Idol Chatter interviewed Season 7 sixth-place finisher Carly Smithson back in September. We held on to that transcript until now to kick off Season 10 (it starts Wednesday night).
While Smithson didn’t finish in the Top 5 that season, she is still one of the Top 5 personalities to ever appear on the show.
Following is the hour-long interview in its entirety as she talks about everything from her new band to Adam Lambert to her views on religion to the threats her husband received while she was on the show.
“I am in Point Loma. I love it here. I used to live on Hawthorne (Street, right near the Mona Lisa Restaurant. We moved over here about a year ago. I tried to get out of the flight path (of San Diego’s Lindbergh Field), but apparently I am still in it. Now they are taking off and it’s just a longer drone.
“Going to a red-carpet event tonight. It should be fun. We were on the FOX, that radio station in Santa Rosa. We were there about six weeks ago. And your city … a little town that is the cutest thing I have ever seen.
It’s just past the Star Wars place (in Marin County). Ben (Moody, a member of her band) has been there a few times and every time we’d go past it he said, ‘SCan we just stop the car for a few minutes?’
“Absolutely, it’s been a roller-coaster ride. I left the show and I had an idea of the kind of record that I wanted to make. It wasn’t the record that everybody else thought I should make, but it was something that I needed to do for myself. So, I started writing by myself cause a lot of people didn’t understand the direction that I wanted it to go.
“I was told that doing rock music after Idol was never going to work because I wanted to make this record. Do you know what I mean? Success isn’t about how many records you sell … of course, that’s important, but I had to make this record.
“So, the whole thing, whether it was going to fly or not, really didn’t matter to me. So, I started writing and I came up with a few songs. I went to Atlanta and I started writing by myself. A friend of mine there had this kind of like a tree house. It was very inspiring and very cool.
“So, when I got to Atlanta (I used to live there) I met up with all my old friends and it kind of dawned on me that these people came out to see me for no other reason than they were my friends. It kind of dawned on me that since my time in the entertainment industry and on Idol and in L.A. I kind of … you know what I mean… so I surrounded myself with people who were there for a reason. They weren’t there just necessarily because they just wanted to be my friend.
“So, I wound up writing a song called Bury Me Alive which was the first song that we put out so I guess it gives you an idea of who the band are. It was basically about the people who were so nice to my face, but they would bury you alive to get ahead or to get their foot in the door a little bit more than you. Stuff like that.
“So, when I got back to Atlanta and the south, where my husband’s family is from, I guess I just saw people who have less of a competitive nature in life in general and they are good to each other. But you find those kinds of people everywhere and I felt like I was surrounded by those kinds of people. So I wrote this song and I really felt like with this song I was on the right track cause this song is what I hope to achieve for who Carly is. You know?
“So, I started writing the rest of the record and I was a good chunk into it and a friend of mine moved into the bottom of this house with some other friends. I was kind of familiar with them, but I hadn’t really met them. They were working on a new band project. It was very secretive I guess. They didn’t have a singer and it was something they were tinkering with.
I think really we were all going in the same direction and just didn’t know each other. So, Ana played Crazy on You, the Heart song that I sang on Idol. We were at a Fleetwood Mac concert in Anaheim and Ben called and talked to Ana and asked her about the friend of his and she said, ‘Well, she’s in the car right now.’
“So, it was about 1:30 in the morning when we got to the house and Ben came downstairs and we met and we talked until it got light outside about everything we hope to achieve and where I was going musically and where they were going musically and where we would fit.
And he asked me if I would be in the band. So, I got in the car and drove all the way back to San Diego and when I got home I asked my husband what he thought and I called my manager and asked him if he thought it was a good idea and he said, ‘Why are you even calling me on this. It’s the greatest idea.’
“I didn’t want to be generic and have soft, long lyrics to all of my songs. I wanted to tackle situations that people have dealt with … things that I have dealt with.
“I’ve had kind of a really up-and-down, roller-coaster kind of life and I wanted to write from a truthful place because there is nothing more powerful than being on stage and singing a lyric that is off a memory that you can go back in and relive. It’s my favorite thing to do because emotionally you get lost.
“So, we met the rest of the band about a week later and we sat down in the studio and we just talked about who are you and what do you do and we talked for a few hours and it was very obvious that these five people were meant to be.
(All of this happened in June of 2009.)
“We sat down in Ben’s studio and we started jamming. We went from Iron Maiden to Metallica to Manson just enjoying each other’s musicanship or whatever.
“It was kinda cool. I felt like, ‘Wow, I found the family I’ve been looking for for 10 f—ing years! It was just great. It was magical. Everyone in the room had a smile on their face.
“They realized quickly that we don’t write together. I write by myself in the dark, empty apartment. I guess I have to go inside myself to that place and relive it.
“It all just sort of happens. It depends.
“St. John was a lyric that I had had for years and it was something that I wanted to make something of it. They gave me this wacky track that nobody knew what to do with it.
“This was the song I had wanted to write for years. I grew up beside an asylum called St. John of God in Dublin (Ireland). I always wanted to know what it was like inside, you know, an asylum for the mentally ill and depressed and stressed and anorexic … it kinda had a big title over it.
For the first portion of my life it was about a quarter of a mile away. It was just down the street. But it had big walls and electric gates and everything. I was always curious about what was going on inside and eventually because of something that happened in my family I was able to go inside.
“It was something that I always wanted to write about and a lot of people that you think you knew I saw when I got to go in there. It was just crazy to see people in there. People from my neighborhood. I totally knew that person. It’s just a weird day in your life when you realize that so many people go through just (those kind of) hardships and need help. I wanted to write about the contrast of the hard times and the people in there laughing and joking.
“But I truly felt like I had met the people that I was supposed to be in a band with when we could come together and create something that was ours and not strange. I finally found my group that worked so well together.
“We had planned to do two songs and we wrote 16 songs. It was the most fluid, exciting musical environment I had ever been in in my life.
“They didn’t have a name when I joined the band. Marty and Dan had been working together for seven years. They hadn’t really put any effort into it. Hanna, Ben’s girlfriend, came up with the name (We Are The Fallen) because she said, ‘You guys have had so many ups and downs. Crazy bottom of the pit, top of the world things in your life so why not make it a statement and a celebration of where you have come from.’
“And besides every band name that we came up with was already taken. But the name really made sense. Celebrating and turning it into a positive thing. I think there is only one song on this record that isn’t from a personal place and that’s New Moon written from the Twilight book.
“I’ve always wanted to have this big career, but the sole goal in making this record was simply to make the record. All we wanted to achieve was to make the record that all of us wanted to make. The lyrical content of this record is the past experience of We Are The Fallen.
I”t was hard to pick a single, but all five of us agreed on this one. It is the final track on the record.
“You dream of having a 37-piece orchestra come in and sing on your song. Even when it was in its infant stage we all knew that something special was happening.
“We knew that eventually it would be a good radio song. We just hoped to make something that would make us happen. It just hits you in the chest. It really and completely grabs you. A powerful lyric and a great story and so many people come up to me and tell me how they relate to the lyrics of the song. I think everyone in life sometimes feels they are in control by someone or powerless or they are in a rut whether it’s at work or being bullied in school. There is a universal message in this song. I think that’s something that will grab people, but who knows if it’ll be a hit on the radio.
“I didn’t write it. But I’ve experienced these things. We used the demo as a vocal. I was so emotional in the vocal.
“I enjoy the writing process the most. I enjoy the lyrics and the music and recordin
“When the Idol tour ended I never knew if I would see the inside of a Tour bus again. Each night is a gift. We Are The Fallen to have five people who have experienced losing a career at one time or another. Every member of the band has played an arena tour. It’s an amazing thing being on stage with these other four people.
“I don’t think I ever f—-ing appreciated it or enjoyed it as much as I do now. It’s a gift and a special, special moment.
“We are very humble and approachable. We are nothing without our fans. Who knew? We had a vision and a plan.
“I’m from Ireland. Ben is from Arkansas, now living in L.A., two are from Little Rock and the other one from Rhode Island
“I have never met Adam Lambert. But absolutely, I am a big fan of his. I think his voice will go down in history as one of the greatest voices I have ever heard. He did say in the Rolling Stone interview that he thought I was fierce cause he watched the show while he was in Wicked. I would love to meet him. He seems like a very carefree person.
“He did everything on Idol that I didn’t do. I got on the show and I got immediately, very attacked mail-wise. Absolutely, I got tons of mail. People liked my voice, but they didn’t like by tatoo. People would say that they really wanted to vote for me but they didn’t believe in ‘sullying your body the way you do.’ Like how bizarre and really how sad that you think that way. My husband would look at me on the stage and say, ‘Who is that? That’s not my wife.’ We were in this other universe because we couldn’t go out and spend a ton of money. You have a stylist and you have maybe 15 minutes to pick an outfit out. I was on Idol before there was someone who actually stepped out. There hadn’t been a female who was tatoed before, there wasn’t someone who was going after that rock-and-roll place.
“There was a video put out early on and Brooke White was like an angel and Carly Smithson was like the devil. So at an early time I was aware that I had to appeal to an audience that watches Idol so I kinda played it safe and still always stayed true to the fact that I wanted to play rock music. Unfortunately, it was the image. I tried to do Iron Maiden and I wanted to do it with an orchestra but it didn’t clear. So, I felt like I was in a limited universe.
“And even though David Cook was a rocker, I guess he was a little more cleaner so to speak than I was. Not in the sense of cleanliness, but you know what I mean. He always said he was tattooed and I said, ‘No, you’re not!’
“Like a lot of my body is covered and for a female that’s a little different for a conservative audience that might watch Idol.
“Like Adam Lambert didn’t give a shit. he just went out on stage and he was who he is and I became a fan of his very quickly because he did everything that I probably should have done. I mean, I got very far and I was very happy with my finishing place but musically I definitely would have liked to do… there are many, many songs that I wanted to do but they didn’t clear.
“I guess Idol got a new clearance person the year that we left so Adam had a little more variety to choose from than we did. Like Mariah Carey week. What am I supposed to do with that? Dolly Parton Week? What am I supposed to do with that? I always tried to turn everything into a ballad or something but I found it very difficult.
“My husband got threats. People saying he needed to leave me because he was holding my career back cause ‘Your (Carly’s husband Todd) face it tattoed. Who are you to have that opinion of us? He would get it at the (tattoo) shop. I felt at an early time I needed to be in tune with the audience. Sometimes I felt like I looked like a Christmas cake. I wear band shirts and tattoo shop T-shirts I’ve collected over the years. Idol doesn’t allow you to wear that. Nothing with a logo on it was allowed.
“Paula (Abdul) told me to stop wearing black cause she said I would get voted off, that was at the Top 16 level. I definitely paid attention to that. I felt uncomfortable. My husband would say, ‘What the hell are you wearing. Who are you?’ I would say I know but I am in the show. It was funny.
“What was it like when the show ended for me? You are kind of like they don’t hold your hand anymore. You just came off the biggest TV show in the world and if you can’t make a career of it after that you are never going to, so many opportunities.
“I mean I got to the Burbank Airport and said, ‘OK, what am I to do?’
That day I stood on the tarmac and waited for my nine bags to come down cause I hadn’t been home in a year and I thought, ‘OK, I have to work my ass off now.’ I didn’t go home for two weeks. I got an apartment in L.A. I needed the time away.
“But what are they supposed to do, hold your hand for the rest of your life, you know? They give you a nice salary. People think that contractually they kind of —- you. But they don’t. You are free to do whatever you want. You get off the Tour in September and they give you a huge paycheck to go off and create something with your life. As much as I really didn’t enjoy the time on stage during the show because some of the songs I wouldn’t have necessarily picked and the outfits I never would have, but Idol was very good to me and though a lot of people complain, they gave me a chance.
“My plan was to network in L.A. a couple of days a week. So I didn’t achieve what I wanted to. Idol still gave me a massive paycheck and a chance to get my foot in the door.
“It was a wonderful experience in that way.
“I talk to Brooke (White) almost weekly. We discuss life…
“I talk to (David) Archuleta a lot. I’m like a big sister…
“Dave (Cook) and I do talk as well. Others I haven’t talked to. Everybody went their separate ways. I’m actually more friends with Dave’s (Cook) band than with him…
“Am I religious? I am curious about religion. My husband has a degree in theology. I grew up a Catholic. It is the one thing that is so powerful in the world. It causes and ends wars and it changes peoples’ lives. I really don’t know what to believe. Brooke (White) and I talked about the Morman religion. I don’t disagree on there being a higher power.
“The voting on Idol. I would have liked to have seen what the votes are. I was told we would see them at the end of f the season not during the season cause it would add to our stress. But I never did see them.
“First time I heard our song on TV I was sitting in the bath in New York and I heard Bury Me Alive. I jumped out of the bath and slipped and almost killed myself cause I hadn’t seen it before. It’s just very bizarre to see yourself on TV like that for the first time.
“And I was once in Canada and it was 7 in the morning with the TV on and it came on and I was awakened by our song. Music video in Canada and I literally jumped out of the bed and took pictures of the TV. Wow, we re onthe ffffffffffffffing TV. Vampire Diaries.”