Jena Irene may have been a wildcard pick by the judges to get into the top 13 on American Idol, but the 17-year-old rocker from Michigan quickly wowed and won the hearts of America to make it to this week’s finale. Though she didn’t claim the title, it was clear from our chat with Jena that she still has a lot more to do in this business. Well, right after she graduates high school.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How are you feeling about the result?
JENA IRENE: I think the fact that I just got to perform and compete in the finale was all I could ask for. My goal was just to get to top 5 so to reach that and surpass that and be the runner up of American Idol, that’s just so awesome and I’m so grateful.
I almost forgot you were a wildcard! What’s it like to know that you were really able to get America’s support by the end?
It’s cool that I had to prove to America that I do belong in this business and in this competition. To be a wildcard and to be so young, I was very timid and shy. Especially the first live show, I was so nervous. So, when I had to prove myself, and I sang my original song, I was actually really proud at that moment because it was so much pressure all at once. So the fact I got into top 13 was such a huge milestone, and I think week after week, American got on board.
Is there a performance you want to be remembered for?
I hope I’m remembered for “Creep” cause when I performed that song, I definitely connected with the lyrics. But I had to fight to sing that song. Production was very skeptical, especially about the lyrics, but I love the lyrics, they are just very blunt. I think that’s why I like them so much! But to be the first person to perform that song on the show and for it to be taken positively is great because it was such a fun song to perform.
What’s the song selection process like on the show?
Well, depending on the theme, we get a list. Like for example the love song and hate song week, we got a list for each category. But, I mean in the first couple of weeks, it was kind of free range, we could do whatever song we wanted. Especially, the song about home, we could pick our own song to represent our home. So depending on that, we have a couple of choices to show the executive producers and the label to see what they think and what best suits our voice, but we ultimately have the final decision.
How did you come up with your look for this season? You experimented with your bangs a lot.
I was just experiementing, again I’m only 17 and the fact that I’m so young, I still don’t really know who I am, but this show has definitely made me evolve as an artist and kind of tap into who I am as an individual. The bangs are awesome, I still have them they are just kind of up today. The extensions were cool, it was just such a fun – I felt like a different person on stage. It was fun to get ready and transforming into Jena Irene.
Speaking of transforming into Jena Irene, I guess at some point after your initial audition, your dropped your last name from the competition. Was that your decision or the producers?
When I was in the auditioning process, production kept calling me Jena Irene instead of Jena Asciutto. I never knew why exactly, I think I wrote in my middle name as my last name on a form by accident, but I kept on correcting them and telling them my last name is Asciutto. But it just stuck and I was like, maybe I should just keep it because it has a ring to it, and I like it a lot. And actually my grandmother’s name was Irene and I never got to meet her and everyone says she’s the coolest lady in the world so hopefully, she’s looking down. But yeah, I’m Jena Irene now!
What was it like to deal with the added pressure of being on live television each week, let alone just having to perform?
I think in the beginning, all of the staging stuff and getting pulled into fifty different directions at once, it was a little overwhelming. You know, cause I’ve never seen anything like that before. I mean, I was in a band but nothing of the caliber of this production, of something this big. At first, it was very overwhelming but it just became a routine and what I love about this show is that it just gets you ready for this business. This is what it is, especially after, if you want to tap into this career, this is how it’s going to be, so I’m so grateful they taught me that or else I would have been in deep doodoo if I didn’t know what to expect.
Were you expecting those giant yellow balloon balls to fall during the finale?
Yeah, actually I did. They were loading in the yellow balloons as me and Paramore were rehearsing that morning, and it was so cool to look at all of them on the ceiling and think, holy crap, they’re gonna drop like as soon as we do it live. I didn’t know exactly how it was going to happen, but once it did I just had such a blast. It was such a cool thing, I can’t believe it happened.
What else about this entire experience do you think it will still be hard for you to believe happened?
I think the fact that America just voted me in every single week and the fact that I got to perform on TV and the amount of exposure I’ve gained in such a short time period. And I think the fact that I got to spend so much time with my mom, because I am a minor and it was just kind of cool to live with her and to have this experience with 12 other musicians which was just amazing, which is why I can’t wait for tour. It’s gonna be so awesome.
Any particular city you’re excited about going to?
We go to Canada on June 27 and that’s, like, the closest to my hometown which is kind of weird. But we perform in Windsor at Caesar’s Palace on June 27, that’s gonna be a fun show cause I know that venue is so cool. Tour is gonna be awesome. To travel with nine other amazing musicians and they’ve become amazing friends as well, cause you kind of have to if you’re going to be sharing this experience together so it’s just going to be a really fun road trip throughout the summer.
But first prom and graduation!
Prom is May 28 so it’s really coming up. Caleb and I are flying in from New York that day, I think, so it’s going to be really hectic, but I can’t wait to see my friends and everything. And I walk with my class on June 8, so it’s kind of cool I get to finish that chapter of my life and go on tour and start a new chapter.
It would be ridiculous if you guys didn’t perform at prom, don’t you think?
You think I should perform at my own prom? I think it would be really weird, especially cause there are DJs now, there aren’t even bands anymore so we can just sing karaoke in the microphone.
What’s next after the tour then?
I will be moving to LA, I’m excited to say. But besides that, I’m really excited to be making my own album and write and tap into myself. I don’t know what it’s going to sound like, but I think that’s the beauty of it, that I can go wherever I want to go after this. And it’s going to be cool to sing my own songs rather than singing cover songs. Don’t get me wrong, cover songs are awesome but it’s definitely a different performance when you sing your own lyrics.