The FORT Interview With Vanessa Olivarez

This morning, I had the pleasure of speaking with Vanessa Olivarez, the 21-year-old from Atlanta who was the first finalist voted off of American Idol this season. She has a great personality, and it was a lot of fun talking with her. Here’s what she had to say:

When did you start performing in Atlanta?
I started performing in Atlanta about 3 or 4 years ago. Actually, it was probably more like 4 or 5 years ago.

What made you decide to try out for American Idol?
My friends. They were all like, “Oh, you should definitely try out. You’d definitely make it.” So, I said OK.

Did you watch the show last season?
I did. I was kind of addicted to it, actually. (*laughter*)

Who were you pulling for last season?
Kelly. Kelly and Tamyra. I was kind of torn between the two of them…I really liked them both.

Do you think your “performing monkey” speech with Ryan had an impact on your results?
Um, yeah I think that it could have.

So, it was scripted?
Yeah, it was scripted. I think that it could have an effect, but the thing is that I’ll never know. I mean, I can’t go through and pick out all the people that voted against me because of my comment and all the people that voted because of my performance. There’s just no way of knowing that.

On more than one occasion, Simon compared you to Bette Midler. How do you take that comparison?
I love it. I think she’s amazing. So, it’s probably one of the best compliments I could receive.

Now that you have been on the show, do you plan to focus on music or will you be returning to your job as a hair colorist?
I do…I want to focus on music, but I’d actually love to do some acting. I could be a radio DJ or a VJ on MTV…something like that, perhaps.

How do you feel about the people who did not originally make the Top 32 being invited back for the Wildcard Show?
Well, I think it was cool. You know, why not give them a chance as well? They deserve as much of a chance as anybody.

A whole lot has been made of talent vs. image this season. How important do you think each is, and how important should they be?
Well, I think that talent and image are both very important, but in different ways. I mean, look at Britney Spears. Look how popular she is. She doesn’t maybe have as much talent as somebody like…Aretha Franklin. But, Aretha Franklin doesn’t have the “image”. So, it kind of depends, because if the image overweighs the talent, the image will still probably get someone pretty far. But, if the talent overweighs the image and they’re not the prettiest person in the world or the most attractive, then the talent will carry them. It really depends on the person…and their personality.

If you could perform a duet with anyone you wanted, who would you choose?
Um…Bette Midler. I love her. I think she’s awesome.

If you could choose a “theme” for the show one week, what would you like to see the group do?
Broadway. Everybody’s saying I should be the next Tracy Turnblad in “Hairspray” on Broadway.

Do you think the biographical videos that were shown of you accurately represented you? Are there any changes you would have made?
I think they did a really great job with my bio. They showed how close I was with my family and my puppies.

And your pig…
(*laughter*) And my pig.

Do you think it helps or hurts a contestant to talk back to Simon (or any of the judges, for that matter)?
I think that it can help, but it depends on how you word things. If you’re offensive in any way, people get angry, and they’re like, “Oh, she’s mean. We don’t like her.” If you do it in a way where you’re defending yourself and you’re not being mean, then it works.

For example, your response to Simon about his weight comment…
Right. Right. You just have to know how to word things and turn it around back on them without making anybody angry.

What did you think when he said that?
I was OK with it. It didn’t bother me. I mean, you know, I knew I needed to lose a few pounds.

Of the people that are left in the group, who would get your vote?
Well, I think everybody is talented in different ways, definitely, but Ruben has probably my favorite voice.

Do you know…have they said anything to you all…will there be a tour this year similar to the one last year?
I have no clue. Probably, but I don’t know.

What was your favorite part of the whole American Idol experience?
Hmmm…I would definitely have to say getting to meet all the judges and getting to see so much talent in one place.

What did you learn about yourself as a result of being on the show?
Well, I learned that I have a lot of versatility and I have a very…I don’t know…I learned that I should be an actress. I want to take whatever comes my way in the industry.

What’s been the reaction back home since you’ve been on the show?
Well, I haven’t really been back home. I go back today. But, I’m sure it will be…interesting.

How do you deal with the recognition that comes with being on the show?
I think it’s really important to be really cordial and really gracious. I mean, your fans are the people that make you, and it’s like I’ve been telling people…If you go into a store and you have a good experience, you’ll probably tell one person. But, if you go into a store and have a bad experience, you’ll probably tell five or ten people. So, I think the same goes for celebrities and people meeting celebrities. If you’re mean or you come across the wrong way to a person that’s a fan of yours, then they’re going to tell people. I just think it’s so important to be nice, because you know…just because I’m on TV a little bit more doesn’t mean I’m better than anyone else.

Speaking of celebrities, have you gotten to meet any because of being on the show? Which ones stand out?
I met Tom Green. He is hilarious…he is so funny. I got to meet Jason Priestley, which is cool because I was a huge “Beverly Hills, 90210” fan for years. I’ve met…well, I acutally had dinner with Melissa Etheridge (and Tammy Lynn Michaels) at her house on Thursday. And, I have met Kathy Najimy. Kathy Najimy is, like, on the “Vanessa campaign”. She really wants me to be famous or whatever. She’s definitely a good person to have on my team, and she is “all about Vanessa”. She’s been calling me, and she’s like, “How are you answering your interview questions? Who’s asking you? What are they asking?” and stuff like that.

Well, for what it’s worth, you’re doing a great job.
Aw, thanks.

What advice would you give to people who want to try out for future editions of American Idol?
Just be yourself. I think it’s really important. The thing is if you aren’t yourself and try to be something else, you’re never going to be happy with your career.

Other than the two shows each week, do you all as a group have a lot of contact with the judges and host, or do you only see them when you’re doing the taping?
We see Ryan a little bit more than the other ones. But, Ryan and I have like a special connection because we’re both from Atlanta. Actually, his babysitter–well, his old babysitter–I do her colors.

What is the course of events leading up to a show? Do they give you a list of songs to choose from?
Yeah, it’s usually done by list. Or, they can tell us the category and they can say, “Well, if you have a song that’s not on the list, then let us know, and we’ll see if we can get it cleared.”

So you can suggest something if it’s not on the list?

And then, what…you spend a couple of days with the vocal coach? How much time to you get to practice before the Tuesday show?
Well, we usually get the category the week before the show, and then we have all that week to practice.

If you could go back and change anything about your experience, would you?
I don’t think I’d change anything. It’s been a great experience. I’ve had lots of exposure, and I couldn’t ask for anything more.

Well, that’s all the questions I have, Vanessa. We’d love to have you stop by the website if you want and post a message sometime.
OK, I’ll try to do that!

Vanessa, I wish you all the best. Congratulations and stop by the FORT whenever you get a chance!
Thank you so much…bye!

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