Way before I even thought about becoming a writer, my kids talked me into watching American Idol. I didn’t want to, but I regretfully turned it on. It wasn’t long before I was hooked. There was something about watching these young people pursue their dreams that was enthralling. Soon, I wasn’t just watching every single episode, but downloading and buying music and joining message boards and forums talking about the show. Each year I had a new favorite, and they were always completely different than the year before.
Season three of American Idol, I had my favorite once again. Watching Jon Peter Lewis audition, there was just something different about him. Simon Cowell thought that difference was that Jon looked like a pen salesman in the way he was dressed. The rest of us, though, knew there was something different. He didn’t come in singing a Josh Groban or Brian McKnight song, he came in singing Van Morrison. And not just any Van Morrison. He wasn’t singing Brown-Eyed Girl, he was singing something much more obscure, Crazy Love. There was some raw emotion hiding out somewhere in that “pen salesman” look. He thrilled us each week on the show, whether he was singing something with meaningful lyrics like Rocket Man or whether he was rocking it out with A Little Less Conversation.
Idols come and go, especially on this show, but there was something more there. Somehow Jon made me connect so deeply to his music. What I didn’t come to understand until after he had been eliminated from the show, was that I wasn’t coming to an understanding about him; I was coming to an understanding about myself. At that time, I wasn’t a writer, and I never would have dreamed that someday I would get the opportunity to interview him. Yet here I am, 2-1/2 years later, a writer for a reality show website. Downloading and listening to his long-awaited CD, I knew I had to interview him. It was a chance to get inside the artist.
The first question I wanted to know about, was about his musical choices on American Idol. They always seemed like they fit together like pieces of a puzzle, like he was telling a story. Jon refuted this idea, though, saying he wasn’t really telling anything, and felt lucky just to get the songs cleared, as many of the things he wanted to sing he wasn’t allowed to. He had wanted to sing more Van Morrison, some Beatles, even some modern music. Jon noted at this point that it was much different during his season than now. Back then no one wanted their music on American Idol, but now, people are clamoring to be heard on the show. He used Daniel Powter as a reference, saying he had a little-known song in Bad Day, but after the show featured it weekly as people were being kicked off, it became the most downloaded song. Okay, I’ll admit. One of those many downloads were to me.
Listening to Jon’s newest CD, Stories From Hollywood (available on iTunes), I got that same feeling, like he was telling me a story. And hey, the word “Stories” was even in the title. I wondered if there was a song on there that he felt was more autobiographical. He felt each song was telling a story of his past few years. The point of the title of the CD was in the whole thing together, there was a little story, or a little trinket, from the last two years, embedded in each song. This was a certain section of his life, and he felt it was a learning curve for him. Each one of the songs was solving a certain equation of sorts. In other words, there wasn’t a particular story he was telling, but several different stories of the things he’s experienced the past few years.
I had read that Jon waited intentionally these past few years, to release the type of album he wanted to release and do it his way. As a creative type myself, I definitely respect him waiting and creating something he could be proud of, but I wondered if there was ever a time where he considered just pushing something out there to make a quick buck. Jon told me he knew right away he wanted to do this album himself, his way, and wanted to be involved in every aspect of it. In some ways he feels badly for the artists that have come straight out of American Idol and recorded a CD right away, as he feels by having it all handed to them, they’re missing out on the whole journey. While he has respect for those artists and how they came about their success, he really wanted to experience that journey.
Because of Jon’s feelings of wanting to experience that full and total journey, it has to make you question if he ever felt the title of “American Idol Finalist” limited him as an artist, or if he felt it helped him with his career. He absolutely felt it helped him. He doesn’t think it’s ever bad to be friends with so many people like that. It was such a good thing to be a part of, although there are certain stereotypes with people thinking automatically that you’re a certain type of artist. Jon notes that the first artist people think of when they hear American Idol is Clay Aiken, which makes them think of ballads. Sometimes there is a preconceived notion that the winners more closely relate to a karaoke contest winner. “The proof is in the pudding” though, as Jon wants to be able to surprise people with the work he’s done.