Minutes after his elimination on American Idol, Tennessean native Ben Briley told The Hollywood Reporter that he was “feeling fine” and wasn’t surprised at his fate. “I hate to admit it but I was one of the weakest ones last night. Everyone brought it. I knew I’d be in the bottom three but I didn’t know if I would go home. I had hope.”
Asked about his selection of “Bennie and the Jets” on the movie-themed Wednesday night show, Briley explained, “I knew that song. I grew up [listening to] Elton John. I knew the song would showcase my piano playing, which is why I picked it. I wanted to play piano on the show because not many people knew I could.”
As for his newly styled look, Briley said, “I wanted a haircut and I wanted to take the hat off and do something different. As soon as I get home I’m going to put my cap back on.”
The remaining top 10 finalists all told THR how much they were going to miss the man from Gallatin. “He’s a really good guy who brought us all together,” said Alex Preston. “He always lightens the mood. He knows just what to say all the time.” Caleb Johnson added, “He’s so incredibly kind and a very soft spoken guy but so funny. He would lift our spirits up. He would hang out with everybody.”
“He was like a big brother,” said Jessica Meuse. “He’d say things like, ‘It’s all right, don’t worry.’” And if things were stressful? “He’d say, ‘You look pretty tonight.’”
“I’m the only Backstreet Cowboy left,” professed Dexter Roberts while recalling the first time he met Briley. “It was Hollywood Week and we were about to eat. He was playing guitar. We started talking and I found out he was an awesome harmonica player. That blew me away.”
C.J. Harris explained why he is going to miss Briley. “Ben was my roommate. We became real close over the last few weeks. He told me things he wouldn’t tell other people. He’s a great guy with a humble heart. I know if he keeps fighting and working that he’ll do something. It’s in his hands now and I’m proud of him.”
While everyone agreed that Briley had the best sense of humor among the finalists, at least two contestants emphasized that he could be funny in an offbeat way. Calling him a “best friend,” Malaya Watson said, “He would scare me all the time.” In a dress rehearsal where she was wearing heels to show the producers what she would look like on camera, Briley suddenly jumped out at her, yelling “Boo!” “I almost freaked out!” she laughed.
“His jokes can be creepy but it’s always comic relief,” said Meuse, who remembers, “Once when things were very tense, he made this very alien sounding voice.”
While Briley has been in Hollywood for the last few weeks, he has spent most of his life in Tennessee. “I’m cool with that because I love my state,” he told THR before his elimination.
When Briley married his bride, she had an internship at a music publisher, Sony Tree. “They really loved her there and she thought she was getting a promotion the day we got back from our honeymoon,” said Briley. That’s not how it went down – instead, she was let go. “Neither one of us had a job so we had to find something very fast and the first thing I could find was through one of my best friends, who was working at the Olive Garden. And then a month later, I auditioned for Idol.”
Briley was a waiter at the chain restaurant. “I wasn’t crazy about waiting tables but the people I worked with were great. They were very supportive. The management was great. Right now, there’s a whole bunch of people saying, “That guy was my waiter at the Olive Garden.”
Briley’s earliest musical memory dates back to when he was three years old, playing a toy keyboard that had buttons that made sounds like a cow mooing and a duck quacking. “There’s a picture of me and I’m all laid back, playing it.”
Briley was also vey young when he performed the first time for a large audience. “I have a huge family. There’s about 120 of us because my mom is the youngest of 11 and then everybody is married and has at least two or three kids and most of them have two or three kids. No one has a house that can fit all of us so we have to rent out the American Legion in town. They would always make me go up and sing something like ‘Jesus Loves Me.’”
Although music is in Briley’s DNA — he explains that his great-grandmother was the first woman to sing at the Grand Ole Opry and his mother writes songs and was president of the Barbara Mandrell fan club — while he was growing up, he thought of music as a hobby, not a profession. “I never really considered it as a career until later in life.” He thought he might go into politics. “But I tend to tell the truth and be honest so I could never get elected as a politician. I also wanted to do play-by- play for Tennessee football. I wanted to do anything in sports broadcasting.” Briley had a third option for a career – he majored in PR.
But that all changed when he decided to try out for Idol. “I auditioned because of my wife, Courtney, who I love very much. I want to start a family one day and up to this point I’ve never really had a stable job. That’s really the only reason I’m here, to feed my family, and the kids that we are going to have one day down the road. I want to be able to be a supportive father and a supportive husband. That’s the primary reason; the second reason is because I love music. The fame that kind of comes with it is great and the exposure is amazing but that doesn’t appeal to me as it does to most of the other people. I want a steady paycheck week to week so I can be with my family and I can support them. That’s how I was raised and that’s what my daddy did and my granddaddy did and that’s what I’m going to do.”