Winning a huge reality show like "American Idol" can be a double edged sword. While it comes with instant fame and a solid platform to launch a singing career, it's at the expense of total creative freedom, according to Season 14 winner Nick Fradiani.
Fradiani won the second to last season of the show before it jumped over to Fox, dropping his debut album "Hurricane" in 2016 via Big Machine Records as part of his victory. The album struggled to find its footing and made the lowest debut of an "Idol" winner on the Billboard 200, with the exception of Season 15 winner Trent Harmon, whose album has yet to drop.
Two years later, Fradiani is back with a new sound, new LP and no label, after leaving Big Machine in 2016. And while he's grateful for his experience on "Idol" and how it helped him "learn the ropes" of entertainment industry, he tells TooFab his new music is more "fulfilling" than anything he's worked on before.
With his upcoming EP "Where We Left Off" dropping October 13, Fradiani spoke with TooFab about his new music, what he thinks about the upcoming "Idol" reboot and judges and whether he'd ever return for an All-Stars reason of the reality show.
So you have the EP coming out, the big question is what can fans expect from your new sound?
You know we're really excited about it. I had an interview yesterday and I was saying how it's nice to — when you're really proud of something and really believe in it — it's nice to actually go out and promote it. So I think the biggest thing is it's kind of me getting back to my roots a little bit.
You know, I wrote everything, co-produced everything, and I think you can really hear me in the music, it's a little more organic sounding. We tried to use a lot of real stringed instruments and played everything, and it was a cool experience. It was very — I don't know — just everything from the writing to the recording, came really easy and I did it back home with a producer of mine that I was in a band with years prior [Beach Avenue, who competed on "America's Got Talent"]. He actually co-produced the title track off my last album, his name is Nick Abraham. So we got to work on it together and it was a cool process and I think you'll kind of be able to hear that in the record.
What is the biggest difference going from a big label like Big Machine to doing it independently?
Oh man, there's a lot more work I've learned. But it's kind of more fulfilling, like I did everything. I've always considered myself to be kind of an unorganized person, but I found that I really was able to, when push came to shove, and came up with my music, I was proud of the effort I put in. I also have a great team of people behind me right now that are obviously making this a possibility for me to keep moving forward. But you know, I did a lot of it on my own, from finding the people I wanted to mix the songs and master the songs, to finding the director to do the video, to writing the video, to everything.
And when I was at a big label, it felt like there was a lot of red tape to get through and maybe I wasn't always having the final say on stuff and now I do, and so that's really exciting. Now I just gotta see how far I can go independently now. Luckily nowadays, a lot of people are having quite a lot of success if you do it the right way so we'll see how it goes.
We have to ask about the music video for "I'll Wait For You," because I think everyone who watched it ended up crying. Where did the idea come for that and did you know the dog beforehand?
To answer the last one, I didn't know the dog. That was actually a big part of it when I got to the directors, like "We gotta find a trained dog." I wasn't thinking of it, I was like "Oh I'll get my sister's dog or my dog" and he was like "No that'll never work, we need to get a dog that is actually trained really well and has done commercials or something." So I think the dog made the most than anybody on the movie, they had to pay him pretty hefty.
So the idea came — me and my buddy Ryan [Zipp] were trying to come up with some ideas. Ryan was a drummer of my old band and still helps out with a lot of stuff. Me and him came up with the idea but we weren't sure if it would work or if it would come across corny, so we weren't sure if we wanted to do it. And then this video director that I ended up working with randomly contacted me and had a similar idea after listening to the song which I found pretty bizarre, and so I was like "Alright, well we definitely have got to go with it" and that's kind of how it happened.
Is there a song on the EP that you're most excited for fans to finally hear?
Oh man, that's a good one. There's only one song that I haven't played live. It's the last song on the EP. So I'm not sure, but I think the most excited I am for somebody to hear is the song called "Scared" cause I've only done it acoustically so no one's heard the full production of it and we had recorded a full choir. I got to direct the choir to what I was hearing in my head which was pretty amazing. It was a 9 person choir from New Haven, Connecticut and they were amazing. And we recorded it at this beautiful studio — Firehouse studios — in New Haven. So that one I'm really looking forward to having everyone hear. I think it might be the strongest song all around. It's kind of a big power ballad, but it has kind of a bluesy element to it as well.
How is the tour going and what has it been like so far getting on the road with new music?
It's good, it's again, a whole different experience for me. I'm going out with a band called the Alternate Routes, they're awesome. So we're kind of co-billing these shows. I'm doing them acoustic. But I'm looking forward to it. Again, when you do it independently, it's a lot of work and a lot of organizing, and you gotta do your best to sell as many tickets as you can, meet as many fans as you can, make new fans, all that fun stuff. So it's gonna be a grind, but luckily I like to do this stuff so it's exciting.
Now we need to talk "Idol" for a minute. How do you feel about the show already getting rebooted and what do you think of the judge choices so far with Katy Perry and Luke Bryan?
Well my father had just told me about Luke Bryan yesterday. I didn't even know that. I think Luke Bryan is definitely a good addition. I thought Keith was great and if they're not going to bring Keith back, Luke is a great choice. And I always hope the show does as good as it can possibly do. I was definitely surprised how quick it came back but I think a big thing is to get the judges is a huge thing, as you see with "The Voice" and everything. So I think it's a good start with these two, they need to get one more. I think they need to get a real tough one here, they need to get a tough judge, ya know? Get their Simon Cowell back without it being Simon.
Note: This interview was conducted before Lionel Richie was added to the roster.
Having been on the other side of judges' critiques, is there advice you'd give new judges to keep in mind when they're talking to the contestants?
To be consistent with how you critique. I think sometimes I would hear kind of weird critique where I feel like they would forget what they told me the week before or something like that. So I think kind of be consistent with what you're saying and consistent with what you think they need to work on, and if they've improved on that, mention that, or say you know you still need more improvement in that area. Just consistency in judging, I think, is important.
When you did the series finale, is there a memory that stands out, being there among all the winners?
I think one of the funniest things was I was in the dressing room with 50 of the guys in these huge different dressings rooms. And do you remember the "Pants on the Ground" dude? He was just randomly in there, rehearsing the "Pants on the Ground" thing and I was like what the hell is going on, it was hilarious! I was like, "Wow he's really rehearsing it." He had it down.
For some reason, that's one thing that stuck out, out of all the awesome stuff that went on, that was definitely one of the funniest.
If ABC decided to do an All-Star season, is that something you would ever consider doing?
I think, you know I had done "America's Got Talent" before and "Idol." I think I need to learn the ropes as just going out there and doing it. I think I'm reality TVed out, but I mean that would be really cool. I think a lot of people would like to do that. But, man, if I'm going up against those winners, I don't know. There's some powerhouses there, so I'd have to really up my game going up against some of those people!
Do you have a final message to your fans out there?
Just to thank everyone for allowing me to keep doing this. It's an honor to be able to play music for a living and I appreciate everybody that's still listening. Just keep supporting musicians, it's not the easiest thing. I don't care what level you're at, it's always a grind, so supporting us by streaming or buying or just telling your friends — it goes a long way.