"No. I really don't think so. I actually believe it was based on song selection. I think America's smart enough to know by now that people's personal lives should not influence their musical career," Hernandez told reporters during a Thursday conference call.
"I'm not ashamed of anything that I've done in my past. I'm actually looking forward to moving on in the future because music is what really matters in my career. The only thing I was worried about was my song selection."
The 24-year-old from Glendale, AZ was ousted from Idol's seventh season after "over 29 million" home viewer votes were cast following Tuesday night's live performance episode broadcast -- slightly more than a week after it was first revealed he "steadily worked" for three years as a male stripper at Dick's Cabaret, where he appeared fully nude and performed lap dances for the establishment's "mostly male" patrons.
"I did a pretty good job of blocking it all out," said Hernandez about the media attention his past has been receiving.
"I watched my performance back from Tuesday night. I was very happy with my stage presence. It was just -- unfortunately -- not the best song in the judges' eyes. America voted. I've been staying away from the Internet and TV. If this is the worst thing that comes out of my career, then I'm set to go. This has actually been really good for me because I learned to have a thick skin and still be able to get on stage and perform for 35 million people."
In addition, Hernandez reiterated the negativity surrounding his Idol journey only made him stronger.
"I think adversity is my best friend to be completely honest. I think it's something that inspires me. It makes me work harder. I don't have anything to say to the people that try to bring me down or count me out," he said. "In this industry, you really have to have thick skin and know that people are going to say bad things about you."
Last Tuesday, Idol executive producer Ken Warwick said Hernandez would not be disqualified because his past "won't make a difference" and "the public will make the decision anyway." Hernandez told reporters that Idol's producers were aware of his work at Dick's Cabaret before it was learned by the media.
"If they weren't comfortable with it I wouldn't have been on the show," said Hernandez. "Everything was totally out there and open."
Hernandez said he received support from his fellow Top 12 finalists once media reports of his past started to surface.
"I remember one instance when we were upstairs in the bedroom, they all huddled around me and they just gave me a big hug and they were like, 'Don't you get on the Internet! We're going to keep the TV off! We're not going to worry about any of that stuff!'" he recalled. "So it's really like a family. It was sad to leave."
Hernandez sang "I Saw Her Standing There" during Tuesday night's performance episode. Randy Jackson thought it was "a little too overdone" and fellow judge Paula Abdul agreed he "overdid it a little bit." Not surprisingly, Cowell was more concise in his criticism of Hernandez, describing the performance as "corny verging on desperate."
"With the Beatles -- and them being so legendary -- it's really tough to cover them... It's very challenging, and people almost have already set in their minds how they want the song to sound. So it's hard to change it and make it your own," he explained. "In my eyes, I did the best I could. I kind of made it my own. If I look back at my performances, I've been actually pretty consistent with my style. I'm R&B influenced. I can look at the total package and be like, 'I'm really proud of that.'"
Still, Hernandez said his first choice from the John Lennon/Paul McCartney songbook was actually "Let It Be." However fellow finalist Brooke White had already taken it based on a "first come, first serve basis, according to Hernandez.
"In no way do I feel like Brooke White didn't deserve the song. It was fair, everything was fair," he said. "I felt confident in my song or else they wouldn't have had me move forward with that song."
Despite feeling confident, Hernandez could still be seen mouthing, 'Wow!' when Idol host Ryan Seacrest revealed he was the first Top 12 finalist eliminated.
"I was genuinely shocked. I really didn't think that I'd be going home. Honestly -- based on all the things the judges have said about my vocals -- I thought that I would definitely be in the bottom three, but I didn't think... I didn't feel like I deserved to go home," he said. "But everything happened for a reason... I'm very happy. There's probably a lot of doors that are going to open with this one closing."
At this point in the competition, Hernandez said the remaining finalists need to know that nobody is immune from being booted.
"The competition right now is so intense -- everybody can sing -- that there's nobody that's safe right now," he said. "I think that at this point, song selection is very, very important for people. I can't really say why it was my time to go or why so-and-so stayed... The way that everything is happening now is based on song selection."
While he only enjoyed a brief appearance in the Top 12, Hernandez said he still learned quite a bit.
"It's been a rollercoaster, but through all of the madness and chaos, I think that I have gained a deeper respect for myself and an appreciation for the music," he explained. "I also got a new-found confidence in myself as a performer."
Hernandez said he's currently "unemployed" and a return to Arizona State University as a student is "kind of at the bottom of my list."
Not surprisingly, he told reporters several times during the conference call that he plans to start "shopping for a record deal to have an album out within the next year."
"I'm actually going to shop around a record deal. I'm actually looking for labels that are interested in me right now. I'd like to have an album released within the next year, and then definitely other options like Broadway," he said. "I'm definitely keeping my mind open to all that kind of stuff. I would love to do Broadway. But more importantly -- on top of everything -- I definitely want a record out within the next year."
(Photo credit Fox)
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