Following is a transcript of Jena Irene’s exit interview via conference call Thursday morning:
What music from your hometown, Detroit, influenced you?
“To be honest, I listen to all different types of music. Motown is one of my favorites. I was in a band starting out when I was 12 years old. That played a huge impact on me. I never played sports when I was a little kid. I always was into music. I played all around the metro Detroit area with my band. We played with other bands–kinda got a different music scene, depending on which venue we would play at. That definitely influenced me. To be around all these amazing local artists–it was fun to see what made them unique and what made them individual. It made me want to pursue music.”
Are you joking about going to the prom with Caleb?
“No. It’s May 28. Me and Caleb are flying in next Wednesday for that. It’s going to be really interesting. It will be fun. I’m excited.”
Why did you decide to take Caleb to the prom?
“It started out as a joke. A couple months ago when we were still in Top 8-Top 7. As we got closer to the finale, I was like ‘Wait I actually don’t have a date. I’m planning on going.’ He said ‘We’re going, right?’ He was serious the whole time! I was like, “Alright. Let’s just go!’ Our schedules were able to accommodate with the date. I’m really excited. I still don’t have a dress, and I’m freaking out!”
Some of the most successful Idols didn’t win. Does that give you hope for the future?
“Oh for sure! The fact that I got this far, and I’m still young and a wild card–it still gives me hope–just because I am a unique artist. I’m still trying to figure out who I am. My music has been evolving for the past 3 years. I don’t know exactly what my album is going to sound like. But that’s the fun part. It’ll be awesome to see how people take it. I’ve had so much fun!”
You won the coin toss. Why did you decide to go first?
“To be completely honest with you, I thought that coin toss–I wasn’t really listening when the publicists were talking to me, because I was thinking about several different things at the time. I thought it was just for going first for the performance for the Emmy award. We did perform after the Top 2 were announced that night, just for Emmys. I went first for that. I thought it was for that. Later on in the week I figured out I was opening the show for the finale. I wasn’t hurt about it, just because to open the show and to start strong–it didn’t matter to me. There’s two people left–I don’t think it hurt my chances. I think people were going to vote who they were going to vote for regardless of how me and Caleb did throughout the competition. He has his fans and I have my fans and I’m so grateful I got to this point.”
Will you be singing any of the original songs you wrote prior to Idol on the tour?
“I definitely want to ask, because “Unbreakable Me” was a big part of my journey on Idol. They premiered that song more than once on the show. I’m hoping I can sing it on tour. It’s one of my favorite songs that I’ve written. I think a lot of other people like it too. Hopefully they’ll let me.”
You’re the only wildcard, since season 2′s Clay Aiken, to make it to the finals. How does that feel?
“It’s an honor. Just being as young as I am, it’s crazy. Finishing my high school senior year doing this and still having to go to school–reminding myself that I am a kid–it’s a lot all at once. I took it a day at a time and to come that far feels so amazing.”
What was running through your mind Wednesday night when you performed with your Idol, Hayley Williams?
“My gosh. I was freaking out the whole time. It was such an honor to share the stage with her. She’s such an inspiration to me. I’ve been listening to that band since I was 12 years old. To share the stage was a dream come true.”
Was there a moment in the show you were able to pause and take it all in. If so, what was that?
“I think after I made Top 5. That’s when it all started to sink in that this was the real deal. Throughout the whole competition, it was awesome. Top 5 was really when the work began. That’s when it was getting close to the wire. I was competing with such amazing artists, and we were all so different at the time. It could have gone either way. I just remember laying in bed one night and thinking ‘How am I here?’ I just remember sitting in a stadium full of people, and there’s 5 people left. I was so excited. No matter what the outcome was, I was really proud that I got to that point.”
What was the bigger thrill for you – performing your originals on stage, or being on stage with Paramore?
“Probably being on stage with Paramore. I loved performing my original music on the show, but sharing the stage with Paramore is something I literally dreamed about my whole life. To even rehearse with them and talk to Hayley–she’s just such a down to earth person. It was a dream come true.”
How many songs have you written? Do you have enough for a full album?
“I do have enough for a full album. But I don’t know if all of them are going to make it onto an album. Throughout my whole life, I have probably written like, 75 songs. They’re not all good, don’t get me wrong. Even if one or two of them gets on the album, that’s all I’m hoping for. If I get input on the other songs on my album, that’s amazing too. Since I am still evolving as an artist, and I’m so young still, I have a lot to learn and a long ways to go. If I can just get a couple of songs on my first album, I’d be extremely happy.”
Why did you chose to sing “Can’t Help Falling in Love” arguably the best song of the Idol season?
“I’ve been singing that song for two years, even before. I remember playing it for the first time in my basement to my mom and she cried for the first time in a while. I think that’s how I knew it was powerful, [but] I didn’t know if it was just because she’s my mom. When I heard the theme was love songs, that song was on the list and I was ‘You know, why don’t I just do it!’ The band wanted to play with me. I said no, I just want to do it on piano. It was a risk, but I’m glad it was taken positively.”
How did you develop such a clear performing style?
“I don’t know. Watching all of my inspirations on Youtube and seeing them in concert–I took snippets from each person that inspired me and put them all together and still made it me. The tone of my voice is very different and unique. That came naturally. I stuck with it. Some people like it, and some people don’t. For now, I’m glad that it sounds different and it’s a voice that people know. It’s been a process, but I’m still developing.”
Did Hayley Williams and other artists that you like, influence your movement style on stage?
“It’s hard to come up with your own signature stuff when you’re on stage, but I think throughout time and doing shows and doing what comes natural, it’s going to be so much easier. That’s why I’m really looking forward to tour. We’re going to be doing shows every day and I can learn what works and what doesn’t.”
How does writing help you deal with heartache?
“Since I’m only 17, I really haven’t had that much experience with heartache. My parents are divorced, and that was a hard time in my life. Getting through that, rather than going to therapy, my coping was writing. I wrote some pretty good songs out of it. It was kind of a blessing in disguise, even though there is heartache and there is separations, bad times and low points in your life. You can write some amazing stuff about it and get really inspired. I haven’t had a chance to sit down and write a song in months because I’ve been so focused on the competition, but I can’t wait to write songs about this experience. It’s going to be so epic.”
How did you become super-close with Caleb?
“It was a positive effect. Even talking to some people on the production team that have been doing this for the past 12 years–they haven’t seen as good of a connection me and Caleb have. And for that, I’m so grateful, just because the stress was taken down a couple of notches. Even though this week was busy and very stressful, the fact that I was performing with–I would call him my best friend–you don’t get to experience something like this with everyone in the world, so it’s definitely a blessing that I got to share the stage with him.”
Talk about your transformation as an artist from when you walked the red carpet as a Top 13 to Wednesday night.
“When I made Top 13 I was very unsure of myself and my confidence level wasn’t that high, just because I was a wild card, and I was freaking out just because America didn’t vote me in. I think that lit a fire under my butt because I was really determined to show America that I do belong in the competition, I do belong in the business. With that being said, my confidence level did boost. I really took into consideration every advice when it was given to me, whether it be the judges, or people behind the scenes with my staging coach or my vocal coaches. I took everything in to the best of my ability. I think it did me well. I had such a blast on the show, and I’m glad I made it that far.”
How did you deal with the stress of your American Idol experience?
“It was stressful, especially because I had to go to school too. Maintaining a good GPA is something my parents want for me, and I’ve grown to think that as well. School always comes first. Since I did maintain really good grades, my teachers were very lenient towards me, because they knew how stressful it was. It was easy having my mom there. Having a family member there is such a different experience than when you’re alone. Having my mom give me positive reinforcement all of the time, it was so awesome. The whole process is stressful. This whole career I’m going into is going to be stressful. It’s good practice.”
What will you take from the American Idol experience that will last for your lifetime?
“I think the best advice that I’ve gotten throughout this whole experience is that it’s OK to be yourself. Caleb has taught me that. The judges have taught me that. Production–everything. If you are yourself–you’re just going to have so much more fun. With that being said, you’re going to write better music and have a better time on stage. It’s going to come across way more natural. Don’t ever be intimidated by anyone in the business, because you’re equally as talented or you can do great things. We’re all a team in the business. I think that’s what I’ve taken away.”
How have you changed since your audition?
“I’ve taken it a lot more seriously. My maturity level has been raised. Working around all these people that are so much older than me–you have to kind of live up to them and take it seriously. They’re not going to invest in you if you’re not taking it seriously. I’m extremely excited to see what happens next.”
When she auditioned, did you ever imagine this would be your senior year of high school?
“I remember dreaming about me being in high school, and having to go away to LA because I was living my dream and it actually came true! It was such an awesome process. As stressful as it was, I’m glad it happened now instead of later. It was the perfect time. All the support from all of my friends–I’m really surprised at how much people have been supportive and all of the love that I have gotten–it’s been such an awesome time.”
Will you be able to make it home to attend your high school graduation?
“Yeah, I am actually walking with the rest of my class on June 8, then I’ll have to leave 2 days later to start tour rehearsals.”
Have you ever been to the summer Idol tour?
“I haven’t. I’m excited to see how it all goes down. We each get to sing a couple songs, and there’s group numbers. It’s going to be awesome. My sister is going to get to come on tour until I turn 18. It’s going to be a blast.”
Why did you drop her last name, Asciutto and are you glad you did?
“Production started calling me by Jena Irene on accident, and I kept correcting them and saying ‘it’s actually Asciutto.’ But it kind of just stuck, and they kept saying Irene. I was named after my grandmother that passed away even before I was born. I never got to meet her, but everyone says she was the coolest lady known to man. I kept it. I think she’s looking down on me right now. I hope she’s proud–I owe it to my family for supporting me.”
What is one thing you learned about yourself through the experience?
“I think how much I’ve grown throughout this whole thing–it doesn’t really matter how old you are in this business if you can take it and be professional and can still have a good time–then I think anyone can be successful. I’m glad that American Idol has taught me to be a well-rounded person. Not just with performance. With press–with talking to you guys–I was not the best interviewer, because I had no idea what to say. I’ve learned a lot of things.”
Her closing remarks:
“Thank you everyone. I’m so incredibly happy for Caleb and he deserves it all. I’m really excited to see what happens with me next.”