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American Idol runner up Clark Beckham on losing the title: I'm exactly where I need to be

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From the beginning of season 14 of American Idol, judges and viewers alike knew that Clark Beckham, 22, had something special. The Tennessee native, who had been busking on the streets of Nashville when he auditioned, wowed the crowd each week with his flawless, bluesy-soul vocals, making it all the way to the final round on Wednesday night.

And then just like that, it was over.

In the final moment, fellow competitor Nick Fradiani edged Beckham out of the game, taking home the 14th title of American Idol.

“When I heard his name, it was a rush of different emotions,” Beckham tells EW of becoming the runner-up, and not the winner. “There was a part of me that was just like, ‘Ah, dangit. I thought that was going to be me, with the streamers and the title.’ But honestly, I was really really happy for Nick.”

Beckham admits that Big Machine Records, the label that will put out the winner’s first album, is actually better suited to Fradiani and his sound anyway. “[Idol mentor] Scott Borchetta is a great person for Nick,” Beckham says. “I don’t think I would have fit in as well as him. I think what needed to happen happened, and I really believe that I’m exactly where I need to be.”

While disappointed with the results, Beckham says it was also hard to watch other talented friends get cut from the competition throughout the season. “Serena is one of the best singers we had this entire season, and she went home in the top 12. That one really hurt. And Tyanna is like a little sister to me, so it was awful when she left. And Rayvon…Rayvon’s my roommate! Every cut was difficult.”

Luckily, the gang will be reunited soon to kick off the upcoming American Idol tour, which Beckham says he “can’t wait for.” “It’s going to be a blast,” he says. “We can’t wait to sing and not have to worry about being judged afterward!”

Does that mean he disliked the judging aspect of the show? He says it both helped and hindered.

“You know, it helps for us to get better, so I’m very grateful for everything the judges have said,” he says. “But I think the performance suffers. When I went home and did a performance in my hometown and knew I wasn’t going to get a critique afterward, I relaxed and noticed I performed better.”

Now that Beckham isn’t automatically getting a record deal, he says his next steps include looking to get signed elsewhere. “I’m absolutely on this train,” he says. “I’m going to do music for the rest of my life, whether I’m just barely supporting myself or I’m the most successful musician of all time. I’m addicted to music, I’m addicted to hard work, and if I don’t make it musically, it won’t be for lack of discipline or staying true to myself. But I hope to be a name that people use in the argument that American Idol makes stars.”

Something tells us he won’t be going back to busking anytime soon.