he did!” That's what I want to do.
THR: You recently shot the video for “Young Homie” in your hometown, how was that for you?
Rene: It was insane. Being able to do that with no actors and real friends that I grew up with, it was a really cool experience.
THR: Do you sense the pressure of Hollywood? Are you thinking, “How am I going to stay real?”
Rene:I’ve been on a gnarly journey my whole life. My mom, my family, we were raised to be nice and compassionate, to be good to people and to be real with them. So I can't change that -- it’s not me. My clothes have changed, that's it.
THR: What have you learned about the music industry so far?
Rene: I really haven't learned too much yet. I met a lot of cool people in the industry -- some of them are real and some are fake. For me, it’s an awesome journey and I look forward to learning a lot more.
THR: You're a month away from your one-year sober anniversary – on April 20, no less. How does someone in recovery celebrate that day?
Rene: We party rock. We do Yoga and meditate. [Laughs]. No really, I'll probably have a party with the family and go eat some lobster and drink Shirley Temples, Red Bulls and Rockstars. Then, we’ll run around with our shirts off and drive up to a secluded beach with a truck full with pallets, have a bonfire until three in the morning, watch the stars and the moon, play guitar and drums and have everybody hang out.
THR: Any thoughts on future X Factor judges -- maybe Britney Spears?
Rene: I want to see her as a judge, see what she has to say. I think that it would be very entertaining. I want to see who Britney is. Whoever they choose, it should be someone eccentric like a Flavor Flav, who's really freaking entertaining and will keep you locked in.
THR: What was your reaction when Nicole and Paula were fired?
Rene: Surprised. I was, like, “Wow, why did they do that?” because I had no idea why they did.
THR: What do you think the show should change for season 2?
Rene: Nothing, really. It’s the best reality competition show. It’s better than American Idol andThe Voice -- the people who were on X Factor were way more entertaining and exciting than the people on the other shows which are like bubble gum for me to watch. It’s, like, dude, this is whack, sorry. X Factor is not, it’s the opposite.