Travis Garland, a former boy band member — he was in short-lived group NLT, which (fun fact!) also featured Glee‘s Kevin McHale — now striking out on his own with a new single called “Believe.” But Garland’s not alone in his solo quest: he’s also got the support of the world’s biggest gossip blogger-turned-music mogul, Perez Hilton, who brought Garland to the attention of Idol producer Simon Fuller. We got the two lads on the phone for a quick convo about their collaboration, and Garland’s plans for world domination.Tonight’s American Idol results show will feature a special performance from
Entertainment Weekly: Travis, how are you feeling walking up to the big Idol performance?
Travis Garland: I’m feeling excited, anxious, nervous, but mostly ready. Ready is the strongest feeling I’m having right now.
Perez Hilton: He’s ready. I’ve been going to rehearsals. It’s so amazing. They’re just perfecting it now.
Jason Derulo set the Idol performance bar pretty high this year — Travis, are you going to top it?
Jason Derulo had a pretty great performance on the show earlier this season.
PH: Who? [giggles] I’m only kidding.
Travis, are you an Idol fan?
TG: I am. I’m rooting for Bowersox this year.
What do you think you need to do to make a mark while performing on the show?
TG: I’ve been really studying a lot of performances, you know, gearing up to go on the show. I think I just want to do something different, something that hasn’t been done before. We’ve got a couple surprises in store.
Tell me one surprise.
TG: Um… we have a little bit of fire involved, but it’s not like the typical pyro. It’s some crazy new technology.
What was your reaction to finding out Perez was interested in your music?
TG: I was blown away. I’d done this remix of “Dead and Gone,” and I posted it on my MySpace and Perez got word of it. Next thing I knew, my manager was calling and said, “Hey, Perez wants to work with you.” It was so unexpected.
Perez, did you know Travis from NLT?
PH: No, I was never even aware of NLT. A bunch of people, probably NLT fans, sent his cover of “Dead and Gone” to me. I heard it and I was instantly blown away, like, “Wow. I like this better than Timberlake!” And then I met him, and heard some of the other stuff he was working on for himself, and I was impressed. I was like, this is not some boy band reject. This is a real artist. He sings, he dances, he writes, he plays piano, he produces, he engineers. He does it all. And he’s also really young and hot. I really think there’s a void in the marketplace for him. There’s a lot of guys right now in radio, but none of them really stand out except for Justin Bieber. For every Justin Bieber there seems to be five others. There’s like Jason Derulo, Iyaz, Taio Cruz — but they just have hit singles. I don’t think any of them are resonating as artists. And I think Travis will really make an impact and connect to audiences, as a person and as a musician.
PH: Because he really has it all. First of all, he’s young, so he’ll connect to that Justin Bieber audience. He’s only 20 years old. He’s hot. He can dance. He’s got an amazing voice. And he’s got that star quality. And he actually writes his own music and plays piano. He’s not some manufactured pop act. And he doesn’t shy away from pop, which is what some people might do. Some people think of pop music as a dirty thing, but no, it’s a beautiful thing. Because he makes pop music, I hear him getting played all over the world.
Travis, were you writing your own stuff when you were in NLT?
TG: Me and the boys actually wrote our single, “She Said, I Said,” which was produced by Timbaland. But songwriting is a passion of mine. I’ve always been doing it.
You’re a good Texas boy who grew up in Lubbock, a town that always makes me think of that Mac Davis song about “happiness being Lubbock in my rear view mirror.” Were you looking at pop music as an escape?
TG: Naw. I loved growing up in Lubbock. I just always had a passion for acting and singing, and growing up on R&B music like Brian McKnight and Brandy and Boyz II Men, I just kind of followed my dreams. I went to the performing arts high school, entered an acting competition when I was 14 that took me to Dallas, and I won that, which took me to L.A. It all just kind of fell together.
Were you worried at all at the end of NLT that it was the end of the road for you?
TG: Um, there were definitely some of those thoughts crossing my mind. But I try not to dwell on the negative. I feel like if you work hard and keep hope alive, anything is possible.
PH: Like his song! He believes!
Way to tie it back in! Perez, Travis’s appearance on Idol was driven by your advocacy. How do you know Simon Fuller so well, that you can call in this favor?
PH: I’ve known him for several years now. Late last year we got in a partnership together with this boy band we’re putting together. It all comes full circle.
And it all comes back to boy bands.
PH: The time is right! We’re trying to bring the boy bands back. So like three months ago, I played him a bunch of the other artists I’m working on, and he was just really impressed at the variety. He told me he really wanted to help me break one of my acts, and have them perform on Idol. He was excited about having an unknown singer have their performing debut on that platform, which is the biggest one on American television.
Are you still surprised that you’re able to wield so much power over people’s taste buds?
PH: I don’t like to use the word power. I like to use the word opportunity. I have a great platform. I have several great platforms, to share. Whether that be my website, my Twitter, or my radio shows. And my audience has the ability, or the opportunity, to receive. There’s a lot of times when I recommend music and it just doesn’t connect. So it’s always really nice when it does hit. And this, I think and I feel and I’m starting to see already, is hitting in a big way. No one deserves it more. Travis has been working at this for years, and I’m so excited to be part of the process. I can’t believe the song is at 130 on iTunes right now, just based on my website mention, and the work we’re doing on Twitter, and maximizing the little press we’ve already gotten. He hasn’t even gone on Idol yet.
Speaking of, what happened to that poor Sliimy fellow?
PH: [laughs] I’m still working with Sliimy, and I think he’s fabulous. I love that I worked with him. I’m not your traditional record label that just sees dollar signs. I want to work with people who make good music. I’m a believer in artists, and a believer in good music, and I’ll continue to work with artists who I think maybe aren’t the most commercial, but speak to me. Thankfully, though, I think Travis has got it all. He’s a real credible artist, but he’s also making music that I can wholeheartedly hear on radio all over the world.
What’s the ultimate dream for you, Travis? World domination right off the bat?
TG: I’m extremely ambitious, so Perez, you might want to answer that one first.
PH: I’m extremely ambitious, too. But at the same time, I look at someone like Lady Gaga. She achieved world domination, but it took a long time. I still remember her releasing “Just Dance” in March of 2008, and that song not going number 1 in America until January 2009. So we’re both ambitious, and I have the strongest faith and confidence in Travis, but I’m also patient. I’m not going to give up on him, and the music is that good. If it doesn’t connect right away, then it’s about getting it to the right audience.
TG: I have a lot of long-term goals. I’m willing to put in whatever it takes to get there.
Longevity is definitely the trick these days. We’re all about chewing people up and spitting them out.
TG: I love you said “we.”
Yeah, I know. But I feel like people have to be careful not to throw everything at the wall right out of the gate and then have nothing left for a followup.
PH: That’s something that really impresses me about Travis. He’s only 20 years old. He writes these great pop melodies, these hooks, and these lyrics that are well beyond his years.
It’s a very youth-oriented moment in pop culture — Travis, who are some of the people in your age range who you admire?
TG: I really admire Justin Bieber right now. I really appreciate his talent, and I can really respect someone who handles the kind of success he’s received so well. I respect his maturity.
What else can we expect from your upcoming album?
TG: You can expect a great urban pop record. Danja produced a good chunk of the album.
Any other collaborators?
TG: I did a duet with JoJo.
All right. And Perez, are you still gunning for that empty Idol judging chair next season?
PH: Absolutely! Although I haven’t personally picked up the phone and asked Simon Fuller, I’ve made it very public that I want the job.
Why haven’t you picked up the phone?
PH: I don’t know. I think it’s nice to be courted?
You can’t play hard to get in Hollywood.
PH: That’s a good point. All right. Thank you. If I don’t see him at Idol, I’ll send him an email.
(Follow the Music Mix on Twitter: @EWMusicMix.)
More from EW.com’s Music Mix:
Axl Rose sues former manager over alleged ’sabotage’
Austin City Limits 2010 lineup: Eagles, Phish, Strokes, M.I.A. among headliners