2016: The Year in Charts

'American Idol' Alum Didi Benami on Mining Heartbreak for Songwriting Gold

Lee Cherry
Didi Benami

Listen to the season-nine finalist's new song 'Lost at Sea.'

American Idol season-nine alum Didi Benami is about to release her proper debut album, Reverie -- the result of a successful PledgeMusic crowdfunding campaign (with proceeds earmarked for Brandon McMillan’s Argus Service Dogs Foundation) and, perhaps a little bit, a broken heart.

Fortunately for a songwriter, there is an upside to heartache: it provides material for captivating and stunning music. Case in point: the deeply personal track, “Lost at Sea,” premiering exclusively on The Hollywood Reporter's Idol Worship blog (listen below).

“I’m not just alone / I’m lonely / reaching for trust in me,” Knoxville native Benami sings. "That one hurt; I was in a really painful spot in my life,” she reveals to THR. “It was [about] one of my really close friends who I trusted and had confided in ... and I found out two years later that she had in fact hooked up with this guy in the same time period I was seeing him and never told me. She has no idea this song has anything to do with her. I go by the principle that you don’t do that to your friends. Follow the girl code.

Produced by Billy Mohler (AWOLNATION, The Calling), Reverie, which also features collaborations with Jamie Drake and Annaliese Schiersch, is what Benami calls "my diary" —  a reflection of her life journey, from childhood to her time on Idol and the years that followed.

“Release Me,” for example, examines Benami’s issues with her father and freeing herself of the drama she endured growing up in Tennessee.  At the age of 14, she moved in with her Uncle Will and took on a job (she proudly noted that she bought her first car and paid for her college tuition herself), while discovering a “safe place” to learn singing-church. “I was a Jewish kid singing in church,” she says. “That’s where I learned to sing.”

Eventually, she mustered up the courage to make the move to Los Angeles and try her hand at a career in music. She was ready to give up, when her Uncle Will persuaded her to give it one more year. Undaunted, she tried out for Idol, and couldn’t believe it when she got her Golden Ticket and made her way through the rounds all the way up to the Top 10. Says Benami: “I was in shock. It was a dream come true.”

Songs about Idol include “Picture Perfect” and “Shine,” while “Out From Under/Recover” covers the ground of a “post-Idol” relationship. The album’s closer, “Hummingbird,” is the most revelatory as it delves into the psyche of post-reality show stress disorder. “After the show, then what?” she says.

The answer is different for every Idol. Some have all had varying degrees of astronomical success. Others are out there on the grind, and sadly one alum — season-seven's Michael Johns — is no longer with us.

Benami reveals that Johns called her the day of her photo shoot for Reverie. He loved “Lost at Sea,” and was planning to do a UStream show with Benami that never came to pass. They even rehearsed Ingrid Michaelson’s “The Way I Am,” and Johns encouraged Benami to sing “We Are The Champions” by Queen. “He was so sweet,” she said. “Over the years, the Idols became a big family and Michael was a part of it.”

Benami is now focusing on new beginnings. The singer has been taking acting classes (her skills can be seen in the video for  “Trouble” as well as the Theory of a Deadman clip for “Hurricane”) and is headed to the East Coast for an Oct. 9 show at Rockwood Music Hall in New York City, where she might set down her suitcase for a minute.

"I'm going to be a gypsy for a little while and see where my heart takes me," she says. "It’s the artist in me.”

This article was originally published by The Hollywood Reporter.