The youngest performers on the current American Idol LIVE! (not to mention newly announced romantic couple) are 17-year-old DeAndre Brackensick and 16-year-old Jessica Sanchez. Brackensick finished eighth on season 11 of American Idol, while Sanchez—thanks to a dramatic “judge’s save” in top seven week—made it all the way to second place.
Despite a smooth falsetto and energetic stage presence, Brackensick found it challenging to fully display his strengths during his time on Idol. Now, as he tours the U.S. with the other nine finalists, he has discovered the polarizing effect his particular style of singing can have on audiences. Sanchez, meanwhile, has recently signed with Interscope Records with her debut album expected later in the year.
I had a chance to check in with these two California natives backstage before their July 18 performance at Seattle’s Key Arena.
Jessica, how has the tour been going for you so far?
Amazing. At first I thought it was going to be really exhausting. But it’s actually like a vacation with all my friends, doing what I love to do. We try to change it up every night—not the songs, but the way we sing them, always a new feeling every night so it doesn’t get old.
What songs do you perform in the concert?
I do “Proud Mary,” “Best Thing I Never Had,” and “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?”
Did you first hear of “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?” through Alicia Keys’ version or Prince’s original?
From Alicia Keys, and then I found out it was a Prince song. I was like, “Nobody can even top that.”
How did it feel when the Idol judges saved you from being eliminated?
It was terrifying actually. I was just like, “Well, I guess I’m going home.” But I was cool with the fact that I made it that far. I didn’t even know what was really going on. But I wasn’t upset or anything. And I thought when they saved me it was ridiculous, because everyone else is amazing. I felt like—not that they wasted the save on me—but that they could’ve used it on someone else.
You performed on Showtime at the Apollo when you were ten years old, do you remember much about it?
Kind of. It was the first time I’d been to New York City. We got there around two o’clock in the morning, and rehearsals started at five o’clock in the morning. So we got about three hours of sleep. It was really tiring. When I got on stage, I was still exhausted after trying to sleeping the whole day. My mom was like, “You need to drink some Mountain Dew or something.” But when I got on that stage I really woke up.
At 11 you competed on America’s Got Talent, how far did you get?
The semi-finals. It was fun. A lot of people know me from that, and I used to be on YouTube a lot, singing covers. People found me through that. The America’s Got Talent experience was amazing too.
Do you feel it prepared you for Idol in a way, in terms of poise or confidence?
It kind of did. Not poise or confidence-wise.
I take it you already had that in spades, right?
[Laughs] I mean, not really confidence, I just wanted to be able to tell myself that I was ready to do it. That I’m ready to show people I love this and it’s what I want to do. I think it prepared me for the rejection part, because I’ve been rejected a lot of times in smaller competitions, so if I can get rejected on a big television show, I can do it again and keep pushing myself to get better.
And you’re now working on your first album?
Definitely. I can’t say really say much or give anything descriptive, but I am working on an album and it’s supposed to come out in November.
After all the time you’ve already spent on stage, do you still get nervous?
Of course, I get nervous all the time. I can’t get over the fact that these people bought tickets and they’re there watching me, expecting a real performance. That’s the honest truth, that’s what they paid for. So I’m trying to give the best that I can. I always go up there with my whole heart and try to forget the fact that I have to be perfect.
Is the pressure off without the judges scrutinizing everything?
Oh my gosh, yeah. If I mess up on stage, I won’t hear anything about it—unless I go outside and talk to the people. It’s not like the TV show at all, we’re all just loose. We don’t have the pressure of trying to be perfect and sing perfectly.
Did you grow up watching American Idol?
I did. I was like five years old, first season. And I was like, “I want to go on American Idol.” I think it’s amazing that this was the first year I was of age for Idol and had always wanted to do it, and I made the top two. So that’s pretty crazy.
Thanks for your time, Jessica, and I wish you the very best with everything.
Nice to meet you, DeAndre, how have the audience reactions been at cities you’ve played so far?
It’s been good, as far as crowd reaction, kind of off and on.
You sound a little mixed
It’s off and on. I have my fans. But I have a lot of people that don’t really like me as much. Hopefully throughout this tour, I try to get at least five DeAndre haters to like me. At least five, that’s my goal. I always have at least one or two people come up to me after the concert and say “I wasn’t a fan of yours on TV, but I really love you now.” I try to please my fans, but I try to reach the people who didn’t really get to see what I was [on Idol] to really see me now.
What are you singing in the concert?
I’m doing one solo, “Master Blaster,” to open up the show right after the group number. I’ve got two group numbers and actually the most numbers out of all of us, a lot of backup singing. I try to be as much as I can.
I spoke with you about this a few weeks back during tour rehearsals, any further thoughts on what kind of album you would like to make?
R&B mainly, but with a little island style as far as the music is concerned. I love reggae. But like my voice is falsetto and old school R&B. I really want to push that because a lot of people don’t really like that nowadays. They don’t really appreciate it like it used to be appreciated. The true R&B artists now aren’t really getting as much attention as they should. I love music nowadays, I just think that what was [popular] back then should be added on to what’s now.
I’m not one of them, but a lot of people don’t care for that falsetto sound from a male singer.
A lot of people hate it.
It’s divisive, right?
But I mean, when you think of Prince, Ron Isley, Al Green, Eddie Kendricks-
Exactly! Smokey Robinson, too. Back in the day, if you were not a falsetto singer, you know, unless you had something really unique, you had to have that falsetto. Everybody had that, The Stylistics, you just had to have that sound.
It’s really cool that at your age, you have such an appreciation for all the older stuff.
Oh yeah, and I understand, especially nowadays, that with falsetto you either love it or you hate it. There’s no middle. I find a lot of people come up to me and just tell me straight up, “I’m not a big fan of yours.” Which is cool. Or they come up to me and say, “Your falsetto is what got you cut from the show.” Which is fine, but that’s who I am. That’s what I do, it’s my voice. It’s tough being a falsetto singer. Now I really understand—growing up listening to Eric Benét, Anthony Hamilton, Maxwell, the falsetto singers of now—why they weren’t so big. I really understand now that people get turned off by it so easily.
Do you do any songwriting?
Here and there, just not like, perfect songs. Not where each one was good, but just to write. That was one thing going throughout this competition, I thought, “I have to write songs.” So I’ve been writing. I want to do half-and-half for an album, but whatever’s best for it. I’ll try to do as many originals as I can, but I’m not going to lie—I’m not the greatest writer. As long as it has my sound, I don’t want to get stuck in pop. A couple producers have come up to me pushing that, and I had to turn it down because that’s not me. I’m not a pop singer. I can’t be pushed into that. I’d rather sing for three people, doing what I love, instead of doing something I hate.
To see Jessica and DeAndre, along with the rest of the top ten, on the American Idol LIVE! tour, visit the official tour page for the complete itinerary.