311's singer on his surprising ''Idol'' connections: Nick Hexum was actually in the audience when Blake performed ''All Mixed Up'' -- but he's also rooting for another contestant he knows...

By Shirley Halperin
March 13, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT
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If you were one of the few to recognize the song Top 12-er Blake Lewis performed on American Idol last week, 311’s 1995 modern rock hit ”All Mixed Up,” then you were likely as surprised as we were by the choice. But what threw us for an even bigger loop was when Lewis casually mentioned, at the Top 12 party later that night, that 311 singer Nick Hexum was in the audience for the show. Naturally, we had to investigate this very important Idol development, and what we discovered after tracking Hexum down on 3/11 (a day he spent two hours chatting with fans online), was an even more interesting backstory to this tale of a fan and his favorite band…

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So Nick, what did you think of Blake’s rendition of ”All Mixed Up”?
NICK HEXUM: Well, dawg… [Laughs] I think he did it well. I was surprised when I first heard about it, because usually Idol is all about the big, cheesy Celine Dion stuff. So I wasn’t imagining that a song like ”All Mixed Up,” which doesn’t have the big huge pop-ness to it, would go over too well, but Blake pulled it off. The opening part is really hard to sing. It’s like an ascending half-step jazz chord, and he nailed it. He gave it a cool arrangement that had a little bit more of a straight groove than our version. He changed it around and had a lot of fun with it. I have only positive things to say.

What about the judges’ comments? Were you offended that they didn’t recognize the song?
No, I wasn’t mad. Our fans think of 311 as a kind of secret society, so it made sense that these really pop-oriented people wouldn’t be familiar with us. What I thought was funny were the judges’ comments about what a contemporary song choice that was. Yeah, we wrote that song about 12 years ago…. [Plus,] all these industry suits were sitting around me, and they were like, ”Who was that, Sublime?”

Was your phone ringing off the hook?
Yeah, and the funny thing about is that everyone assumes that no one else is watching it among my friends. They’re all texting me as if they’re not. They’ll start with the excuse of, ”Well, my girlfriend watches the show,” or ”My kids,” or whatever. So my phone was blowing up. It’s a guilty pleasure. Why not cop to it?

Were you a fan of the show before?
I was familiar with it. I watched early on and kind of sat out the last couple of seasons. But in general, I think it’s good TV. The fact that the emotions are so real… These people are really ecstatic or crushed right there before you; you can’t deny it even if you don’t care for the musical selection or format. I think the most brutal part is when they make them sing after they’re eliminated. Like that girl [Alaina Alexander] who sang the Dixie Chicks — that was really brutal.

Do you have a favorite past Idol?
Fantasia. She can just sing her ass off. She’s so right there with no pretenses. She was one person I really got behind, but I didn’t vote or anything.

How did you hook up with Blake and end up in the audience?
Actually, my brother Zach [Hexum] is friends with [Blake’s fellow top 12-er] Brandon Rogers, and Blake got in touch through Brandon asking if he could do the song. But I didn’t get to meet Blake — we just texted.

How does your brother know Brandon?
Zach is a singer-songwriter and Brandon produced quite a bit of the vocals on his new album. There’s a lot of cool layered harmonies and more R&B influences that Brandon brought to it. And he did it all without any sort of auto-tuning or digital editing. It’s an awesome album, and, while he’s working on it, I’m looking for a distributor for it.

So is your loyalty now divided between two contestants? Who do you root for?
They both want to make it to the top 10 so they can go on tour together. I’m pulling for both of them. And honestly, anything I do as far as an endorsement is not going to tip the scales at 30 to 40 million watchers. But my take on Brandon is, he’s so versatile. No matter what they make him do in the next few weeks [as far as theme shows], I think he’s going to surprise people as time goes on.

Were you happy Ryan didn’t give you an on-air shoutout during the show?
I made sure that opportunity did not present itself.

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