'Idol' Star Lee DeWyze on How to Sing Leonard Cohen's Classic 'Hallelujah'

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Sean McCabe
Lee DeWyze photographed in 2013.

Leonard Cohen’s classic “Hallelujah” is as much a perennial on Idol as Etta James’ “At Last.” What’s the secret to a standout performance? Season nine winner Lee DeWyze, 29, who was assigned the song by Simon Cowell as part of a “judges’ pick” showdown, explains why it’s “a great choice” -- when done right.

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Know The History
Cohen recorded the song in 1984, while Jeff Buckley’s cover gave it new life a decade after. DeWyze, a “fan of the original,” says, “The last thing I wanted to do was do it like someone else sang it on Idol. I didn’t reference any other version.” Associate music director Matt Rohde “understood me,” adds the Idol champ. “He never told me how I should do it.” 

Add A Choir
Looking to take things up a notch? Get the show to spring for a gospel choir, says DeWyze. “I had a hand in picking the choir [members], and they knocked it out of the park.”

Mind the Theatrics
“Don’t oversing it. It has a build to it, but you should keep it a song and not turn it into a theatrical piece.”

-- Reporting by Fred Bronson

A version of this story originally appeared in the March 25 issue of Billboard.