Losing your voice on Fox’s “American Idol” would be a nightmare come true for most contestants, but not for Syesha Mercado. During Hollywood Week, she communicated with a raspy whisper and handwritten notes, and then shocked the judges with a powerful rendition of “Chain of Fools,” after which Randy declared her the “one to watch.” America fell in love with the gorgeous, optimistic, and bubbly then 20-year-old, who has had her share of difficult times. Her father – now recovered – struggled with alcohol and drug addiction, and her house burned down when she was in high school. She made it to the top three during “Idol’s” seventh season, behind David Archuleta and winner David Cook, but that was just the beginning.
Blast caught up with the young starlet to hear about her upcoming debut album and her lead role in the Broadway production of “Dreamgirls,” which premieres on November 22 at the Apollo Theater in Harlem and will continue on a 14-city tour throughout the country.
BLAST: What was it like to achieve the sudden success brought on by “American Idol?”
SYESHA MERCADO: It was crazy! It was such a journey and a roller coaster ride. I learned a lot about myself and about what I want my image to be. I met so many amazing people and made a lot of great friends. It was an amazing experience all around, and I am very grateful for it.
BLAST: Tell us about your upcoming album. What was the inspiration for it? What can fans expect to hear? When will it be coming out?
SM: I’ve been writing since elementary school; I’ve kept journals. All of my experiences in life have been incorporated into my music. It’s high energy, pop crossover. It tells the story of my life. It’ll be released sometime after the Broadway tour is over. I’ve been so grateful to be able to work with producers like Chris Rojas, Scott Cutler, REO (who produced Beyonce’s “Hello”), Andrew Dixon, and Evan Bogart. Soon I’ll be working with Eric Hudson and Toby Gad, and I’m really looking forward to it.
BLAST: You are quoted as saying, “As an artist, I believe experiences provide musicians with the inspiration for their music.” Could you tell us about an experience that has inspired your music?
SM: I’m inspired by love, relationships, the people around me, my family. I’m away from my family a lot, so I like to think about the good things and the good times. Being on the road inspires me, nature inspires me. My freshman year of high school, my house caught on fire. It really brought up lots of emotions and made me appreciate the small things.
BLAST: Tell us about your upcoming role in the stage production of “Dreamgirls.” Does the role of Deena Jones hold any significance to you? What is the most exciting part of being in a Broadway show for you?
SM: I can relate with every character, I think. People have many sides. Throughout the play, my character finds herself, and I can relate to that. I have lived that aspect of having a dream and working hard to achieve it. My character has a special place in my heart.
Being in the moment on stage is exciting to me. I’m inspired by the actors I work with, and by my the audience. That’s the beauty and the magic of theater: the show is different every time, it evolves. I’m moved and inspired by the audience. It’s amazing that the show is opening up at the Apollo. I am so excited to be performing there. I can feel the energy and the presence of the people who have performed there before, like Ella Fitzgerald and Michael Jackson. It’s an honor and a privilege. I’m so excited!
BLAST: What is a typical day like for you now?
SM: It’s different every day. Today I found out I have a revised schedule. We’re doing a costume parade, and I’ve never done one before. We wear our costumes and have our hair and makeup done — I wear 17 wigs! We parade across the stage and the director, stage manager and costume designer make sure everything looks right. There’s lots of standing and walking around. But there’s an amazing energy. I love being around all the other actors who love performing, too. I love it, I love the energy. And everyone’s so nice!
BLAST: What would you say to someone who has dreams of becoming a professional actor or singer?
SM: I’ve learned that you have to go after what you want, no matter what. Something’s gonna happen, there are going to be obstacles, but that’s life. You’ve got to keep going. No one is going to work harder for you than you. Be positive and it’ll happen. Oh, and practice! Practice is important.
BLAST: What do you think of the fact that Paula Abdul isn’t coming back to “American Idol?”
SM: I think it’s sad; I really love her. She was the motherly one, she really cared about us, and she was very sincere. She’d give us gifts and pep talks. Ellen (DeGeneres) is cool, too, though. She’ll be a good voice for the public, for people who watch the show but who aren’t singers. She’ll do well, she’s so funny.
Want more of Syesha? Follow her on Twitter, @syesha, and become friends with her on MySpace.