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For Chris Rene, reaching the final week of X Factor had an even deeper impact than the feat of having beat out 100,000 others for the spot. He won another battle with an adversary just as strong: drugs.
Tuesday marked eight months of sobriety for Rene and the accomplishment was not lost on, well, anybody.
“He made a promise and he kept his word,” said judge and mentor LA Reid. “I couldn’t be prouder.” Reid credits Rene’s sobriety for giving him the clarity to push forward in the competition. The 26-year-old finalist agrees. “I feel like I’ve grown up a little bit more,” Rene told the Hollywood Reporter after Wednesday’s finale. “I’ve learned how to deal with stress and pressure and not go back to that old place I used to go.”
That means taking a moment to consider his actions. “It’s responding instead of reacting,” Rene explained. “And it’s a lifelong process that I’ve been learning how to do day-by-day… I’ll go, ‘You know what? I’m good right now. This is what’s happening. I’m here, I’m strong, I can do this…’ I don’t think I’ll ever stop learning until the day I die.”
Fortunately for Rene, he’s had plenty of people in his life, from family to rehab counselors to friends and now mentors who’ve helped him find his way. And on Wednesday, he added another: Avril Lavigne, who imparted some of her own hard-earned wisdom onto the newcomer. “She told me to do what feels comfortable and she coached me on a few different things like breathing techniques,” he said. “Hanging out with Avril was tight. We’re alike in certain ways — she’s just a normal, kicked back, down-to-earth person. She said, ‘I like your words, I like your lyrics, I like your style…’ I’d like to do a song with her one day, who knows?”
In the meantime, Rene has been writing in hopes of churning out another “Young Homie.” Reid has faith. “I’ve listened to a lot of his material and it’s really strong,” he said. For his part, Rene says he plenty of life experience to pull from. “I’ve had so much pain in my life and I have stories to tell for years and years,” Rene reveals. “Look back in my memory bank and you could pull out a thousand songs.” In fact, Rene says he hopes to have several singles out as soon as next month.
He’s not likely to get an argument from Reid, who noted Rene’s progress as a performer and his maturity as a person. “The first time I saw him, he looked like the guy who might win, and today he looks like that same guy who might win,” Reid offered. “In other words we didn’t do much as judges and mentors, he already had it.”
For his final performance following the duet of “Complicated,” Rene took all that advice, the years of struggle and the momentum of 10 million youtube views and put it into the most bombastic version of “Young Homie” yet (his third on the competition). Said Rene: “I went out there fully confident, believing in myself and knowing that millions of people have heard this song. I basically did it like it was my first live concert.”
Now all that’s left to see is whether it will sell out. We’ll find out soon enough.
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