John Stevens ('American Idol' Finalist)
'Something Old, Something New'
After signing to Maverick Records and securing the release date for his debut solo album, New York native John Stevens couldn't wait for the world to hear Red; he just needed to graduate from High School first!
Well, now that he's done that and his debut album has been released to the awaiting public, it's time for the media circus to begin in earnest!
At the mere age of 18, this former American Idol finalist is ready to bring his classic American style and sound to the world. Growing up in Buffalo, New York Stevens' first exposure to music came from his grandparents' record collection - Dean Martin, Cole Porter, Tony Bennett, and of course, Frank Sinatra. Fast forward 10 or so years and Stevens found himself in a line of 11,000 other hopefuls at the NYC American Idol casting call. Through his remarkable journey, Stevens ended up being one of the six finalists and was able to bring his music to millions around the world.
Chatting with him recently, I first wondered how much say he had had in the titling of his debut album, Red? ”Well, they called me up and asked me what I thought of certain titles. So, they came up with the original idea as like a whim, not expecting me to like it. But I thought it was a good idea.”
Tell me more about the album’s photos ”I was actually on the American Idol tour and Maverick had expressed some interest in me. They called me up and said that before they took things any further that they wanted to do a photo-shoot. And the only time off that we had was just before Little Rock in New Orleans. So, I stayed another day in New Orleans and did the photo-shoot there. And that was really a great photo-shoot because I got to see more of New Orleans that I expected to. I had a great time.”
What was your first experience of walking into a record store and seeing your own CD sitting there on the racks for sale? ”I was performing in Feinstein’s [at the Regency in New York] in June and then came home and did a show at Shea's Performing Center in Buffalo and up until then I had not seen it. I did a Barnes & Noble signing and still did not get to see it on a rack in the store! And then the next day I went to Media Play and as I was walking around, not even meaning to look for it, I just went to the vocal section. I was looking at the Dean Martin records and Frank Sinatra records and I glanced over and next to the classic Sinatra albums is my album! I had to take a picture of it ‘cause I was just so overwhelmed. My album’s next to Frank Sinatra’s … that was the biggest thrill.”
So, what’s it like to have your very own CD in the stores? ”It’s a thrill, it really is. I can’t really explain the thrill I get every time I see it and every time I hear it. It really is mind blowing. It really still is a dream.”
Of the 11 tracks on Red, which one stands out to be our own personal favorite? ”I have probably two favorites: ‘All Of Me’ and ‘My Blue Heaven.’ I think ‘All Of Me’ was the most fun to because I had originally not done the vocals with real live horns behind me – they had those Midi dubbed-in horns from a computer that sounded very plastic and fake – and when I went in the second time just to see if I could do it better, unknowingly to me they had put the real horns on! And when that first horn section came in it brought my energy level so high up that it made it all the more spectacular to me. And the same goes for ‘My Blue Heaven.’ I had a great time recording that in the studio with Steve Tyrell. He’s really a character and a lot of fun to work with.”
Was there ever talk of your AI version of ‘Mack The Knife’ going on the new album? ”There was, but as this was my first album I didn’t really have the experience or knowledge that the others have. So, we were just trying to pick out songs that no one else had done in this genre recently. So, we were trying not to copy people and do the same songs over and over and over again. We wanted to start a new thing and introduce these songs in my style to a new audience.”
How did the duet with actress Erika Christensen come about? ”I was actually on the AI tour and the head of Maverick called me up and asked me if I’d like to record with her. He’d heard her in a local bar and asked if I wanted to do a duet with her. So, I said ‘sure, why not’?! I’d seen ‘Traffic’ and ‘Swimfan’ so I knew a little bit about her, but I didn’t actually get to meet her until probably May of this year. I recorded the album in October of last year and I didn’t get to meet her until I went back to the AI finale. At one of the after show parties, one of my behind-the-scenes friends from the show is good friends with her and so he just came up and introduced me to her!”
So, what are you doing for education these days? ”Well, I graduated from High School and got accepted into the Berklee School of Music and will be studying Music Performance. As of now I’m going in January as I think I might defer for half a year. But I’m thrilled!”
How did your road to AI begin … and why?! ”Well, a friend of mine was going to try out and he called me – and I had just got back from American Music Abroad which went to Europe and toured Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Germany and some parts of France as a Choral Group – and he suggested that I go and try out with him at the try-outs in New York. He, unfortunately wasn’t able to go that year, but I decided to go as I kept on thinking that it was going to be a good way to see New York! I had no idea I was going to make it. I could never fathom that I would ever make it onto American Idol.”
How nervous were you each time you took the AI stage? ”Well, people always say that I held myself together very well and looked like I was just having fun, but really I was a mess,” he laughs. ”I was so nervous! I was panicking backstage. My palms were sweating 24-7. It was the most stressful and nerve racking thing that I’ve ever been through! It was like I had back problems after coming off that show I was just so tense. There were parts where I just wanted to cry ‘cause I just couldn’t take it. It was very overwhelming, especially as I was just 16. I was the youngest contestant ever.”
At that final moment on AI when you and two others were center stage ready for elimination, what thoughts were going through your head? ”Well, I had expected to go every single week,” he laughs. ”I had expected to go since week 12, week 11, week 10 … I was just waiting for that moment, but it just never came! Honestly, I heard that the next week would be big band week, so I would be making it one more week after that and then get booted out! But, I guess some part of me thought that I’m not making it to big band week, so, … so long!”
What was that moment like when you finally did know that you were leaving? ”It was definitely relief. I think it was me, Jasmin and George who were the ones who were up for going, and Jasmin went back to sit down and at that point I knew George was not going home!”
Have you a story to tell about an encounter born from your newly-acquired stardom that has made this trip all the more worth it? ”I got to meet the Sinatra family. I met Tina, Nancy, and Frank Sinatra, Jr.”
How did that come about?! ”The producers on American Idol took me to a recording studio in Burbank and there Frank Sinatra, Jr. was working on a Johnny Mendell arrangement with an orchestra trying to put on the vocals of the last song that Frank Sinatra ever recorded – which was ‘Silent Night.’ It’s never been released and Nancy was crying and Tina Sinatra was doing interviews and so I got to meet all three of them. I also got to meet Frank Sinatra’s lifelong pianist, his guitarist, and a lot of people that had been around him all those years.”
”I did an interview for an EPK [Electronic Press Kit] with Tina and she said that on Frank Sinatra’s death bed, she said that she told him that his music would live on and that he replied ‘Only if one person from each generation sings it and continues to introduce it to that generation.’ She then told me that this [meaning he, John!] was that person from this generation! I was almost in tears. It was a very emotional day.”
What’s the downside to all this sudden fame? ”Well, there is one. I can see why most celebrities don’t go out any more. I’m not saying I don’t like it as I do appreciate the fans and all that they’ve done for me, but sometimes it’s just overwhelming. It can be very overwhelming when I’m at dinner and people keep coming up, or they’re pointing as I’m eating, or when they yell out ‘John Stevens’ and suddenly crowd around me.”
Do you have a girlfriend at this time? ”I do. It’s long term and her name is Kelly.”
Finally, describe yourself in just 3 words! ”A nice guy”
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
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