"When I first stepped into the competition, I was really in a little shell," Mercado told reporters during a Thursday conference call.
"I don't feel like I was at my full potential because of the entire negative mind frame that I was in because of, like 'Oh, nobody really sees who I am.' And I was so focused on that that it was really harming my performance. And once I got my mind right again... I became more comfortable with myself and the stage. And the feeling of being overlooked completely subsided, and it was just a matter of being consistent every week and eventually, people would recognize me, and that's exactly what happened."
The 21-year-old Miami, FL resident was ousted from Idol's seventh season after 56 million home viewer votes were cast immediately following Tuesday night's live performance broadcast that saw the Top 3 finalists each sing three songs -- judge's choice, contestant's choice and producers' choice.
Despite finding herself among the bottom vote getters five times before she was eventually eliminated, Mercado said her drive to constantly "improve" combined with being a "hard worker" kept her in the competition.
"I just enjoyed myself more every week, and I separated that line -- that fine line -- between overworking and doing so much to the point you're unfocused, not enjoying yourself, and doing enough and trusting yourself and letting go and taking it all in," she explained. "So my goal every week was to feel satisfied after every show. And I felt more satisfied the more the weeks went on."
Mercado added balancing that "fine line" of "over-rehearsing and overworking" and "just doing what you need to do and trusting in yourself" was a valuable lesson to learn and she's glad she was ultimately able to recognize it in time so it didn't spoil her experience.
"Just letting go and letting it be the way it is because I worked so hard every week, to the point I wasn't really able to enjoy myself. So I've learned how to relax and what to do, whether it's talking to someone really close to me, someone I confide in, or whether it's reading a book that's really uplifting," she explained. "So I learned ways to deal with stress. I've learned ways to deal with how to prepare for a performance, to the point where you're able to enjoy what you're doing. And you're working, but you're not so focused to the point where it's just a stress ball for you. So I've learned to relax more."
Mercado was the final female to be ousted from Idol's seventh-season -- setting up next week's finale between David Archuleta and David Cook. She described both of the Davids as "unique."
"David Archuleta has that beautiful smile, and he has that really, really good connection with kids -- the younger audience. David Cook has that connection with the younger audience. The girls go crazy over him. And the older audience too -- really, really charming, like all the older women," she told reporters. "I feel like I'm a little sister and a big sister to both the Davids. And once everybody was gone, we really had the chance to really, really have a more intimate relationship and just really just have fun and kind of that brotherly/sisterly love."
In addition, Mercado said she knew her Idol journey was "over" after she received "bad comments" from the judges during Tuesday night's performance episode. However the writing was apparently on the wall even before that.
"People would be like, 'Oh, David Cook! Oh, my gosh, I love you so much.' And they're like 'Syesha, Syesha, could you just tap David on the shoulder and get him for me?' I'm like, 'Okay, sure, guys. Okay, here's David,'" she told reporters. "So it was like that kind of relationship. It was fun. So this competition can go any way, so I just wish them both the best of luck. It's all about what the voters want."
Mercado's identity as an artist was questioned twice by judge Paula Abdul on Tuesday night, so she took the opportunity to define herself when speaking with reporters.
"I'm a mix of a lot of things," she said. "I think that's why people are like, 'Oh, she's Broadway' because they see me doing some Broadway thing. I'm just like, 'I'm like a black Christina Aguilera/Alicia Keyes.' I definitely can see myself putting together a Christina Aguilera album, the one that she just recently did, and an Alicia Keyes album like 'The Diary of Alicia Keyes.' I like pop, and I like R&B, and I like the old school/new school thing."
Mercado added she's "growing" and "evolving" as an artist, and has Idol to thank.
"I'm glad that I did do American Idol because people were able to see that transition that I went through, and I'm still learning more about myself everyday," she said. "I think that's beauty of doing this competition. You just learn so much. So people will know who I am. You'll know who I am once I put out that album. You'll know."
Idol wasn't Mercado's first foray into reality competition series, as she was a contestant on ABC's short-livedThe One: Making a Music Star in Summer 2006.
"I don't think it hurt me," said Mercado about how The One impacted Idol. "I think it really let me know what's in store because it was the same format, but more reality. So people really actually got a chance to see my personality because with American Idol, it's not as much reality behind scenes, but it's more the hour show, what you see on stage. And a lot of my songs weren't really showing who I really was, but I definitely think it prepared me a lot for this show."
Idol judge Simon Cowell commented on Tuesday night that Mercado's best performance had actually come two weeks ago when she sang Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come" -- which was released in 1965 during the Civil Rights movement.
"It came out during a transitional time in history, and for me, this is a transitional time for me in my life and it took on a different meaning for me -- 'I'm the last female standing. I'm still here, and I feel like I've changed a lot for the better,'" she explained. "I think that has a connection. It came out during a pivotal time in history, and it came out during a pivotal time in my life, so a mix of both of those together. It's just emotional, and it's just the message, 'A change is going to come.' Back then it came, and for me, it's going to come."
During a video montage of her Idol experience during Wednesday night's results show, Mercado's father talked about his struggle to overcome alcohol and drug addiction, and Mercado spoke to reporters about how that shaped her life.
"The struggles that we go through, I've always seen it as it can either make you or break you. And for me, it made the strong person that I am. It made the sincere, humble person that I am," she said. "Having my dad struggle through that, it really made me sad a lot of my life. It actually made me understand people more. I told myself that I'm not going to let this determine what my future is going to be. I'm going to do something good. And I'm going to help my dad and encourage him and be there for him. And I'm going to make him proud, so that he wants to make me proud, and that's exactly what he's doing now. He sees me doing something good, and it's really motivating him to stay sober and stay clean. And it's just a beautiful story to tell."
In addition, Mercado added her desire to avoid the pitfalls of addiction and instead be "something better than that" only drove her harder to succeed.
"Your past has a lot to do with the type of person you are," she said. "I think every family has a struggle. The reason I even brought up my struggle at my first audition is because my past doesn't determine who I am. And I don't feel ashamed of telling encouraging uplifting stories to people because everybody's going to find out eventually my story."
Now that her experience on Idol is over and her father is sober, Mercado told reporters she feels a chapter in her life is "over with."
"I'm doing something to make my dad proud, and he's actually making me proud at the same time, so it goes hand-in-hand," she said.
Since Mercado described herself as "goal-oriented," she knows she can accomplish whatever she sets her mind to.
"I want to make an album. I want to star in a film. I want to do Broadway. I want to open up an organic restaurant, and like a lupus foundation, homeless foundation," she said. "It just depends on what comes first, but I have goals that I want to do, and I write them down and going to continue to look at them. Basically, whatever opportunity comes first and what's the best career move for me, that's pretty much what's going to happen."
Because Mercado said she'll be focusing on her career in the immediate future, she had no wedding news concerning her fiance.
"I'm the type of person, I live in the now and what's going on now, that's what I'm going to take care of," she said. "He's so supportive, and we both have a mutual understanding about everything, so when the time is right, we'll do it. But right now, we're focused on the career, and what's the next move to make as far as that. And everything else is going to fall into place."