If Elliott Yamin sounds a little tired, he’s got a good excuse. In less than a year, the 28-year-old has been transformed from anonymous Virginia pharmacy worker to household name, thanks to his third-place finish on season 5 of American Idol. EW.com caught up with Elliott during a break from the Idol tour to find out how he’s coping with fame, his sex-symbol status, and his current (and inexplicable) lack of a record contract.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s talk about record deals. A lot of your fans have been expressing their outrage for weeks that four of the season 5 finalists got optioned for record deals by the folks at 19 Entertainment, but not you. What’s your feeling about all that?
ELLIOTT YAMIN: I’m not upset. Not at all. There’s no need for anyone to be outraged. What’s the big hurry? What’s the big rush? The folks who’ve signed to this point, they’re with 19. I will not be affiliated with 19 after the tour is over.
So the faction of your fans who’ve said this could be a blessing in disguise, that they didn’t want to see your sound get ”watered down” by the Idol machine…
I’m going to be able to make the music I want to make; that’s all I have to say.
Your manager told People magazine this week that you’re trying to decide between two labels.
We’re close to signing a deal in stone.
Will it be with a large, mainstream label or a smaller company?
It’s about half and half. We’ll have to wait and see.
I think for some fans, there’s a fear that in past seasons, a lot of the Idol contestants who weren’t immediately signed to deals with 19 faded into obscurity. What can you do to make sure that doesn’t happen?
Obviously you want to strike while the iron’s hot, and our names are in the limelight right now. We’re in the middle of one of the biggest-grossing tours out there, so I’m still very much in the spotlight. But I’m not worried about fading into obscurity. I come from obscurity. And me having a record deal is an inevitability.
What kind of record do you envision yourself making?
It’s going to have a funky, R&B vibe to it, that’s for sure. Not too watered down, not too overproduced. Just good music.
Who are your dream collaborators?
There are a lot of people I’d like to work with, but a lot of times, people get caught up in the names, who they’re going to write with, who they’re going to record with. I just want to focus on making good music.
A lot of folks really fell in love with you over the course of the Idol season, because you came across as being so genuine, so into the music you sing.
I don’t know how to be anything but me. I’ve dealt with hardships, lived through them. I guess people respond to that.
The other funny thing about your Idol season was the way folks started out by saying you didn’t look like an Idol — but then they changed their tune. Now we’ve got readers on our message boards proclaiming you as a sex symbol. What’s your response to that?
I think it’s funny. The only thing I really did was let my hair grow out, so I don’t know how to answer that. It doesn’t get to my head.
And what does your girlfriend think?
She loves it.
You had said during your exit interview with EW that you were seriously considering some of the offers for free dental work that you’d received. Is that still in the works?
I’ve considered it, but I haven’t had time to sit down and get a consultation. I’ve had 40 or 50 offers.
Where is your confidence level now? Do you feel like a future superstar, or is there part of you that’s still got one foot in the pharmacy thinking, ”How the heck am I up on stage every night in front of tens of thousands of fans?”
I feel like I’m on the brink. I still have a lot of work to do, but I’m not really into the whole fame and notoriety thing. I’m just trying to fulfill my dream of becoming a recording artist. And I still have a lot of information to consume and to learn.
What do you mean by that?
I mean in terms of everything, man. Writing, performing, you know, just everything. Learning the business aspect of things. Learning how to deal with the stress and so forth. And the fame, I guess. It’s still new.
Is fame a shock to the system?
I think it is. It can be overwhelming. I think people can be pretty demanding and expect a lot of you. People tend to forget that we are human beings as well. A lot of times you get treated like animals, almost like animals at the zoo. And that’s a small price to pay. I’m not complaining by any means, but it’s just different. It takes some getting used to. Sometimes you want to just be normal, be a regular person, or be treated that way, and people forget you are that way, and sometimes it gets mixed up.
Maybe it’s a good thing you’re taking it slow, then?
Absolutely. I’m not speaking for all of us. But I know personally, since this show started I’ve been flying by the seat of my pants, and I haven’t had a lot of time to soak everything up, even though I’ve been trying to enjoy every moment. This is my life we’re talking about. You don’t have a second chance to do it the first time right, if you know what I mean.
Can you tell me specifically about any of the difficult experiences you’ve had, dealing with fame, dealing with life after Idol?
Not really one in particular that stands out.
Okay, so on the flip side, what’s been positive for you?
There’s been a lot of physically and mentally challenged kids we meet at the shows, and I’ve met a lot of fellow juvenile diabetics. In Pittsburgh, I went and spoke at a juvenile diabetes camp and shared my experiences with 150-200 campers. It’s those kind of things that it’s all about. Making kids smile, making their day. Giving those folks some memories to cherish.
On the tour, and on Idol, you’ve tended to pick less familiar songs. I’d even read that folks tried to dissuade you from singing ”I Believe to My Soul” in your last week. Can you look back and smile knowing you finished third, and you did it your way?
Absolutely. That was my last week. It may have led to my demise. I don’t know what the hell to think. I did my best. I was going to do what I wanted to do. That was the whole point of picking that song, it was my choice. The other two songs that week were other people’s choices. Even Mr. Clive Davis himself pulled me aside and said, ”Off the record, you shouldn’t do ‘I Believe to My Soul’ because nobody knows it.” And I said, ”You know what, with all due respect sir, that’s why it’s my pick, my choice, and I’m not gonna change it, I’m not gonna waver from it.” And I went out there and did it. I don’t have any regrets or wish I’d done anything any different. I wouldn’t change a single second of what went on over the season.
And maybe you introduced a lot of the kids who watch Idol to some songs they’d never have heard otherwise.
That was the whole idea, in my eyes. To open peoples’ minds and ears up, and say, ”Here’s something new. Here’s something different you may not have heard of, but you may enjoy.”