Look for our interviews with all four eliminated American Idol contestants this afternoon on PopWatch.
EW: How are you doing, Janell?
JANELL WHEELER: I am doing really good, actually. [Laughs] I’m doing better than most people would expect. Everyone’s saying, “You’re really chipper today.” Yeah, that’s me.
Do you think it’s because the pressure’s off?
Yeah, I do. I love being in front of the camera and being interviewed. I love all this kind of stuff, even when we did our Top 24 photo shoot and press day. Everything about this role makes me happy; I love all this. I love communicating with the press and staying in touch with the fans and stuff like that. So I’m doing pretty well, and I’m really excited to move forward.
On the show, it came across like you were pretty down on yourself. Was that really the case?
Yeah, they definitely showed the same clip of me saying, “I couldn’t take the pressure” about four times in one episode. [Laughs] There was only one hiccup for me on Hollywood Week, and that was my final performance. I was kind of confused watching back the tape; during group night, they said I was a standout performance on one episode, and then in my top 24 , they made it look like I didn’t do a good job. So in reality, I thought I aced Hollywood week except for one performance. Of course, I had one meltdown during Hollywood Week, and then they replayed it a couple times. But, you know, everyone was shown crying during Hollywood Week, so I’m not even worried about that. And I’m a girl, [chuckles] so it’s okay.
Are you thinking you chose the wrong song for your first live performance? Heart’s “What About Love” is a big song to take on.
I really, truly thought I could put a country spin on it. I thought that my voice was strong enough. But I do have some regrets. It’s not that I would’ve chosen a different song; I would’ve maybe done Heart on an ’80s night, or a rock night. I wish I would’ve stuck to my guns and pulled out my guitar and sang a song that was comparable to “My American Boy” [from Hollywood Week], definitely. Going into it, I had the top five songs that I wanted to sing, and I kind of had them all in order of how I would sing them if I advanced. And if I had advanced, I would have definitely been playing my guitar and twisting up a Top 40 song that’s on the radio right now, just being the girl that everyone saw with my first performance on Hollywood. I really wish I could’ve hung in there one more week to do that. You know, that’s how the American Idol cookie crumbles.
So why didn’t you do that? Did you think Heart would make a bigger splash for your first performance?
No, I was actually trying to play it safe. I’d never sung with a live band on such a big stage. I’ve done studio work with a band, but on a stage, with camera cues and stuff like that, I didn’t want to overwhelm myself by trying to play guitar, and sing, and have a live band, and looking into the camera with stage directions. I really was honestly playing it safe for myself by just singing I thought I could hit, and a song that I knew really well and I loved growing up. It just bit me in the butt. [Chuckles]
Who do you think had the best handle on their nerves this week?
Well, I’d have to say myself. [Laughs] I know that sounds horrible, but I got texts from all the girls last night, and they said, Janell, you have so much poise, and we just look up to you, because you did an amazing job up there handling that, and we want to go out like you did, if we do [go out].
What was it like after the show?
As soon as the cameras were off, I’d held it together really, really well, and then my girls came up and they were all starting to cry, and I started crying. I kind of felt almost like a big sister to a lot of them. When Katie [Stevens] and I were standing there [waiting for Ryan to deliver the news], I really did look at her like a little sister figure. Then the judges [came up]. They talk to you like a normal human being. Kara told me “You have such a unique voice,” and that meant the world to me. Ellen — I love Ellen, and I think she likes me too. I think we hit it off [laughs]. Even Randy and Simon, they said great things to me. They gave me overall a good response. I think they were shocked as well that I was going home.
What do you think is next for you?
Well, I’m definitely going to be heading home for a little bit, back to Orlando, visit the whole family. They’re all so proud of me. We’re going to have a big barbecue. And then I’m just writing, getting better with my guitar, getting more stage experience, recording an album. I mean, I sure there’s going to be so many opportunities. I’m very multi-talented. I studied theater in college; I hosted a local TV show in college; I have my own dance team.
Wait, you have your own dance team?
Yeah, I had my own dance team in college too. Hip-hop. [Laughs] You were going to see that in the next episode if I got through.
You were a hip-hop dancer?
Yeah. I’ve done a little breakdancing on the side too. I’m a country breakdancer!
So would you audition for So You Think You Can Dance?
I fancied that idea when I was I college, but it’s not my calling. Singing is, 100 percent. That was one of the things I want to bring to country music, quite honestly. I want to be a dancing country music singer. I’m not going to do Britney Spears, but my vision on stage, I want to bring movement to country, and really reinvent the style. Country is evolving right now, and I just really want to put my mark on it, and use all my styles together and make something special for sure.
Image credit: Patrick Ecclestein/Fox