Chris Medina tugged at “American Idol” fans’ collective heartstrings with his emotional audition a few weeks ago, and again on Wednesday night (Feb. 22), when his shocking elimination drove even Jennifer Lopez to tears.
But despite the fact that Medina is not in “Idol’s” top 24 this year, things are looking up for the 26-year-old musician and Starbucks barista. After his elimination, Medina went into the studio to record an original song, “What Are Words,” with hitmaker Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins (Mary J. Blige, Lady Gaga). The song premiered overnight on iTunes, and the proceeds from downloads will go towards the Juliana Recovery Fund (laurusfoundation.org) — a foundation for his fiancée Juliana Ramos, who was left brain damaged after a serious car accident that occurred two weeks before they were set to marry. The “What Are Words” music video was scheduled to premiere Friday at 2 pm ET on AOL.com, followed by a stint on NBC’s “Tonight Show With Jay Leno.”
The day after millions watched his elimination, Medina spoke with Billboard.com about the meaning behind “What Are Words,” his fiancee’s reaction to his elimination, how he felt watching Lopez’s onscreen meltdown, and what lies ahead.
Billboard: How soon after getting cut from “American Idol” did you learn that you’d be recording an original song?
Chris Medina: I was out with a couple of friends the day after I got kicked off — maybe it was two days — and I got a call from the label saying that right after Rodney Jerkins had seen my audition, he was inspired to write a song that fit the description of my situation. He was touched deeply by it and wanted me to come in and listen to it, and if I liked it, he would love to have me lend my voice to it and put it out there. I loved it and I got a chance to record it that day.
It was kind of a surreal experience — he’s Rodney Jerkins. When you think of Rodney Jerkins, you think, “Oh, I’ve heard that name before. He’s a really good producer,” but you don’t realize [until] after doing some research that he’s the guy that works with the [top] people. So it was pretty awesome.
Tell us about the meaning behind “What Are Words.”
The new song’s about making promises and keeping them. It’s about putting an emphasis on words and how powerful they are. And when you say you’re going to do something, you do it, and your loved ones can count on you when you say they can, because you mean it when you say it.
I want [fans] to know that it was an honor doing it. I was just happy to be a part of it.
What was going through your mind when Jennifer Lopez said you didn’t make the top 24?
I was basically anticipating them to say exactly what they did. I kept looking around at all the other contestants in the room and trying to size myself up and my road… my journey to “American Idol” to that point. I kind of found myself in a different light…first I had crawled, then I started walking and then right at the very end I started to run, but I never really took flight. Everybody else was soaring. I was just kind of like, “I get it, I understand.” I kind of felt it.
How did your family and friends react to the news?
Kind of like everybody else. They were pretty shocked, they were sad… ’cause, you know, they were rooting for me. They liked my story, they liked my character and then to top it off, I can sing a tune here and there, I’ve heard. [laughs] It just made them happy to root for someone like that.
And what about Juliana?
She said that she knew I wasn’t going to win. She actually felt that I was just going to make it to No. 14; she said I’d probably get to No. 14 and get kicked off. She pretty much said she was proud of me, said she missed me, and she said it was good for her that I got kicked off because I get to come home.
Did you notice that Jennifer Lopez started to cry as you walked away from the judges?
No, I did not. I did not at all. I could tell that she was about to deliver some pretty sad news; you could see it in her eyes. But I had no idea that the gravity of the situation was weighing on her that much to where she broke down. It was pretty touching to see that.
How did you feel once you saw it on TV?
I’ve been asked that question and it always sounds funny; I haven’t come up with a good way to say it, but… it made me feel good to see her cry. But not in that way; in a way where it showed me that she’s a real person and wanted to tell me in a way that made her… that made me feel good, being sent off, you know? It was touching; it made it a little bit easier. I think she did a fantastic job, though.
She’s since said that the reason she was upset was because she felt she hadn’t delivered the news well. Did you feel that way?
Hearing, “You’re not going to make it through to the top 24,” from her was like hearing it from… I don’t know, an angel. Like, “Okay, sure!”
Do you have any qualms with the way your story was told on “American Idol”?
No, not at all. I started getting a lot of grief from people saying that I exploited [Juliana] and things like that. I started looking up the definition of ‘exploit,’ and the only thing I could say was, “Yeah, I guess I did tell everybody her situation.” What “Idol” didn’t edit in was that I meant to do it, because I thought maybe somebody could help her, and I was right. Once it aired, the outreach was incredible, people helped and I won. No matter what place I came in, I came out on top.
Before this, I was just a kid that worked at Starbucks, not knowing how he was going to take care of his fiancée. After this whole experience, she’s someone that everybody’s praying for and reaching out to, donating money and…I feel like I did my job as a man to help her out.
Finally, now that you’re off the show, who are you rooting for to win “Idol”?
[Laughs] That’s such a tough question because while I’m there, I’m rooting for me to win “Idol” and kind of stacking myself up against other people, and you just start to realize that these guys are just…incredible. You love them all for different reasons; they impress me. So I don’t know, it’s too early in the game to say who. I have a special place in my heart for all of them.