Though he didn't win, 33-year-old "American Idol" finalist David Hernandez is parlaying his TV fame into a successful singing career. Blessed with a beautiful singing voice and beautiful looks, Hernandez, who recently came out, spoke to us about his music, why coming out was important to him, and about other aspects of his life.
A native of Phoenix, Hernandez cites artists such as Peabo Bryson, Alicia Keys and Stevie Wonder among his greatest musical influences. He also includes John Legend and Adam Levine on that list, and was thrilled to have shared the stage with them at an inaugural ball for President Barack Obama--he was invited to perform at the ball by TV legend Norman Lear ("All in the Family", "The Jeffersons", "Maude").
"It was really cool to be part of that turn in history and to be able to celebrate and be on the right side of it" Hernandez said. "It was also incredible to sing next to two of my favorite artists, John Legend and Adam Levine."
Hernandez expressed a great deal of fondness for TV talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, whose historic coming out in 1997 is credited with shifting society's views on LGBT people and equality.
"Ellen is super-nice and genuine," he said. "Meeting her and her wife Portia and their dogs was really great!"
It was on "The Ellen Show" that Hernandez came clean about his R rated past. After he passed the Idol auditions, he was outed as a former stripper.
"I was 21-23," Hernandez recalled of his dancing days. "It was a means to an end. I needed work. The manager of the club where I danced was paid $200 by Entertainment Tonight. The way it was presented, it seemed like I was trying to be sketchy--I wasn't. It was never a shock to Idol, it had all been disclosed."
But Hernandez has no regrets. "People always try to tear you down," he said. "But I'm having the last laugh because things are going really great."
Hernandez has since used his celebrity to advocate for equality and LGBT youth and has performed at a number or Pride events. "I work closely with HRC," he said. "I've performed at around 15-20 dinners for them. They're a great organization that fights for equal rights."
Yet even as he supported the LGBT community, Hernandez remained in the closet until recently. He explains why.
"I had a different team behind me that was not on board with who David Hernandez was," he said. "I was eager and had been working for many many years at this career, so I was willing to let them make decisions for me, whether good or bad."
The singer reminds us that in spite of how much things have changed, not everyone has evolved.
"I started my career at a very early age when times were extremely different and while times changed, unfortunately the frame of mind of those executives did not," Hernandez explains. "In a way I find it my responsibility to tell my story because there are other kids out there that might think its not OK to be yourself because you won't be successful."
That story includes battles with depression and low self-esteem.
"I was the little kid who liked choir and theater," he said. "Growing up in a Mexican-American family those interests were feminine and looked down upon. I was called a faggot and a sissy so many times because I didn't have an interest in sports like the other boys did. I felt a lot of pressure. Kids would follow me home and try to beat me up. I felt like something was wrong with me."
Since coming out, Hernandez' life has been everything he's wanted it to be. "I am doing really well," he said. "I definitely need my alone time to clear my head from the day. I sometimes meditate and I always take the time to reflect on why I am feeling the way I feel at that particular moment."
Hernandez added that coming out ended up being good for his career. "So far the response has been nothing but positive," he said. "It's amazing how many doors open when you live in your own truth--for a lot of years I was told by labels and executives that this would hurt my career. There were photo shoots that had me posed next to naked girls and Ferraris that portrayed someone I was not. Ultimately I wasn't happy and that music didn't go anywhere."
But now he's making new music--Hernandez' new single "Beautiful" is up at YouTube.
"It is definitely soul and R&B influenced," he said. "My voice will always have that influence. It is also very top 40--catchy lyrics and memorable melodies. It is still evolving into its own unique sound and as I grow, it grows with me."
R&B greats such as Stevie Wonder, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, and Alicia Keys continue to influence Hernandez' sound. "Beautiful" is an upbeat, uplifting song that when I first heard it, I fell in love with it," he said.
An album will follow. "I am still working on the full length album as we speak," he promises. "And there will definitely be another tour when this new album is all done. I just wanted to give my fans something to hear in the meantime."
Hernandez wants kids--and adults--to know that they are not alone. "Love yourself and be who you are unapologetically," he said. "If you are going through dark times, I promise you will get through. Hurting yourself or others is never the way to solve your issues and there is always help out there, you just have to ask."
David Hernandez, "Beautiful": http://bit.ly/2cTX9Ym