American Voice: Jon Peter Lewis
American Idol would be nothing, if not for memorable characters. And one of those came from Rexburg, ID, by way of Season 3. Jon Peter Lewis was memorable for many fans of the show as his uninhibited antics onscreen surged him all the way into the Top 8 before being voted off.
And he hasn't stopped being afraid to be himself since.
Offers aplenty came in for JPL after the show, but none of them appealed to the self-styled singer, who wanted only what everyone really wants to do: to live his dream, and live it HIS way.
Thus was born Jon's label, Cockaroo Entertainment, and from this was born his debut album, which--by the way--is the first full-length album to be released by a former Idol independently. I loved the album, as you know if you read my review of it earlier.
Jon was kind enough to sit down and have a spirited and fun discussion with me. Here's what we had to say!
J.D.: First the obligatory question: have you been watching this year's American Idol?
Jon: Yes, faithfully.
J.D.: What are your thoughts on the performers this year? (editor's note: this conversation took place while the Top 12 were still on the show.)
Jon: I think the talent's pretty shallow, to be honest with you. I think the girls are definitely a lot better than the guys, they're a lot better than the guys, although I think every season everyone seems to think around this time of year, "oh man it's terrible this year." But then as the finals go on, you really start to enjoy the people there a lot more.
J.D.: Do you have any favorites this year?
Jon: Um, yeah, I think I liked the most, probably Chris Sligh a lot. He was my favorite person on the show. He's not my favorite singer, but I think over all, I liked him the most. As far as singing's concerned, yeah, Melinda is the one to beat. I personally think she'll probably win the rest of the competition, but y'know, Chris is my favorite.
J.D.: Well you've been on American Idol. You did your thing in front of millions of people, you went on a nationwide tour opening to stadiums full of people. In a nutshell, what was that like for you?
Jon: Oh man, a whirlwind. You get caught up in it, I mean it just happens so fast! I was so not into the music business. I mean, not that I wasn't interested in it, it's just that my mind was elsewhere. I was in college. I was a student. I was doing a lot of things. I was in a theater company, actually, right before I auditioned for the competition. I mean, my brain was geared toward...well, my brain wasn't really geared in any one direction. I was still trying to figure out where I was gonna go in life. I just kind of auditioned for it, and then from that point, I was just kinda caught up in it. It just kind of spiraled and got frenzied to where it was. And then after the show was over, I was like, okay, well, this is my career path.
J.D.: It has been said that being on Idol is kind of like the equivalent of spending five years in the clubs trying to be discovered. Do you agree?
Jon: I disagree. I would say it's not at all in any way, shape or form like playing in clubs for five years. Because it's more similar to auditioning or getting in front of say Clive Davis or somebody and having them give you a record deal. I mean, because the people who go to clubs don't really watch American Idol. But I think the point that you're getting at is the exposure, and I think the exposure is unbeatable. But it's definitely not at all like playing clubs. I've been playing clubs ever since Idol was over, y'know, and the club scene is extremely different from the television show.
J.D.: When you finished the tour, what kind of offers were waiting on you after you got done?
Jon: For me, personally, it was kind of this teeny-bop type of thing, and I wasn't really interested in that specific thing. I think people offer you what they see in you while you're on the show, if that makes any sense. I think that the industry is looking at an American Idol trying to think "okay, how can I package this person?" And if they can't really figure it out, they don't even offer you anything.
J.D.: So you didn't like the direction others were taking you in. Do you feel like they were expecting you to be a different kind of musician than what you really wanted to be?
Jon: Well, yeah. I think for me they wanted me to be definitely something that I wasn't, that I didn't feel like suited me. I just wasn't comfortable with it. And I knew that I wanted to write a lot of my own songs and figure that out. I had a lot of learning to do right after Idol was over.
J.D.: So what was the breaking point for you where you decided "Okay, forget the mainstream, I'm gonna form my own record company and release my own album?"
Jon: Everything that I was doing led up to that moment, without like me ever really thinking about it or at one point saying "this is what I'm going to do." It was like a process that just led me there that was inevitable. I didn't want to listen to what people were telling me from some of these major companies, so I started writing all my own songs, and it was kind of like as I went along, it became more of "I want to do it right for myself." And that became more and more of a mantra. It's been good for me. I'm very happy with the way things turned out.
J.D.: What are the advantages and challenges of releasing an album on an independent label?
Jon: Well, the biggest challenge is marketing. The amount of money and connections that you have. Essentially a record label is a big bank that has connections in the music world, and that's really all a record label is. With a major label, you get really deep pockets, and they can plug you into a lot of places. You get advertised in a lot of places, and people know who you are. The advantage, though, is that as opposed to getting ten cents for every record that I would sell, I would get ten dollars. If I get ten dollars, it takes me... What it would take Taylor Hicks a million records to do, I can do in a hundred thousand.
J.D.: Now more than ever artists can use the internet to directly market to their fans, interact with them, and share their music.
J.D.: How have you personally tried to accomplish this?
Jon: Myspace is a great way to mobilize your fans. I think you don't rely upon major labels or anybody that has this connection already to say "I need to put this in the newspaper" or anything like that. There's not a control over the media like there has been in the past, so I can kinda put things out there as I want to. But I think this can also be to an artist's detriment. I think an artist does need to think about their timing and their image control. There's a lot of things to be aware of if you are going about releasing your own stuff, especially if you're trying to appeal to a mainstream audience.
J.D.: Do you participate in comments on message board, on your official site or elsewhere?
Jon: Yeah, from time to time. I respond to people that come to my Myspace periodically. I don't have time to really in depth respond to everybody, but people who come to my Myspace, I respond to them. And my website, from time to time as well. I definitely will post. I have this blog I have been doing with AOL last season, and with this whole American Idol season, which is good for me. People have all these questions about what I think about this year's American Idol, and I usually just direct them to my blog, and they can read all about it there.
J.D.: Where can we find your blog?
Jon: It's on TV Squad. It's right on AOL.com. You just go into the American Idol section. They've got my picture up, and my blog is right there.
J.D.: Tell me a little about Stories From Hollywood. Where did most of the concepts on this album come from?
Jon: The first song, "Stories From Hollywood," was one of the first songs that I recorded. I recorded it immediately after American Idol. I knew that I wanted to do some recording immediately and get some songs prepared and ready right away. And so, I just started assembling music as soon as I was on the tour. My cousin, he's in a band, on tour, and in the spotlight, and they've had a lot of exposure, and he's a great musician, so he actually wrote "Stories From Hollywood." And he approached me right after the show, and was like "hey here's a song, and it's really applicable to stuff that's going on with you right now." I heard it, and I thought "oh, this is great!" So I recorded "Stories From Hollywood" and "Turn to Grey" immediately after that October when we got off the tour from American Idol. And then the rest of the songs kind of happened as a progression or as a process, all up until last November when I released it. Each song is like opening up a photo album for me, because I know this is a song I wrote at this time, and the other is a song I wrote at another time, and each one has kind of it's own individual story. As I was doing that, I thought "Stories From Hollywood" is a really applicable title for a whole compilation of songs, because each of them are not only their own songs, but I think there's also the double entendre of the story from Hollywood. It's kind of when you're living the life that you've always wanted. It's kind of reflective toward what some of my thoughts were toward American Idol and the big carrot that was at the end of the tunnel.
J.D.: Where are you, typically, when you write your best music?
Jon: Oh, geez. Hmmm...either late at night or in the shower. A lot of these songs that I have written come to me just before bedtime. And so there have been a lot of nights where I'm just lying in bed, and then a melody and lyrics will come. It's kind of like that state you're at between being asleep and being awake. You start to think about things. And then melodies would come to me, and I'd sit down and start writing them. All of them, though, it's like for as many songs as they are, each one kind of starts in its own way. Generally, I think music comes at night.
J.D.: You said your favorite song is "Man From Amsterdam"? What is it about that song that resonates so much with you?
Jon: Um, I like that song mainly... I mean, I like the fact that it's uh... I don't know, I think the chorus is unique and that the vocals sound really unique to me. There's the duet with myself. It's got a really unique sound, but I definitely like the big chorus, but I also like that it has this really urban cool feel in the verses. I don't know, but I really liked it. I think it's my favorite on the record, since the record seems to be an extremely pop record. I think that song is a good blend of pop and rock.
J.D.: "If I Go Away" was on our Idol Waves charts for several months this year. I think it was number 19 on the year-end chart.
J.D.: And "Gypsy Queen" is on our charts now. How gratifying is it to know that there are fans out there that are voting for your music online, and that there has been such a positive response?
Jon: Oh, it's amazing, man. It's so awesome. It's always gratifying anytime that somebody appreciates something that I'm doing, or connects to it, or just relates to it. It's the reason why you get into the music business, I think. It's not just about the self-expression. It's about the ability and the opportunity to communicate with people and have people understand what you're trying to communicate. I have always thought that music was the highest form of communication, and I think it's just great if people can understand what's happening emotionally in the song.
J.D.: Now that you have your debut album under your belt, where would you like to grow and change for your second release.
Jon: Gosh, it was definitely a learning experience with this last record. I mean, it's a huge process of trial and error. I've got a lot of acoustic songs that I've written. There are also a lot of rock songs that are on the table that I'm playing with the band. So in the future, it will be interesting to see how I negotiate and how the difference is negotiated, because there is a really wide spectrum of interest that I have in songs that I have written. I'm not exactly sure how I'm gonna attack the difference or if I'll do two different records that are almost completely different. I don't know. We'll see. There's definitely going to be some variety and some change and some things that I think are gonna be interesting that you're going to hear.
J.D.: Is there another album in the works?
Jon: Definitely, we are working on it. Right now, I'm kind of in the song-writing stage, but there's definitely another album planned. I haven't really put down any specific time frame on when I'm going to release it. I'm still working on promoting the one that I have now and seeing how far I can take that, and then move on to the next one accordingly. I really haven't put a time frame on it, but there's definitely another record in the works, and I already have several songs that are being toured around and they might be on the next one. I don't know. We'll see.
J.D.: I believe you recently toured with some former Idols through Missouri. What's it like touring with others who have also been part of the Idol experience, yet are still having to work hard to make it in the industry.
Jon: It's fun for me, because we're all kind of like in the same similar place. It's nice to compare notes, and it's also nice to just talk to people who completely understand. Being a former Idol and still working in the business is an extremely unique position to be in. There's just the fact that you start at the top and you are working from the top down, rather than from the bottom, and then kind of filling in the gaps from there. It's an extremely unique position to be in, so it's nice to be on the level with others who are kind of there with you, and that understand where you are at.
J.D.: Do you prefer the smaller venues versus the big screaming crowds from the Idol tour?
Jon: Well, you have a lot of fun in the small venues. I really like them. There's an energy. They are two different animals. You can perform one way and have a lot of fun in some of these small clubs. At the same time, there's a different kind of show that you perform in a big concert. I guess I prefer more like mid-size venues that aren't extremely small where I can see everybody's eyes, but the ones that aren't too big either that they're just overwhelming and you can't really connect with everybody.
J.D.: Where can we catch you performing?
Jon: Well, I'll be in L.A. performing at B.B. Kings at the beginning of May. I'm currently just talking with a bunch of other clubs, scheduling more performances. You can keep posted on my Myspace, and through my website.
J.D.: Anything that is in the works that you'd like to let your fans know about?
Jon: Um, no, not necessarily. Well, yes and no. But I'll keep that under wraps, until I know for sure. I'll have to be enigmatic for this one.
J.D.: Is there any message you'd like to send out from yourself to your fans?
Jon: I've been asked that question before, and I think the best answer and the most appropriate, I think, is just thanks. A big thank you from me to you. I really appreciate the support, and all the love. And keep coming to shows and having fun and all that stuff.
J.D.: Thanks for taking time out to talk to me here!
Jon: Awesome, my pleasure! Thanks for interviewing me!
It was my great pleasure. Now, I know there are more of you out there who will want to meet Jon, and you'll get your chance. Just meet both of us in Nashville on June 30th and July 1st at the second annual Reality TV Convention. We can't wait to see you there!