Rehearsals are underway for the summer American Idol Live! 2018 tour, featuring the top seven finalists from the first season of ABC’s reboot of the reality competition series, as well as season 8’s winner, Kris Allen and, on some dates, In Real Life, winner of another ABC series, Boy Band. But getting ready for the tour didn’t stop the top two contestants from this most recent season, winner Maddie Poppe and runner-up Caleb Lee Hutchinson, from dropping by the Billboard office in Los Angeles to talk about the trek, their post-Idol lives, and the current state of their romantic relationship, revealed on the season finale moments before Ryan Seacrest announced that Poppe was this year’s champion.
Read our conversation with Poppe and Hutchinson below:
It’s been exactly six weeks since the season finale. What have your post-Idol lives been like?
Maddie Poppe: It’s been pretty crazy. Luckily we’ve gotten to see each other quite a bit since the finale. But I’ve been doing stuff nonstop. I performed on Jimmy Kimmel. I went on Good Morning America and performed on Live With Kelly and Ryan. I did a photo shoot and a music video, my first of hopefully many. … I performed at the Hollywood Bowl. It was all hitting me at once after the finale, and it’s a lot to take in.
And you were on the Radio Disney Music Awards.
Poppe: Yes. See, I can’t even tell you all of the awesome opportunities that I’ve had. I just can’t believe that I get to do all this.
How much time have you had at home?
Poppe: I’ve probably had 10 days home or so, spread out. After the finale, I was here [in Los Angeles] for a few weeks. I went home. I went to Disney World. Came back home. Went to the Radio Disney Awards. Returned home, and now I’m back out here.
Where at Disney World did you perform?
Poppe: I performed at the Wide World of Sports. The national volleyball AAU championship was going on, so I played for all those girls on the field there. It’s such an honor to be part of that, and I could look out and see the girls actually singing the lyrics to “Going, Going Gone.” It’s crazy. You don’t realize how many people were watching Idol.
Caleb, what about your post-Idol activities?
Caleb Lee Hutchinson: I got to do all the post-Idol stuff. We performed on Kelly and Ryan’s show and I’ve been doing a lot of work, trying to make some progress. I’ve had the unique opportunity of being Maddie’s plus-one to quite a few things, so I got to see her at the Hollywood Bowl. It’s been incredible. I’ve had a lot of opportunities, such as being interviewed and playing for Billboard, which was…
I’m guessing number one on your list.
Hutchinson: Absolutely the best thing that ever happened to me. No, it’s been a lot, and throughout the whole thing, I have been Maddie’s professional counselor and advice-giver.
Poppe: There have been a lot of overwhelming times when I’ve come back crying, just because I’ve been so overwhelmed. He’s been there, and that’s been awesome, because I don’t have my parents out here to talk me through it. So I don’t know how I would’ve done it without Caleb.
Hutchinson: Yeah, I must be one of the top five people on this earth that believes in her, for sure. Her parents and her sisters probably beat me.
Now everyone knows you and lots of people want something from you. What is that like?
Poppe: I get a lot of messages like, “I need this. I need you to get Shawn Mendes’ signature because my daughter is his biggest fan.” I can’t do those things yet. But what is really nice is that we can help out so much. I donated some things for the silent auction for Relay for Life.
Hutchinson: It’s weird, because Maddie and I have both been doing this for a long time, even though we’re so young. I’ve been gigging and trying to get fans and recognition since I was 11. So it is cool that instead of walking around a restaurant and telling people, “Hey, I’m playing here. Come see me,” people say, “Hey, we know you!” I never thought I’d get to taste that type of thing. So it’s a really humbling thing to see folks believe in what you’re doing.
Poppe: Literally a year ago, I was in college, and while I was supposed to be listening to a lecture, I was emailing all of these venues asking to play. I sent 50 emails out and I got like two replies. I was so desperate for any gig, any opportunity that would come my way, and now it’s like so many opportunities are coming my way that I can’t do all of them. I can’t believe how much my life has changed in a year.
Most people had no idea that you became boyfriend and girlfriend while you were competing on Idol. How has going public with your relationship affected both of you?
Hutchinson: I’m not the type of person who discusses their personal life in general, but me and Maddie are a package deal, and I’m sure she gets asked a lot about me and I get asked a lot about her. It’s cool but it’s weird for me to have so many people know about my personal life. They ask, “How’s your girlfriend? How’s your dog? How’s your mother?” I forget millions of people know things about our personal lives. They kind of know us as human beings and therefore they kind of know us even deeper as artists. It’s interesting. It hasn’t changed me and Maddie at all. We’re still just two weirdos.
Poppe: It is pretty awesome, because it’s real. I love that I don’t have to fake being with Caleb, it’s just so real.
Hutchinson: It’s not that much different from what it was before we announced it. Now people know. But before, we were still just together. There haven’t been any crazy dynamics that have affected our personal lives. Public pressure has not ruined our lives.
Poppe: People have been cool about it.
Hutchinson: It’s the exact same as before, except when people come up and ask, “How are you?” they also ask, “How’s Maddie? You guys still together or have you messed it up yet?” “No, we’re still there.”
Since the producers of American Idol knew that you were a couple, I thought it was nice that they gave you a “parting gift” — a trip to Hawaii. Have you set a date to go?
Poppe: We have not.
Because you’ll be on the road for two and a half months?
Hutchinson: Right. We will be on the American Idol Live! tour, so it will take up a chunk of time for sure.
Did you take road trips with your families? Are you looking forward to being on the road?
Poppe: I am looking forward to being on the road. My sister always got carsick and my dad didn’t have a whole lot of patience driving, so we didn’t take many road trips. We would fly or go to the lake or something. So no, I didn’t take any road trips as a kid, but I’m really excited. People say you sleep the best on a tour bus.
If no one snores.
Poppe: I do.
Hutchinson: Maddie will snore for sure. She disrupted rehearsals because she would shake the whole building. Personally, it’s going to be a new thing for me. I’m not big on long car rides. I don’t get carsick, just a little uneasy at times. I’m not good at sleeping in motion. Growing up, I did like car rides to Florida, but I never slept. So it’s going to be a unique experience for me. But I will be with my best friend, so it will be fine either way even if I don’t sleep.
Any cities on the tour that you are looking forward to visiting?
Hutchinson: Recently, I’ve seen more than I have during the first 16 years of my life. I’ve only been to Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Florida and California. So I’m going to actually see a good chunk of this country I live in. I’m most excited about playing the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, the church house of country music. We actually got to stand there for the Bobby Bones show when we were there for the CMA Fest. It was incredible, but I can’t wait until we get to do it for a packed-out theater. I’m going to have a lot of people from Georgia and from my hometown that are going to make the drive up there. I’ll get to see a lot of hometown folks, like my grandparents. Basically every relative that I have that’s alive is going to come up there. What about you, Maddie? Do you have any place you’re looking forward to?
Poppe: Honestly, I haven’t looked at the list too in-depth, because there are so many cities and I can’t take it all in. There are so many states on there that I’ve not been in. I think they’ll all be special in their own way.
Speaking of your families, from my vantage point at the live shows, I always had a great view of your parents. How was it to have them there, supporting you?
Poppe: I think it was really cool to have both my parents there, but especially my dad, because a year ago, we were booking all my own shows. My dad would negotiate deals and I was designing shirts and we were recording my album in my basement. So I think it was great to see that all of that was worth it, because every time we would drive to a gig, he would tell me, “Someday it’s going to work. Your time will come. It will happen.” I wanted to believe him so bad, but I never thought that it was really going to happen, because I had been let down so many times and been told no. So coming in to American Idol, I thought, why is this going to be different? It was great to have my dad there to experience everything because he has worked even harder than me at all of this. He has put in so much work, so much time. He built keyboards for me to bring up onstage and had worked so tirelessly just to make sure this could happen for me, and it’s just everything that we dreamed of. So it was really special to have him there with me to see that, because he wanted it just as much as I did.
Hutchinson: My folks have always supported me, and I’ve done a lot of shows where the only people in the audience were my parents and the owner of the venue. They always encouraged me in whatever path I took in life. When I started this whole Idol journey, I was worried I was going to waste my time doing this. I wondered if it was the smartest move or if should I go to college and do something I’m not very passionate about but something more practical. My dad and my mom warned me from hiding behind fear disguised as practicality. So I had to take a chance, and I never would’ve done it without my parents. They were with me through the hardest parts of my life and they’ll be with me for the best and whatever else comes next. It was great being able to have them along for the ride.
What is the most important thing you learned on your Idol journey? And what was the highlight of your time on the show?
Poppe: An important thing I learned was that you can be accepted for what you want to do. I was afraid going into it that everyone was going to try to change me. Make me pop, make me country, make me lean one mainstream way, and no one ever did that and I think that’s really important. And for the highlight, I don’t think I’ve ever been more happy or been filled with just pure joy than when Caleb and I were singing “Over the Rainbow.” I don’t think it sounded perfect, but it was a perfect moment. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy in my life just to be standing up there with him and knowing that one of us was going to win and it didn’t really matter to me which one.
Hutchinson: Being on Idol reinforced the beliefs I had before going into it. I knew I wanted to do my own thing and be true to myself and sing the songs as I wanted to sing them whether I won or got cut. Because win or lose, you have to be yourself at the end of the day, and you’ve got to be able to sleep in your bed at night. And I think I played a lot of songs and made musical choices that maybe a lot of people didn’t know, which is kind of a risky move, because when it comes to people voting for you, you want to pick songs that people know and that resonate with folks. I took a couple risks and it paid off because people supported me and got behind me. Maddie and I are both kind of weird in the music that we make, and I learned there’s a lot of room for weirdness. And my favorite moment — I don’t want to copy Maddie’s answer, so I would say when we got to sing “All Night Long” with Lionel Richie. That was the second moment that my heart was full of more emotion than I’ve ever felt, behind “Over the Rainbow.” Because it was truly so cool to be halfway through and think, “What the heck? I’m singing with Lionel Richie!” He’s an absolute legend and the greatest spirit I’ve ever seen. Everybody was having so much fun at that point, and we got to be weird, fun and wild, so that was my favorite.
You performed a couple of songs for Billboard on Facebook Live [watch below], including a duet of one of my favorite songs, “When You Say Nothing at All,” originally recorded by Keith Whitley and later a hit by Alison Kraus. How did you pick that song to sing?
Poppe: When we first met, we would get our guitars and go to each other’s hotel rooms, and Cade Foehner would be there and Trevor McBane and Garrett Jacobs. Caleb started singing “When You Say Nothing at All,” and I thought, “I know that song.” We started harmonizing on it, and then when we needed to come up with a duet, we thought, “Let’s sing this one again.”
Hutchinson: The thing with Maddie is she can sing anything and it’s always amazing. She has a bit of an Alison Krauss thing going on when she wants to, and I think I have sort of a Keith Whitley thing going on at times, so it was a cool opportunity for us to both do something that complemented us.
Any chance you’ll sing it on the summer tour?
Poppe: I think we’re going to do a duet. We don’t know if it’s going to be that one or if we’ll come up with something else in the meantime or if we’ll write something. We really want to write a new song, but we don’t know yet.
Thinking ahead to your lives after the tour, what are your musical plans?
Poppe: I want to start writing and co-writing. That’s something I’ve never done before. I feel like it would be pretty nerve-racking, opening your mind up to somebody else. But I definitely want to co-write, and I need to start writing again. I want to stick with my style, but I wouldn’t mind leaning towards different genres. I just recently recorded a song, and it’s wild. I mean, it’s so much fun.
Hutchinson: I’m always thinking about the first album. I recorded so many demos. When I’m home, I’ve tried to write at least a song a day, even if it’s not good. I want to co-write with some folks, because I’m a young man and I’ve been songwriting for a few years, but I’m not experienced as a lot of people who do this for a living. So I’m excited to get around some folks who can maybe share some of their experience. I’m very excited at the prospect of making my first real record, because I think I can make some really special music that might be missing in today’s current country climate and still be my own thing.
Poppe and Hutchinson will be joined on the American Idols Live! tour by five other finalists: Gabby Barrett, Michael J. Woodard, Catie Turner, Cade Foehner and Jurnee. The tour begins July 11 in Redding, Calif. and ends on Sept. 16 in Washington, D.C. See their Billboard Facebook Live performance and the dates for American Idols Live! below:
July 11: Redding, CA – Redding Civic Auditorium
July 12: Central Point, OR – Jackson Co. Fair
July 13: Napa, CA – Uptown Theater
July 16: Denver, CO – Paramount Theater
July 19: Grand Prairie, TX – Verizon Theater at Grand Prairie
July 20: San Antonio, TX – The Tobin Center for Performing Arts
July 21: McAllen, TX – McAllen Performing Arts Center
July 23: Tucson, AZ – Fox Tuscon
July 24: Mesa, AZ – Ikeda Theater
July 26: San Diego, CA – Copley Hall
July 27: Saratoga, CA – The Mountain Winery
July 29: Las Vegas, NV – Orleans Arena
July 30: Modesto, CA – Gallo Center for the Arts
July 31: Livermore, CA – Wente Vineyards
August 1: San Luis Obispo, CA – Fremont Theatre
August 3: Thousand Oaks, CA – Bank of America Performing Arts Center
August 4: Los Angeles, CA – Orpheum Theatre
August 5: Riverside, CA – Fox Performing Arts Center
August 8: Tulsa, OK – Club Brady
August 9: Kansas City, MO – Uptown Theater
August 10: St. Louis, MO – Fox Theatre
August 12: Baltimore, MD – The Lyric
August 13: Albany, NY – The Palace Theatre
August 14: Upper Darby, PA – Tower Theater
August 16: Westbury, NY – The Space at Westbury
August 17: Morristown, NJ – Mayo Performing Arts Center
August 18: Englewood, NJ – Bergen Performing Arts Center
August 19: Lynn, MA – Lynn Auditorium
August 21: Cincinnati, OH – Taft Theatre
August 22: Indianapolis, IN – Murat Theatre at Old National Centre
August 23: Omaha, NE – Orpheum Theatre
August 24: Sioux Falls, SD – Washington Pavilion
August 27: Salem, OR – Oregon State Fair
August 28: Monroe, WA – Evergreen State Fair
August 30: Billings, MT – Alberta Bair Theater
August 31: Kamas, UT – DeJoria Center
September 2: Deadwood, SD – Deadwood Mountain Grand Casino
September 5: Minneapolis, MN – State Theatre
September 6: Milwaukee, WI – Riverside Theater
September 7: Rosemont, IL – Rosemont Theatre
September 9: Nashville, TN – Ryman Auditorium
September 10: Huber Heights, OH – Rose Music Center
September 12: York, PA – York Fair
September 13: Munhall, PA – Carnegie of Homestead Music Hall
September 14: Red Bank, NJ – Count Basie
September 15: New Bedford, MA – Zeiterion Performing Arts Center
September 16: Washington, DC – Warner Theater