Whether he’s facing the judges or facing down an American Idol exit interview, Jermaine Sellers is never at a loss for words. He talked happily about his eclectic fashion choices, his outsized personality, why he confused Idol associate music director Michael Orland for a certain King of Pop, and who was always on his mind when he was performing on stage.
EW: Hi, Jermaine — how’s your morning been so far?
JERMAINE SELLERS: [Laughs] I feel like God brought me from a mighty long way, you know? I’m here right now. It’s sad that I had to go home so soon, but I just feel like things happen for a reason.
What did the judges say to you last night?
They let me know that I’m a great singer. I do push a little bit, but they’d rather have someone who has the drive, who wants to push and get it out there. Overall, you know, they said that’s it’s a younger crowd that votes; it’s the young girls that vote. I have a soulful voice, so I think that was why I didn’t get so many votes.
You were also known for what you said off stage, as Ryan pointed out last night. Did you feel like the producers emphasized that more for you?
No. I feel like I had to stand up for the Gospel singers that are out there. We stand in that [Idol audition] line just like everybody else does, and we never seem to make it this far. I was standing in the gap for a lot of the Gospel singers, the singers who can do the riffs, who have the range. You never get a chance to really see them. I felt like even though the judges were saying pull back more, I felt like if I pulled back anymore I wouldn’t be representing my fellow Gospel singers. I felt like I would just be singing the song without it being sang, you know?
Your fashion choices also got some notice — what inspired them?
[Laughs] I’m a geek. I really am. My main focus was on the younger crowd. A lot of kids don’t have the Sean John, the Baby Phat; sometimes they have to mix and match whatever they have in their closet at that time. And they get picked on. I basically represented those young people right there. School for me was really bad, because my parents weren’t as fortunate as other kids’, and [classmates] picked on me because I couldn’t wear the clothes that they had on. I feel like every night I was on that show, I wasn’t just standing there for myself, I was standing in the gap for somebody who’s going through some situation — I felt like they could feel me. They could feel where I’m coming from.
Between your comments and your clothes, were you concerned that your personality was going to overwhelm your singing at all?
I think that, with the whole diva thing, it wasn’t me being a diva. It was just me standing up for myself. I didn’t want to come across as a diva. Anybody who knows me knows I’m a character. I love to see people laugh. And shows are edited, of course. Some of the stuff, like the comment with me throwing the band under the bus or whatever – the only reason why I said something, when you rehearse something a specific way, and you go out there and want it to be done the way that you rehearsed it. At that point, your nerves are on edge, so you’re scared to death of not making it through. So I said to myself, if going to go home, I’m going to go home because I messed up. I’m not going to go home because somebody else messed it up for me. It wasn’t me being a diva.
Did you mend fences with Michael Orland, the Idol music director who was leading the band that day?
You know, the reason why that night [of the Top 24 boys] that I said “Michael who?” I was thinking that I sang Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” [during that Hollywood Week performance]. I was like, “Wait, are y’all about to say Michael Jackson rose from the dead or something?” That’s why I said it like that. But Michael [Orland] is really cool. I have nothing bad to say about him. Him, Dorian [Holley, music director], Miss Byrd [vocal coach Debra Byrd] — I call her Mama Byrd — they were all there for us. The training that they gave us prepared us for the platform that we’re about to go to.
Especially Mama Byrd. I love that lady. She saved me. There were many nights where I was like, “Mama Byrd, I don’t know what to do. I feel like crying right now. They keep telling me to pull back, and I can’t pull back no more, because if I pull back I won’t be singing. It won’t be me.” And she said, “Well, baby, all I can tell you is go out there and sing. Sing like you at church, like you’re singing to God.”
Your faith is clearly really important to you.
Whenever I sing, I don’t even see the judges. I don’t see them until I’m done with the song. I always imagine God on the cross, and basically everything that he went through. This is just my test right now, this is me going through my trial. So now I’ve gotta get judged afterwards — you know, how they judged Jesus. That’s how I looked at it. I threw the Christian thing out there a lot, because there’s a lot of people who don’t give God the credit for us even making it that far. If it wasn’t for Him, we wouldn’t have even made it to the show, period, you know?
So what’s next for you?
Of course, I want to act. I definitely want to do what the Kirk Franklins, the Mary Marys, the BeBe Winans [did]. I would say more so what BeBe and CeCe did, many years ago. They crossed over. At the time, it was Video Soul with Donnie Simpson [on BET] where their videos were being played. Songs like “Heaven.” Stuff like that, the contemporary crossover music, to where you can see my songs on MTV. Just something that’s going to inspire somebody and let them know that I made it this far, you can make it too.