Alexis Grace, Danny Gokey and Michael Sarver dish on 'American Idol'
By Steve Rogers, 02/20/2009
Danny Gokey may have appeared cool, calm and collective during Wednesday night's live American Idol results show, however the eighth-season finalist said he was shaking on the inside.
"I maybe looked calm and cool, but I wasn't on the inside. I have family members say that I looked that way, but I have to be honest, man. On the inside, I feel kind of like a wreck," Gokey told reporters during a Thursday conference call.
"I prepared myself mentally while I was up there, while [host Ryan Seacrest] was talking. I said, 'If this is it, I am going to go out gracefully and just thankful for the opportunity.' I'm telling you; you just never know. In this competition, you just can never be too confident. I mean I want to be confident, and I want to portray like a level of confidence, but man, sometimes, you just don't know. So, I prepared myself. But, thank God, I didn't go home."
Gokey, Alexis Grace and Michael Sarver were revealed as the eighth-season's first three Top 12 finalists during Wednesday night's results show after receiving the most home viewer votes for their performances during Tuesday night's broadcast of the season's first semifinals group.
"This is my dream and it's happening," Grace told reporters during a separate Thursday conference call. "That's what went through my head when I heard I made it through. To tell you the truth, I wasn't convinced. Just because judges give good critiques doesn't necessarily mean America agrees with them. So, I just went in there not expecting anything, just getting the results pretty much."
Grace received some high praise following her Tuesday night performance of Aretha Franklin's "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)" when Idol judge Simon Cowell compared her to first-season winner Kelly Clarkson.
"It's more than flattering," said Grace about the comparison. "I mean it really just shook my world when they said that, in a good way. What it does, though, is it just pushes me to do better each time now. Now, I'm really going to step up my game and prove to them that they're right."
While Gokey also received praise from the judges, he said that he knows he can improve.
"I want to improve. I want to clean up my vocals. That's what I want to do," he explained. "I notice when I'm singing I sometimes get a flat and sharp here. That really bothers me because I know that I can do a clean performance. But on the other hand, I like taking risks when I'm singing. I don't like to just be in the safe box, singing a song, but I want to, so to speak, jump off the bridge and somehow land on my feet. Sometimes, I kind of lose my footing when I'm coming back down."
In addition, Gokey said he'd like to "loosen up a little bit" following his rendition of Mariah Carey's "Hero" on Tuesday's show.
"I want to lighten up and just have a little fun with it and enjoy the ride because now I've made it to the Top 12," he explained. "I still have it mapped out in my mind what I want to do and who I want to be, but I just want people to enjoy."
Gokey's performance was also emotional since his wife passed away seven months ago, and he said that played a factor in his song selection.
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"I guess maybe sometimes the consensus is that people are getting tired of my story or whatever. That's totally fine, but it's such a fresh thing right now," it said. "I want to be able to appear to people just on a fun level too and also the deeper level that I showed them."
The 28-year-old from Milwaukee, WI added his wife's recent passing is simply a part of who he is.
"It's not that I throw it in people's faces, but I get asked about it all the time, especially like right now," he said.
"I'm talking about it at this point. In a previous interview that I did today, everybody wants to hear what I have to say. It weighs on my mind a lot though because honestly, this is a sob story I don't want. I don't want this story, but it is shaping my life and it's causing hope for a lot of people knowing that it's causing hope for my life. I didn't want to live any more after she passed."
Gokey also addressed criticism he's received for allowing a family member to hold up a picture of his late wife up for Idol's cameras during his performance.
"I apologize to everybody if they feel like it's shoved down their face, but it's so fresh in my mind," he said, adding he doesn't perform with any memento of his wife.
"She's in my heart. You can never take that away. I really don't hang on to charms or anything like that or any mementos. I have, obviously, pictures at home, but she's so deeply engrained in my heart and mind that she's a part of who I am."
Gokey's personal story received quite a bit of attention during Idol's eighth-season audition and subsequent Hollywood Week broadcasts, something he admitted might have helped him land some viewer votes.
"I do feel like that I was highlighted," he told reporters. "There's no getting around that. I didn't do anything to get that. I can say this; I'm grateful that they would do that. I have no control over it. I know everyone's not going to like me. That's goes without saying, but it's a bummer when people are just real mad about it. I had nothing to do with it and I hope people can see past that and just see that I genuinely just love to sing and that's what I want to do."
Sarver also received considerable attention during the season's early broadcasts, and the 27-year-old oil rig employee from Jasper, TX said it aided his advancement in the competition.
"You definitely can't deny that extra exposure helps," he told reporters during his Thursday conference call. "It definitely tells people who you are and I think that's one of the main things that we try to get across. You can't deny that it got people a little closer to me. I can believe that."
Unlike Gokey and Grace, Sarver did receive some criticism from the judges following his Tuesday night performance of Gavin DeGraw's "I Don't Wanna Be."
"I'm not ashamed of the song I sing at all. In fact, I still to this day, even a few days later completely stand by my decision to sing it because all the right things made sense. The song made sense," he told reporters. "The words mean a lot to me and I know they'll probably mean a lot to a lot of other people. What I will do is continue to be true to who I am as an artist, but I will probably begin to flirt more with my roots, which is a lot of R&B and soul."
Sarver also acknowledged that Cowell's Tuesday night plea for viewers to "pick up the phone" and give him "another shot" also helped his cause.
"I can't deny that I think that could have had something to do with it," said Sarver. "Simon making a plea for me on my behalf; I don't take that lightly that at all. I really take a lot from that as a compliment because I appreciate compliments on my voice and my singing and things, but to be complimented on the person I am really means a lot to me. I have no doubt it had an impact and I appreciate it."
In addition, Sarver also agreed that he made the Top 12 because people like him -- not because he delivered one of Tuesday night's best vocal performances.
"I can acknowledge that the hard working American is part of the appeal," he conceded. "I believe that real life people can relate to me, especially in the economy and the day that we live. It's very difficult for a lot of people and I see it as a chance to see someone rise from the ashes. It's not that my life is bad, but things are tough and to see some excel and succeed, I think people relate to that and it's special to their hearts."
Sarver and Grace are both parents and said continuing in the competition without them will be difficult.
"I am nervous. I mean any mom would be nervous because it's their kid and they are so attached to their child. I mean that's their responsibility," said Grace.
"But it's only for a little time and this little time apart. As long as I work hard and dedicate myself to it, I know I can get it done because I have the best family in the world and they're going to help me out with whatever I need and they'll be traveling back and forth. So, I'll be able to get to see her, but not as much as I would like to. This is all to better our lives."
Sarver said he has the support system at home to ensure his kids are being cared for.
"I have an incredible wife who never drops the ball on our family. She makes sure that our kids are taken of," said Sarver. "So while I'm in L.A., my wife is the number one person who takes care of business, but we have an incredible family that surrounds us that will always take care of the kids. There will be times in and out. We don't know now. We'll take it one step at a time as far as when they'll be able to come out, but you know I'll love it when they do."
Due to Idol's new semifinals format, the first three Top 12 finalists won't compete again until March 10 -- however that apparently doesn't mean Idol viewers won't be seeing them in the meantime.
"We'll keep busy and you'll see more of us," teased Grace. "We'll be around. So, just keep watching the show."
Sarver added that while they will be busy with rehearsals, he could not confirm whether the first three finalists would be doing any performing between now and March 10.
"They have not made it clear," he told reporters. "There are opinions floating around about how things should go, but they have not made it clear exactly what's next for us. So, we just kind of take it one step at a time and say, 'Yes, sir. No, sir. Yes, ma'am. No, ma'am' and go there."