Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

For a song


David Hernandez joins 'Idols in Concert' at the Rrazz Room

American Idol finalist David Hernandez sings at the Rrazz Room. Photo: Ricky Middlesworth
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"I always feel most at home onstage, much more than in an interview."

David Hernandez just wants to sing. He'll do just that when he performs at the Nikko Hotel's intimate Rrazz Room with fellow American Idol alumni Constantine Maroulis and Vonzell Solomon, August 12-16, part of an extensive tour of popular finalists in the hit TV show.

Along with occasional gigs at the Los Angeles club Le Deux, Hernandez has been keeping busy with developing and recording his own songs. "I was just on the USS Midway for July 4, performing for 4,000 people on the ship," said Hernandez with pride. "There were about 300 soldiers from Iraq there, too. I also did a duet with Carly Smithson."

The natural ease Hernandez has while performing comes from years of training. "I learn the lyrics for the songs in a day," he said. "I hate looking into a song more than a few times; it ruins the spontaneity."

When he was a child, his grandfather worked as a janitor at a shopping mall. "A theatre company was putting up a stage in the basement of the mall, so my grandpa said, 'Send him there, since he won't stop signing.' So I auditioned with 'I Will Always Love You' at age six, and started doing musical theatre."

Next came gymnastics, where Hernandez won medals, including at the Grand Canyon Olympics. His least favorite event was the pommel horse. "I liked high bar the best."

Asked if the demanding discipline of the sport may have added to his tenacity, Hernandez said, "My mom had to support us by herself. I think that independence was the biggest inspiration."

Further singing experience included performing on a cruise ship in an a cappella quartet.

Although his contract with the American Idol show is over, he still has connections to the show and its participants. "I do things for them, correspondence, appearances."

That may be why Hernandez guards his answers when asked about the nature of just why and how he was eliminated from the show's finals. After the Idol-focused blog Vote for the Worst posted shirtless pictures of him working in Dick's Cabaret, a gay strip club in Glendale, Arizona, a small media firestorm ensued.

The manager of Dick's told the Associated Press that the (then) 24-year-old performed as a stripper, including doing nude lap-dances for tips at the establishment for three years, ending on September 30, 2007, after he had made the first round of auditions of American Idol .

"He had the look and the type that people like, so he made pretty good money here," Gordy Bryan, manager of Dick's Cabaret, told AP.

The next week, Idol producers stated that they had no intention of eliminating Hernandez from the show. The subsequent week, however, after Simon Cowell made a catty comment alluding to the scandal, votes for Hernandez allegedly plummeted, and he was eliminated from the show.

But fan sites and even The View 's co-host Elizabeth Hasselbeck cried "conspiracy" and vote-fixing. The show offers no proof of the validity of its tabulations, leaving many to wonder if some level of homophobia harmed a singer who hadn't even said if he's gay.

Hernandez keeps his comments simple.

"I won't bash the show," he said, "but I don't think that my song choice was a determining factor in me being voted off. Once people got wind of the scandal, they were less inclined to vote for someone who was a stripper."

The disappointment has turned into a determined outlook for the singer.

"I think it's funny," said Hernandez. "I never denied being a stripper. Since the whole thing broke, I couldn't talk about other things, I just didn't want to discuss that. I was just like, 'I used to be a stripper; it's not a big deal.'"

Even before the news of his former stripping job made gossip and entertainment media headlines, questions about whether Hernandez is gay were raised on fan sites. Hernandez prefers not to disclose that information.

Without this controversy, could Hernandez have made it higher up on the fame scale, landing the coveted #1 slot on the show? If the news of his former job at a gay nightclub came out afterward, would the producers as seems to happen on a regular basis at the slightest hint of scandal have found a way to disqualify him?

"Anyone who's judging me should look at themselves," said Hernandez.

But was he prepared for the level of media scrutiny?

"I don't think you can prepare for that," said Hernandez. "This whole situation challenged me to just bite my tongue and not lash out at people. There's a saying that goes something like, 'Anger destroys the vessel it's carried in.'"

Whether or not he's gay, having worked as a stripper shouldn't be a bad thing in a business that feeds on scandal for publicity.

"I don't know if it was more of the public who didn't want a former stripper to be an American Idol."

Either way, Hernandez is moving on. "My manager and I see Idol as a stepping stone," he said. "It's a quick trip to fame, and it exposed me to people. That's what I want people to remember."

Brushing his stripper job aside, and its more literal form of exposure, it is his singing that remains. Said Hernandez, "After all the gossip, people still know if you have a great voice."

Rolling stone

For the Rrazz Room shows, Hernandez will share a stage with show contestants, but in a more relaxed and intimate venue. Along with "Poppa Was a Rolling Stone" and other songs he sang on Idol , his set may include an original song that was co-written with Michael Orland, the piano accompanist for Idol . In late November, Hernandez will tour in a new show, Idols at Christmas, performing holiday standards with Justin Guarini and other Idol alumni.

Of his composing work, Hernandez cites a variety of influences, from Coldplay to The Beatles. He has high hopes, but a realistic sensibility. "I've been writing music since I was 15, and singing since age six. It's basically very personal music. I have a little bit of rock, but mostly it's R&B. I don't want to sound like everybody out there. I want to set myself apart. I've been signed to an independent label and signed to Universal; I've done that. But I want heavy hitters to support me."

That may explain the caution over his private life. When out gay singers like Melissa Etheridge and Eric Hyman are mentioned along with the possibility of going with an independent label, Hernandez sounds as if he's considering his options.

"Going independent? That's always available." In the meantime, he's hoping for a larger deal. "Eliot Yamin won a gold and platinum record," he says of a fellow finalist from the show, as if that too is another attainable ring to grab. All that training has given him a determination.

"When I was singing with a cover band in Arizona," he said, "there were times when the sound system would cut out, or some fan would fall off stage. You just keep going."

Idols in Concert at Rrazz Room runs through August 16. $45-$55. 8 p.m. Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason St.

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