Chicago's Devin Velez is one of the youngest contestants on this year's season of "American Idol" at just 18, but that's not hindering him at all.
The Portage Park resident has already made it through the first Hollywood week and feels confident heading into the more intense part of the competition. We talked with Devin about his musical background, his interrupted audition and military school.
" 'American Idol' has been known best for getting, not just the winner, but its contestants out there after the show. There's been people from Season 3 that are still selling records now. Other shows that are out now have more views, but you don't really hear about them, you know? I mean, I'm a huge fan of 'The Voice,' but the winner of 'The Voice,' last year, I don't even know the guy's name, you know? You don't really hear anything about them, and yet, Kelly Clarkson was the winner of Season 1, and she's still out. We have people like Colton Dixon and people like Fantasia and people like Mandisa who are just--Jennifer Hudson didn't even win the show, and, yet, they're so big now. And I believe that it's 'American Idol' that was able to give them that boost, and so, just publicity-wise, I think 'American Idol' knows a little more about what they're doing."
Tell me a little bit about yourself and your musical background, in particular, how you got started.
"OK, well, I'm 18 now. I started to sing at 3. It was always at church. My mom was a singer too, at church, and, later on, she had a couple of CDs or demos that were made. I was singing really at church when I was little. When grammar school hit, I was part of the Chicago Children's Choir and I was in that for about six years. And I moved on up that ladder, I started off in after school choirs then I moved up to neighborhood choir. Then I moved up to DiMension, which is the all male concert choir, so I was doing that for some time. Then at school I was lead singer in jazz band for all four years that I was there. So it was nothing major until 'Idol' hit."
Talk to me about your audition process and how it felt getting up in front of the judges.
"I'm a born-again Christian, so this whole journey I've been doing nothing but praying and praying and praying, hoping, you know, that God allows me to get through, but not if it's going to dishonor him. So right before the audition, I said a couple of prayers, and I didn't feel any nerves. I didn't feel any nerves at all. But when I did start getting nervous was after I sang my first song, they were like, "Oh OK, that was nice but can you sing something else?" And so this is when the nerves started to kick in, because, as an artist, it sort of made me feel like my first song wasn't good enough. Then I was singing my second song and in the middle of my second song, Ms. Mariah Carey, she stopped me, and she said, "You know what? It's not that you can't sing, but I feel like this isn't you." She goes, "It says here in your report that you're Hispanic," and I said, "Yes, ma'am." And she goes, "Can you sing something for us in Spanish?" And so, the show must go on, you know? I had to pull something Spanish out of a hat, out of nowhere, and I sang, "Con Los Anos Que Me Quedan" by Gloria Estefan. And when I sang that, I mean, it was jaw-dropping, and I got four "yes's," and each of the judges they said they felt that they saw my true colors; they said that they felt that was the real me. They felt that it was not only comfortable, but it sounded like home for me. And so I got four "yes's," and, boom, it's Hollywood.
You said you didn't have any nerves at first, has that comfort level remained the same so far through the competition?
"Fortunately, it has. I haven't gotten nervous yet. I'm starting to get nervous now because, well, I mean, it's Hollywood week--we can't like disclose any information that's already happening, we can only talk about what you guys have seen. But even now, it's really nerve-racking, because it's like, 'How was I not nervous then?' A lot of those people got sent home. I just am really honored and thankful that the judges see something great in me enough to keep me here."
Tell me about some artists that you draw a lot of inspiration from, musically.
"OK, it's a lot of deep worship leaders. There's a guy called Eddie James; he's amazing. There's another called Israel Houghton. Then even past Idols. Colton Dixon--he's awesome. I love his new stuff. People like Mandisa, people like Chris Allen. And then aside from Idol, if we're gonna go back in the day, I mean people like Michael Jackson. I mean it just doesn't get any more original than that. But yeah just, I don't know, it's so funny because the majority of those people are black and I'm just ths scrawny little white kid and all I love is this soulful music, but that's where I find my escape. I feel connected with the artist and when I sing I love that I can make that connection with the audience as well."