By Kristin McGrath
A last-minute addition to American Idol’s top 24, Tim Urban won over audiences with his smile and buoyant attitude amid less-than-stellar feedback from the judges. His Idol run ended Wednesday after the Idol Gives Back charity show. USA TODAY caught up with Urban, 20, in a conference call Thursday.
Q: In the past, there’s been a lot of focus on contestants’ religious background. What is yours like and how has it shaped you as a performer?
A: My personal belief has really shaped every aspect of my life. I grew up in a Christian home, and that set of morals and upbringing has shaped me musically and as a person. It’s pretty much who I am, it’s not just a part of my life.
Q: Tell us about your volunteer work in Africa.
A: I went to South Africa in Swaziland. I was on a relief trip taking nutritional products to orphanages. I was there 10 days and visited 20-some orphanages. It was a really amazing and gut-wrenching experience. That’s why I was excited about Idol Gives Back, because I’d had the opportunity to experience it.
Q: How did you feel about being Vote for the Worst’s candidate this season?
A: I really have no comment about that website (which encourages viewers to vote for the worst singer). I’m not excited I was on their website, and I don’t think it’s anything that anyone should be proud of. I didn’t want to be on there, and basically I was working my hardest to get off of it.
Q: Simon (Cowell) gave you some compliments on your attitude. What did it mean to you?
A: That’s actually something that was my goal on the show, not just to improve as artist but to be a good contestant and take what they were saying and work at it, but also not to complain and talk back. So it was cool to get that recognition.
Q: How did you deal with the pressure?
A: I tried not to think about the millions of people watching and just focus on the crowd in the room. The energy’s so great, every time you step out there to perform. It’s hard to connect through a camera to the people at home, so I was just trying to worry about the audience there.
Q: What is the one thing you wish America could have seen about who you are as an artist?
A: There were a couple weeks I was groping and not sure what I was going to do. But when I finally settled down and just let myself be myself, I showed America what I want to be.
Q: It seemed like all of a sudden Simon was nicer to you. Did you make amends at some point?
A: Simon and I never had a problem. I just thought he was speaking his mind and tried to apply it. It was cool that he recognized I was working toward that, but we never had a problem to begin with.
Q: Did you get to meet Carrie Underwood during Idol Gives Back?
A: I didn’t. I actually walked right past her. I got pulled back to do some after-show interviews, so I didn’t get the opportunity to meet her, which I’m sad about. I’m hoping to meet her in the future.
Q: Are you going to keep wearing the necklace she gave you?
A: I am. I love that necklace. There’s a lot of sentimental value, so I’ll definitely keep wearing it.
Q: There have been suggestions that you would be a good fit for Glee. Are you thinking about branching out into acting?
A: I would love to do music, and I’m hoping that door opens up. But I’ve always had a desire to act and be on that side of the entertainment industry as well. I’m waiting to see what happens, but I’m open to anything. I’m really just excited about the whole thing.
Q: There was a lot of talk about your smile. Have you gotten any sponsorship offers from Colgate?
A: I haven’t, but who knows? That would be kind of fun.
Q: Have you been surprised at the number of fans you have and the support people are showing on Twitter?
A: Yeah. It’s so amazing. You’re in this American Idol bubble, so you almost lose sight of how big the show is. So it’s incredible to see that kind of support.
Q: How would you respond to your critics who say you only stayed on the show because of your looks and charisma?
A: You have to shrug it off. I don’t perform for the people who don’t like me. I perform for the people who want me onstage, so those are the people I try to worry about.
Q: Was it surprising to get so much scrutiny after the shirtless photos of you came out?
A: I knew it would come out eventually. I didn’t really expect it to be as big as it was because it blew up really fast. It’s part of the show. It’s just one of the stories people decided to run with.
Q: Do you think that scrutiny helped or hurt you?
A: Kind of both. It kind of helped, but people might have seen that and not taken me seriously. I think it probably helped more than it hurt, but I don’t know for sure.
Q: Who were your closest friends among the contestants?
A: We’re all around each other 24/7, so you get to know everyone individually. We’re all really close, but in different ways. I’d been getting close to Casey James and Big Mike (Lynche) because we were roommates for a while. I got close to Lee (DeWyze) and Andrew (Garcia). They’re great guys. Aaron (Kelly) was kind of like a little brother to me. Siobhan (Magnus), she’s awesome, and I loved hanging out with her and Crystal (Bowersox). They’re all really good friends but in different ways. The people I spent the most time with were Casey, Big Mike, Lee and Andrew.
Q: Did being around the other contestants help you deal with the pressure?
A: It did, because we’re all going through the same thing. Everyone on the show wants everyone else to do well every week. If you get bad criticism, they’re there to back you up and be like, “You know, man, it’s all right. I thought you did good.” Having that support was really cool.
Q: When you first started, did you think you’d get this far?
A: Honestly, when I auditioned, I didn’t think I would make it past the stadium, because of how many people were there. I was expecting to sing and have them say that I wasn’t what they were looking for. I didn’t really have any grand picture, so this whole thing has blown me away. When I made it to Hollywood, I was like, “Wow, this is crazy.” And when I got sent home from Hollywood, I was like, “OK.” And then they called me back. It’s been this crazy rollercoaster journey.
Q: What motivates you in life and in music?
A: The desire to impact other people in a positive way. That’s why I have a happy outlook on life. That’s my whole reason for playing music. I just want to touch people in a good way and put a smile on their face or encourage them with my music.
Q: What was your mind-set heading into the results show last night?
A: (I could tell) from the judges’ comments it was possible I’d be in the bottom three. It was possible I could go home. But I went back and watched my performance, and I was fine with it. If I did go home, I wouldn’t be upset about the performance. I was excited about how far I’d gotten. If I did go home, Idol Gives Back, being a part of that, it lightens the blow a little bit.
Q: Idol Gives Back was a long show. Was it hard waiting for the results?
A: The wait wasn’t really that hard because it was an awesome show. You almost lost sight of the fact that it was a results show because of how amazing the performances were and how touching the videos were. I was a little sad that I didn’t get to sing one last time on that stage. But I’ll get to come back for the finale and hopefully get to perform on that stage again. It’s bittersweet, but overall it’s all right.
Q: On the night you did the slide across the stage (when Urban performed Crazy Little Thing Called Love), was that something you’d rehearsed beforehand?
A: I was goofing off during rehearsal, and I was like, “Hey, I’m going to slide.” And the stage manager and the producers were like, “Hey, you should do that in the performance.” It was kind of a last-minute joke that turned out to be something I wanted to do.
Q: What advice did the judges give you that you’ll take with you?
A: Just to figure out who you are as an artist. Kara (DioGuardi) said a few times that the singer/songwriter avenue was something I should really pursue. They just encouraged me to find out where I fit and not try to be a certain kind of artist, but just be the kind of artist that I am and pursue it.
Q: What will you miss most about the experience?
A: Being around the other contestants constantly. You turn into this family. But we get to go on tour, so we’ll be back together.
Q: Are you looking forward to being on Letterman?
A: I think he’s really funny and I’m really excited I get to go on his show. Hopefully, it’ll be funny and lighthearted.
Q: The judges commented on your smile. Was it a nervous smile? Or were you just happy?
A: It was such a blessing to be here and have this opportunity that I couldn’t help but smile. Even when they were criticizing me, you have to enjoy as much as you possibly can. It wasn’t a nervous smile, it was me having fun onstage. I didn’t want to get depressed about the comments so I decided to not let them affect me that much.
Q: How has your stage presence evolved? Have you ever worked with a choreographer?
A: I haven’t. I’ve done some theater productions, so that helped. It’s something I definitely hope to improve on, and I think I made some good strides on the show.
Q: Do you think you bonded with Casey James because you are from around the same area?
A: It was cool because he was in the same area I was, but we just never ran into each other. We knew the same places, so it was cool to have that familiarity. He told me he played at a church in my hometown two minutes from where I live and a lot of clubs and venues around that area.
Q: Who do you think will be facing off in the finale?
A: It really is hard to say. Any week, any of them could just step out there and show them something incredible. I’m excited to see who’s going to amaze America. I’m rooting for everyone to step up and make this really difficult.
Q: What’s going through your mind when the judges give you some of their harsher comments?
A: I decided I wasn’t going to take it too personally until I had time to process it. When they made certain remarks, I’d find it kind of funny they got that out of my performance. And so that would make me smile. If I took it personally and let all of it eat at me, I wouldn’t want to go out there next week.
Q: What did the other contestants say to you after you were eliminated?
A: It was really encouraging. I tried to stay upbeat. We had a laugh watching my recap. It was actually a really cool time because we’re saying goodbye, but it’s not like we won’t see each other really soon.
Q: Because you come from a large family, have you ever thought of making a family band?
A: Actually, I have thought about that, and I’ve done a little of that at home. My family is really musically talented. One of my younger sisters plays the piano and sings, and she’s got a beautiful voice, and another younger sister also plays the piano and sings a bit as well. One of my younger brothers plays a little African drum. We’ve done small shows and things like that. I’d love to do that. I don’t know if that’s what they want to do with the rest of their lives.
Q: How do you think Big Mike has done since the save and how have you bonded with him?
A: Big Mike is always trying to step up his game. Having gotten the save, it just pushed him even more. We bonded because he’s a really likable guy. We’re both easygoing, so we had that in common. We both really were working hard to improve, so we just bonded. We understood each other.
Q: What was the high point of the show for you?
A: The rush of stepping on that stage will always be a high point for me. Probably the biggest high point was getting the feedback after I sang the Elvis song (Can’t Help Falling in Love) and seeing that I’d improved and the judges were noticing that.
Q: How has having such a big family shaped you?
A: There are 10 of us total — five boys, five girls. I’m number six. It’s been a unique upbringing because I was homeschooled as well, so we’re all very close. My family is really supportive and encouraging, so I’ve really been blessed. That’s probably one of the reasons I have a positive outlook. I know that family support is there and that I’ll always have that love and appreciation.
Q: Closing remarks?
A: It’s been an insane run. It’s been a crazy, awesome ride. I’m really excited about the tour and whatever happens afterward.
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