Following is last week’s transcript of a conference call with eliminated contestant Ben Briley:
Q: So, out of everything that you’ve been told throughout Idol from all the judges, what’s been the best piece of advice you’ve gotten that you’ll take with you?
B. Briley I’d probably say the best piece would definitely be don’t sacrifice your performance for your artistry, I think Keith told me that. He told me that I think the first week of the live shows, and it really hit home for me. I didn’t really understand it until I went back and actually watched it later. But it’s true, and you don’t want to sacrifice the performance value and all the running around with the tempo for the artistry if you are, and that was probably the most down-to-earth advice I got while I was on the show.
Q: Awesome, and when you first got on the big stage with the full audience, what were the first thoughts running through your head?
B. Briley Well, it was really exciting, and the first time we were on that stage was doing Rush Week, and of course there’s the tunnel with all the fans there cheering you on and stuff like that, and that was pretty exciting, to be able to run through that tunnel like that.
Q: I wanted to know, what did you think when the judges decided to put the final spot in the semifinals up for a vote by America between you and Neco Starr, since it hasn’t been done before?
B. Briley Yes, that was definitely a surprise. I did not expect that at all. I think they did that primarily because they really could not decide, and we were both so different, two completely different people. So, we weren’t going to do a sing off, because that would have been pointless, we weren’t going to do any tie breaker or anything, so they thought the only way to find out was to get America to vote, to figure out which one would go through. And I’m pretty sure it’s an American Idol record for the number of eliminations I got through in a week, because I went through three in three days, and I’m pretty sure that’s a record.
Q: I found it really funny this week all the intro videos before each performance, you all were kind of doing imitations of each other, and even the judges last night, what did you think of each other’s imitations of each other? And do you think they all kind of (audio interruption.)
B. Briley Oh yes, that was so fun to do, impersonate everybody. C.J. kind of hit the nail, probably the best one of the night, when he talked about my hats or something in that crazy grandma voice that he always uses. But that was super fun to be able to do that. I’m glad I got to do that too.
Q: It doesn’t seem like initially trying out was your idea, but as the competition went on you got more pumped up and more into it. Was there a point in your American Idol audition experience where you really started to want it for yourself?
B. Briley Well, it was really during the audition, actually when I got to go to Hollywood, I didn’t think I would get to go and they wanted me there, so it gave me ambition, it gave me more drive to actually do well on the show.
Q: And then also the judges felt this week that you stepped too far outside of what you’ve been known for in the competition. Do you feel like you should have done that later on down the road, or also why was it so important for you to show another side?
B. Briley Well, the whole reason I picked that song was to show my diversity and to show that I can do something else besides country music. Now, I love country music, that’s probably what I will make my career in, but I just wanted to show my diversity and show my versatility, and I wanted to break the piano and show people I could play piano, and I haven’t done that on the show yet. It was more of not making a change and not making a permanent change of my artistry and who I am as an artist, it wasn’t about that at all, it was more about showing something different, showing a different side, and that’s exactly what I wanted to do.
Q: I was just wondering if you were surprised at all to be the first boy eliminated.
B. Briley It was definitely surprising. I did not expect to go home this soon. I can chalk it up to that song choice, though, I’m pretty sure that’s the reason. I wanted to stick around as long as I possibly could, but everything happens for a reason and this definitely happened for a reason. And it couldn’t have happened at a better time, because I was getting really homesick.
Q: What next for you?
B. Briley Well, really when I get back home I’m going to take about a four day nap, and somebody really needs to buy me a steak, because I think I deserve at least that. And then I’ll probably figure out what’s next. I can’t really do anything until after the show, for contractual reasons, but I’m going to go back to work. I live 30 minutes outside of Music City, so it’s the best place in the world for music, so it shouldn’t be too hard to book shows and start working on my own music and finding people who want to play it. And hopefully I’ll have a single out on the radio by the end of the year, that’s at least my goal.
Q: So, you just told another reporter that you were surprised to be the first guy eliminated, but you told Ryan Seacrest last night you weren’t surprised to be in the bottom three because of your song choice. So, could you elaborate on what was going through your mind, did you just have a feeling you didn’t connect to the audience? And also, when Ryan revealed the votes in real time during Wednesday night’s show, you were at the bottom then too, so I didn’t know if that kind of solidified things for you as well?
B. Briley No, the vote thing during the show, that doesn’t really affect any of us, because when you think about it, when people vote in they have more time to vote in for the people that went first than they do the people that went last – and they did it pretty much right after, so that stuff doesn’t really bother us. And I know that a lot of the contestants, we don’t really pay attention to any of that. But it kind of set in for me, kind of after the night was over, because everyone did such an amazing job last night, or Wednesday night, and mine was definitely one of the weaker performances. I don’t think it was the weakest, but it was definitely one of the weaker ones. And I knew I’d be in the bottom three, but I was a little bit surprised to go home, mainly because I wasn’t ready to go home because I had a lot of plans that I wanted to do. But that’s all here nor there and now we’re going to go back home and figure out where I’m going to take my career from here.
Q: Sure. And Harry Connick, Jr. seemed to ease up on everybody in his criticism Wednesday night, except for you. He said something about you singing with this throaty sound that resembled something out of a play or a character of some sort. I just want to get your reaction on that. Do you understand where he’s coming from, or do you feel like that’s just the natural sound of your voice, that you don’t try to alter it in any way?
B. Briley No, that’s how I sound in every song. And I got criticized for doing that song and not making it my own, but I will argue heavily on that fact because I would disagree and tell you that I did make it my own. I don’t sing differently in any song that I would sing, and I don’t play any differently. I can only play what I know and sing what I know, so that throaty sound, that’s just how my voice is and how I sound.
Q: I was wondering, how did you feel about the judges’ critique of your performance? Were you surprised that you didn’t get points for attempting something creative? They criticized you for stepping out of the box –
B. Briley Yes, …That did kind of sting a little bit, because the whole purpose was to show them that I am a little different, and I wanted to show that. And for one contestant they’ll say you’re consistent but we need you to change something up, we need you to change a little bit, and then they’ll say to somebody else, you need to stay in your lane, or you don’t need to venture out. And then when somebody finally does take a risk and takes a big step forward and trying to be different and just showing a different side it gets shot down on national television.
Q: I was surprised too, to be honest with you. Also, the other thing that I was thinking is that they seemed especially hard on you in particular, both the week before and this week, and less critical of some of the others who also had, I don’t think you were the worst, by any means, and there were a couple of others that had some pretty terrible performances that got, I don’t know, I thought the critiques were a little soft on those. And I wonder if you noticed that and how you feel about that.
B. Briley Well, I definitely did notice it, and I’m not going to pretend to have a reason for that. Maybe they just didn’t like me as much as I thought they did, I guess that would be the best answer. But, I definitely did notice that. I don’t understand why. You know, they’ve always been nice to me outside of the show, but that was something that I never really quite got. But I don’t really let it bother me because at the end of the day it was America who apparently got confused, and I think it was because of the judges’ comments, and they kind of just threw me under the bus, and it really kind of confused people that way, and their comments didn’t help. But I don’t know what their beef was with me in the past two or three weeks, but I can assure you that it does not affect me at all. I can assure you that.
Q: On the eliminated thing, it’s got to hurt any time that you’re eliminated, but in particular when you’re the last one before the tour group is announced and you’re going to miss out on a lot of monetary values and experience, does that make it hurt a lot more? And last year they wound up picking 11 to go on the tour, was there any thought that they might do that again this year?
B. Briley I haven’t heard of any talks. I would like to hear some talks. That would be nice. But, no, I have not heard of any talks going out on tour yet. I’m sure if we did I would have heard something by now. Yes, that part does sting a little bit, and the good thing is I won’t be away from my wife for an extended period of time. That was something I was kind of worried about.
Q: Now that you’ve gone through two of the bigger negatives that one can experience in life, which one hurts more, being eliminated from American Idol, or watching the Gators beat the Vols on the football field?
B. Briley Oh, definitely Florida. Any time Florida wins against anybody it’s a real let down. And they had a bad season this year, which kind of made my season better, so yes, that’s always … .
Q: After you sang for the save Keith Urban starts talking about what their decision is. How long after he started talking did you know already what was going to happen?
B. Briley I kind of already knew, and it was kind of based on their comments in the past week. I knew that if I got eliminated they weren’t going to save me, because they just had a chip on their shoulder or something, and they really didn’t want to use that, but I kind of knew right off the bat that they weren’t going to use it.
Q: What have you missed the most while being on Idol that you’re looking forward to doing once you get back home?
B. Briley Well, definitely my bed, and my hometown, and my support, and all my family and my friends back home. I do miss them a lot. I also miss my big screen TV and my Xbox and my football games. That’s something I haven’t got to do in a long time. So, I’m probably going to spend all day Sunday doing that, and eating a lot of pizza, because L.A. does not know what food is.
M. Weinfeld Yes, you’ve got that right. All right, thanks, Ben.
Q: What were the mentoring sessions like with Randy?
B. Briley You know, Randy really helped me. He really had my back, this week especially. We had some issues on whether Ricky wanted me to play or not play, and then whether or not the song choice or anything was good. And Randy actually had my back and said, hey, I really think you should play, and then the band come in, and then you get up and walk around and stuff, and I agreed with him. I said, yes, that’s what I want to do. And they were worried the piano was going to take away from my singing, and I assured them it wasn’t because I know how to play and sing at the same time, I’ve been doing it for seven, eight years or so. And then after he said that and really had my back, when he commented on yesterday’s show, he said that I confused people, so it was a complete 180 from what he actually told me. But he’s a nice guy. I wish we had more mentoring sessions with him, because we only saw him probably about two, three times a week. And it’s a lot more than what normally all the contestants see him, but it was fun. And the workshop was fun too that we got to do.
Q: Are you talking about the workshop with Adam Lambert and Chris Daughtry?
B. Briley Yes, yes, that workshop, yes.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about that, what advice did they give you for the competition?
B. Briley Yes, they took 31 of us, and I didn’t actually get to talk to Adam that much, but Chris really helped me out as far as making sure you pick your songs and make them your own, and he was really helpful that way.
Q: How about most memorable moment?
B. Briley For me it would either be when we did the impressions of each other, that was pretty fun, but performance wise I really had a lot of fun singing “Folsom Prison.” That was probably the highlight of my career on the show.
Q: I think I’m the only one that was not surprised to see you do Elton John because of your YouTube videos where you did the Elton John medley pretty much on piano that you had up. Talking about your YouTube video playing Elton John, are you a classic rock fan too?
B. Briley Oh, classic rock is one of my favorite styles of music. I’m all the time listening to people like Steppenwolf, and Creedence Clearwater Revival, and the Allman Brothers, and Three Dog Night, all the great ’70s bands. I’ always kind of grew up with them, and of course Elton was another one that my mom really introduced me too. She was always playing his music in the house around and she played “Candle in the Wind” at her mom’s funeral. Elton, I pretty much grew up with him, so the song choice was easy for me, because I knew that that was what I wanted to do. And I think the problem was I just didn’t get that across as much as how much I really wanted to do that, and the comments after the performance didn’t help either.
Q: What kind of surprised me a little bit about Keith, let’s get specific on something that Keith said, because it kind of bothered me a little bit when he said that he was looking for kind of a growth with artistry, which I didn’t quite understand, because you showed that you could play the guitar and then there you are playing piano, which you went with a completely different stylized look, you ditched the baseball hat, you sat at the piano, you weren’t with the guitar, I thought you were totally showing something different with growth, and then he talked about artistry and I think I got a little lost with that. Did you understand what he was trying to say?
B. Briley Honestly, no, I did not, because I agree with everything you just said, because that’s how I was feeling too. I really wanted to grow, and that was the purpose of doing the song, because I wanted to show people that I do have a lot of things up my sleeve and I want to break them out and show you these things. And I guess it was just too much. They wanted to see a certain thing from me, never really knew what that was, and I’ve definitely grown, I keep growing every day, every time I pick up a guitar I grow, because every time you practice you grow as a musician. But the artistic growth comment, I still don’t understand that. There are a lot of things about the past two weeks that I don’t understand. I don’t let it bother me, because I just honestly don’t care, to be honest with you. I just do my thing and go home.
Q: Not to interrupt, but what you said about Randy doing a 180 on what he told me, so basically in mentoring he told you to get up from the piano, right? And then he completely, what were you saying, he kind of changed his position on that in the comments afterwards?
B. Briley Well he was all for it when we were in rehearsals going over the song, because we had some issues with that song and the arrangement and we were even worried, well, maybe we should just do a different song. And I was adamant about sticking with it, because that was my gut feeling, I always wanted to do that song and play the piano and all this, and he was all for it. He said, yes, I think it’s going to be great. It’s a very different look for you, showing a different side. I think it’s going to go over well. And then I confused the audience, in his words, and confused people, so I don’t understand. I think he was also kind of going off of what the judges said as well, and that was ultimately what sent me home was kind of what the judges said that swayed all votes.
Q: If you in the future could get to sing with your idol or whoever you could choose, who would you just love to be able to either do a duet with or make an album with?
B. Briley Well, I would love to sing with Vince Gill. He’s the one that comes to mind. I’ve always admired his musicianship, and he’s pretty much boss in Nashville, I can tell you that. And also Ricky Skaggs is a big one I’ve always wanted to work with, Eric Church is a big influence of mine. Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson are still around and I’d love to play with them sometime because they’re really big influences of mine. Yes, those are some that come to mind, and Gregg Allman is another one.
B. Briley The main thing, and I’ve said this before, I just wanted to get across that I am not just a country singer. I can do all sorts of things. That was the goal of last night. The goal was to show people I can play piano, and I have a number of instruments that I actually can play that I wanted to break out on the show. I just didn’t want to be that contestant that sings the same, that same country contestant that sang the same music over and over again, and I didn’t want to be consistent. I wanted to be unpredictable and I wanted to surprise people. And most importantly, I wanted to be unique.
And that was my goal for the competition, and it was also my goal for last week. I wanted to make it my own. I’m not Elton John. I’m not Haley Reinhart. I’m not going to sound like them, nor am I going to play like them. So, it was a big letdown because I thought it would go over better than it did, because I really wanted to get that point across. But the experience on the show has taught me about professionalism in music and something I didn’t really know much about, and now it’s really going to help me in the future.
Now, you have definitely, definitely not seen the last of me, because no one is going to outwork me. I have a goal. I have a mission. And I have this ambition, and it is to support my family playing music. And that has never changed since day one. I don’t care about the fame or the money. I was never in it for either one of those reasons. I was in it because I want to be a good father and a good husband, and that’s my goal. And I can do that playing music because it’s one of the few things that I’m good at. And that’s what you’re going to get out of me.
Hopefully you’ll see me soon, in a year or so, in a different context, and we can do this conference call again, and maybe I’ll have an album out by then. You never know. But just keep your eye open, because I’m not laying down. Whenever you hear about all these contestants that don’t do anything, it’s because some people just don’t work hard. And if anything I am a hard worker, and I intend to prove that to people. But thank you for wanting to talk to me today. I really appreciate it.