He has a great voice, good looks and enough nerve to take on mainstream Hollywood.
David Hernandez is a name that I wasn’t familiar with. I knew he was set to release a single called “Beautiful” in August with a provocative video to follow.
I also knew he is going to premiere the song at Rich's Nightclub on Saturday, July 30.
But other than being gay, and his season seven stint on American Idol, I wasn’t sure who I was about to interview.
A quick swipe through my iTunes streaming music app, I discovered his rather large catalog of songs which includes a smooth and emotional tune called “I Am Who I Am,” and a cover of Beyonce’s “Halo.”
I really grew interested after hearing his searing, dance anthem “WTF,” something he released last year but could easily be a Billboard Hot 100 in a perfect dance world.
The song, about falling in lust with a guy in a club, might have been too harsh for mainstream radio with its f-bomb expletive to get any play, but it's definitely a club thumper.
“We have an edited version of it as well,” he told me. “But yeah we released that last year and it was produced by Printz Board of the Black-eyed peas who also produced the music video for the upcoming single – he did not produce this [Beautiful] song, but he was part of the creative process for the video.”
His voice through the phone was as smooth and deep as some of the things in his discography. Moreover he seemed confident and well versed.
Even though we were supposed to talk about the upcoming release of his new song and video “Beautiful,” we would soon be discussing so much more.
The business of singing can either make or break a person.
In the fading age of singing reality television competitions anyone can be a star but what they don’t realize is that a little bit of fame doesn’t go a long way anymore.
The Fox Network seemed to understand that they have discovered all the Kelly Clarksons, Adam Lamberts and Carrie Underwoods of the world, and decided to drop the mic on American Idol just last year.
The funny thing about reality shows these days is that your five minutes of fame runs down during your segment each week.
Beyond that, once the show is over and the top 10 go on tour, a singer hopefully has come to realize that they just experienced the lifespan of a 50-year career condensed into just 14 weeks.
Hopefully, their crash course in pop music stardom has taught them how the industry works, how to make connections and to start believing in themselves once again and work hard.
Hernandez,33, seemed to have been taking many notes during his time on Idol. He moved from Phoenix to Los Angeles nine years ago.
I was curious about his thoughts on being gay and auditioning for the show. I told him that my perception was that they didn't want people to be out.
“I don’t think what they mean by my sexuality, is not to be honest about it," he explains. "But I think, what moreso we’re trying to say is, we don’t want to lead with that being the most important part about David Hernandez.”
And he’s right, the first time you meet a person you’re not going to introduce your sexuality, but in the mainstream entertainment world I’m sure it’s something they want to know sooner rather than later.
“When I was on Idol almost ten years ago, it was a whole different ballgame I feel,” he said in his low smooth voice, “I mean...the people that were gay and out had already been established and they had already done their thing in the industry, whether it was acting, or music--whatever it was entertainment-wise. And those people were then, you know, coming out and all that kind of stuff. Nowadays, I feel like it’s so much more accepted and not such an issue, which I think is a beautiful thing.”
Always one to find ways to support himself and remain independent, Hernandez had a past which included time working as a stripper in a gay club, a controversial livelihood by the Idol demographic's standards.
Hernandez says he didn’t want to audition for the show. He already had a Universal Records deal, and he really frowned upon being a part of that path to fame. Battling with depression at the time, he flatly refused to audition even at the behest of his manager.
But he finally caved and auditioned for the seventh season of American Idol, making it all the way to the final twelve.
“It was a total game-changer,” he told me. “It literally put me on the map and also helped me in the last nine years to consistently work, and release music on my own terms, you know, and just be authentic to myself.”
He continued to say that he could never publically bash Idol, “I think the only thing I could say negative out of the whole thing was just being judged on a national and worldly level. It was awful when the news came that I was a stripper, that was my previous profession which I was never ashamed of, but to be out on blast like that. At twenty-four years old, it was crazy.”
Again there was never a waver in his voice as I was talking to him, everything was laid out in the conversation and he seemed perfectly comfortable talking to me about everything.
Having previewed his new song “Beautiful,” and its accompanying (NSFW) video, I realized that he might be stepping out of his comfort zone, or just defining himself further as a man and an artist.
Whatever his personal reasons the whole message of the song; to be confident, be fearless, but always remain true to yourself, is a message that he wants to send across many socially interconnected circles.
He says that “Beautiful” is a complete antithesis of his song WTF, but when he heard it he thought the message was perfect in addressing all the crazy stuff happening in the world, and the nudity was a broader stroke that made the narrative even more salient.
“The nudity wasn’t always intentional, I just thought let’s just strip it down, and just be super organic,” he says. “Honestly the original cut of the video had a lot more nudity in it, but we pulled it back just a little bit because we didn’t want two different edits and then have to service it to like radio and TV. I wanted it to just be universally accepted while still attacking some of the real issues that we’re still facing today.”
Some of those issues are alive and well in the LGBT community itself. From body shaming to class status prejudice, to just being judgmental overall, sometimes the community can be the worst offenders of intolerance. That attitude, if used as a weapon can be profoundly injuring to its target.
“For me, I struggle a lot with self-worth and security” he explains. “I grew up in a very broken sort of home, so abandonment issues are very real to me. I get being in Hollywood and surrounded by all these gorgeous faces. Up until now I felt like I had to keep up with the Joneses, you know, I have to hit the gym harder so I can look like that guy, but now, I’m just like so f***king comfortable in my own skin, I’m just like this is who I am, and you’re always evolving, defining yourself in different ways and stuff, I am just so annoyed with all this shaming that goes on.”
As I had mentioned before, being on a reality competition show where only the last person standing gets to bathe in the spotlight, getting pelted by shots from a confetti cannon, I asked him how he has survived after Idol. His answer didn’t surprise me.
"I’ve been lucky enough to have people in my corner, but I’m also a super big hustler," he laughs. "I’m always looking for the next show. Even if I have down-time after working for a month-and-a-half I’m still like well, if I go to Florida who can I contact out there, that I can do a gig with?"
David Hernandez seems to have it all: a great voice, a great talent, good looks and experience from both the real world and from the backlot of a Hollywood television reality show.
But there is more to this singer than just his time in the spotlight. He sees life through an added lens where judgments come from the open world, even within his own community.
His journey has given him many pit stops along the way, and as he stops to reflect a bit on what he has seen so far, he has benchmarked the trip with his new song “Beautiful,” which is a culmination of his thoughts, talents and observations.
“Generally speaking," he said in his slightly deep alluring voice, "I think things are improving, there’s nothing like an extra positive push.”
After our conversation, I thought: You may be able to take the reality out of the artist, but not the artist out of the reality.
The single and video for "Beautiful" will be available on iTunes on Aug. 16.
For now, take a listen to the infectious tune that caught my attention, "WTF" below (NSFW- language).
David Hernndez will also perfom at "SDPIX 14th Anniversary at Rich's" on Satuday, July 30.
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