Q&A: Syesha Mercado of 'American Idol'

Syesha Mercado, who has sung everything from the Beatles' "Yesterday" to Fantasia Barrino's "I Believe," is the last woman standing among the season seven "American Idol" final four. In this exclusive

Syesha Mercado, who has sung everything from the Beatles' "Yesterday" to Fantasia Barrino's "I Believe," is the last woman standing among the season seven "American Idol" final four. In this exclusive interview, the 21-year old from Sarasota, Florida opens up about the lessons she's learned while doing the show, her musical family and her plans for the future.

When did you start watching "American Idol"?

I started watching the show the first year, when Kelly Clarkson won. After that, I watched on and off because I was too busy learning lines [in performing arts classes] and doing school activities. I was a really, really busy person. I've always been that way and I think I will always be.

When did you first audition?

The year after Fantasia won. I was really interested in it because I was a big fan of Fantasia. But I considered auditioning just this past year, because a lot of people always told me to do it every single year but I would say, 'I want to focus on acting right now.' For a while, I was singing just because I could sing and I would ask myself, 'Why am I singing? Am I singing for other people or am I singing for myself?' So I started focusing on acting more. I was more passionate about it at that time, and it wasn't until I really got into the end of my junior and senior year into college when I really started focusing on music again. [That was] around the same time as the 'American Idol' auditions and my friend Eric told me, 'Syesha, why don't you audition? I think it'll be really good for you.'

What are some of the lessons you've learned doing "Idol"?

To relax, because sometimes I can be a perfectionist and I can rehearse to the point where it's not a good thing. Sometimes you need to relax and enjoy the moment. I've stressed myself out so much that I take all of the excitement out of the entire process. I can't even enjoy myself because I'm so worried about things that I shouldn't be worried about. I've learned to trust my voice and trust that I can do things. You know, I don't have to overwork myself because it can all happen naturally. It can all fall into place the way it's supposed to if I let go and relax.

What have you learned about the music industry while doing the show?

Byrd, who is one of our vocal coaches, told us this is star school. She told me that when I walk out on that stage, walk out like a star. And sometimes I haven't walked out there like a star and it shows. I know after I'm done, 'I didn't walk out there like a star' only because I was letting those thoughts in my head just get to me and stressing out instead of taking a deep breath and doing what I came here to do: open my mouth and sing. So I've learned how much hard work goes into [this]. You don't really get a break. It's just constant, constant, constant, constant. You really have to work for what you want. You have to memorize your stuff and there's a fine line between doing what you need to do and going out there and trusting and then overdoing it, overworking.

Was there anyone in your family who was musical? When did you first become aware of music as a child

My mom is a singer and she used to be a backup singer for Pops Staples and Motown. She used to have her own band a long time ago. She loved to do theater, loved to do just activities in school. I followed the same route as her musically, but she chose to live a normal life and raise a family and be a wife.

I was first aware of music as a little, little, little girl. I was two and my mom said I was singing. I was holding a tune, and then when I was four, I had my first solo in church. I sang 'His Eye Is on the Sparrow.'

I remember standing there like a stick, still as ever, just singing my heart out and feeling nervous. I held the mike up close to my mouth as I could and I sang and then my next solo was 'When God Is in the Building.' I joined choir in church and in school.

Did you do theater in school?

My first play was in first grade and it was called 'One Special Cookie' and I had a solo in it and I had a duet and I just sang throughout the entire thing. Once I did the play and the whole process was over, I thought, 'I really like to do stuff like that. That is so much fun.' So I went to performing arts schools from there on and studied theater and art and dance.

I studied performing arts through middle school and high school. Elementary school was more like dance team and aerobic dance team and drill team and baton twirling and chorus, but the performing arts where you get that one-on-one time with your teacher and learning monologues and routines, that was in middle school. That's where that all started.

Definitely if I wasn't singing right now, of course I would be acting in a big movie, starring in a big movie. I love acting and I would definitely do that.

What's your vision for your career?

I want to take on many different projects. After this, I want to work on an album. I definitely want to collaborate with different artists and make a great album to give back to the world, to share my music with the world and touch people because so many people are touched by just this whole 'American Idol' experience. [I want to] star in a Broadway show. I want to star in a movie and I want to win a Grammy and an Oscar.

And a Tony. That's one of my new goals. And I want to start foundations. I really, really want to do that. I think the biggest part of being famous is not just about wearing a pretty dress and 'I'm singing at this place, I'm singing at that place.' It's really about helping people. I mean, my life hasn't always been easy. I've been through things in my life and I know what it's like, so I want to help people less fortunate than me. I definitely want to donate to different foundations like the Lupus Foundation; My sister has lupus.

Are you looking forward to touring the U.S. with "Idols Live" this summer?

Do you want to know when I really got excited about the tour? We were doing 'Idol Gives Back.' We sang 'Don't Stop The Music' and the 'So You Think You Can Dance' people came in and we're all dancing. I love to dance; I took ballet, jazz, tap, everything you can think of, I took it. [So] to be able to dance again was like, 'Yay, I'm dancing.'

And I stepped on that Kodak Theater stage during rehearsal and I got this warm feeling all over my body and my heart was at peace. I thought, 'This is it. This is what all of us work hard for. This is the place I want to be.' And it was more comforting to be on that stage than the 'American Idol' stage. I thought, this is what it's probably going to be like on tour. There's going to be thousands of people and I'm going to be dancing and singing and working the stage. I can't wait to get started.

The Billboard Q&A With David Cook
The Billboard Q&A With Jason Castro
The Billboard Q&A With David Archuleta