Interview: Former 'American Idol' hopeful Chris Medina finds success in Scandinavia

Chris Medina is big in Europe. More specifically, Scandinavia.

The Oak Forest resident had all of the U.S. pulling for him on “American Idol” last year after learning of his loyalty to fiancee Juliana Ramos, who was in a car accident and left with brain damage two months before their wedding, but it’s in Norway and Sweden that his song dedicated to Ramos, “What are Words,” reached No. 1 on the charts. The song also peaked at No. 19 in Denmark.

The U.S. charts? That’s a different story.

Medina’s album, also named “What are Words,” has never been released in the U.S. The former barista has remained unsigned here, which explains why he rarely performs around the country other than a few shows here and there and the occasional charity benefit.

On Saturday, Medina will perform at Bottom Lounge. He calls the show his last of the year in Chicago so he can focus on writing new music. He talks about his career in Europe, why he believes he hasn’t been signed in the U.S. and the incredible progress Juliana has made since she was featured on “Idol.”

Luis: How did you gain a following overseas?

Chris: Norway gets “American Idol” episodes about a month after we do. This 17-year-old who was put in charge of booking bands for a small music festival saw my audition on YouTube and contacted me (in spring 2011). He said “I can only pay you $200, but I would fly you out and pay for your hotel.” You know what? Maybe my 15 minutes of fame are up. If this is it, why not get a free trip out of it? He called the radio stations and said “Can you play this ‘American Idol’ guy’s song to promote my festival?” They played it that week and it debuted at No. 6 and for 11 weeks after that, was No. 1. Because it made such a splash in Norway, Sweden caught on. It was No. 1 for eight weeks in Sweden.

Luis: Why haven’t you released your album in the United States?

Chris: Nobody in the US wanted to sign me. I don’t know why that is. Maybe it’s the stigma behind “Idol.” Besides (“Idol” winners) Philip Phillips and Scotty McCreery, only a select few did really well coming off the show the last few years. The exposure is phenomenal but you get forgotten once the next season comes out and you’re old news. I didn’t even make the top 24 (on “Idol”) – my exposure was based off of an audition.

Luis: How is Juliana?

Chris: She’s in front of me right now listening to me talk to you. We’ve gone through pretty tough stuff: Lots of extensive therapy and non-traditional therapy. Fortunately the song did so well in Europe that I could raise enough money to pay for a lot of these therapies like horseback riding and an oxygen chamber. If you look at the audition, she couldn’t sit in her chair without shaking and could barely speak, she couldn’t hold her head up and her feet were crooked. Since then, her feet have straightened up and she can stand virtually by herself and eat by herself. Before we had to do everything for her, but now not so much. It’s still a long road, but she’s managed to inspire everyone around her.

Luis: Does Juliana travel with you overseas?

Chris: She travels with me (in the US), but not overseas. It’s frightening because I don’t know how the medical world works there. She still has seizures. I would feel awful if we were in the middle of an eight hour flight and she had a seizure. Also, it would get a little crazy. She’s famous out there. I don’t want her to be bombarded by people. And I don’t think I could handle the ridicule of people saying “You’re bringing this poor girl out there just to parade her around and she’s being suffocated.”

Luis: Do people accuse you of exploiting her?

Chris: Oh yeah, absolutely. But I don’t regret (“Idol”) for a second. People who know Juliana and talk to her on Facebook know she thinks this is the best thing that ever happened to her. The other day she was having surgery on her palate so she could talk better and instead of worrying about that, she tapped the doctor on the shoulder and said “I was on ‘American Idol.” For almost two years, she laid around on a recliner. I think the attention is motivation for her to reintegrate herself into society. She taught herself to type again so she can respond to feedback on Facebook. … She just told me to tell you Steven Tyler kissed her.

(The Aerosmith frontman and former “Idol” judge kissed Ramos on the cheek after meeting her at Medina’s audition in Milwaukee.)

Luis: What happened after you were eliminated from “Idol” and were done doing the talk show rounds?

Chris: Virtually nothing happened after that. Here I am with all these hopes and dreams and nothing happens. OK, maybe that’s how it goes. You hear all the time about 15 minutes of fame. The first show I played after that was Norway. It was in front of 2,000 people and then I was playing in front of like 70,000 people. I got off the plane and they were freaking out and losing their mind. I make the joke all the time: Nobody has been that excited to see me since I was a newborn baby coming home from the hospital.

Luis: Have you considered moving to Norway?

Chris: Not even a little bit. I’m happy it’s happened in those countries, but everything I do is to try to get released here. My goal is to write enough material to (land a deal). Hopefully they would rerelease my album or repackage it with new material. It doesn’t stand a chance if I have no money behind it. … I’m always trying to achieve some level of longevity. I’m trying to match my talent to my story. I’m trying to prove I’m worth something more than a story, one audition, more than 15 minutes. But even if it ends with just being successful in Scandinavia, I’m happy.

Luis: Are you living comfortably off of your music career?

Chris: I’m not living lavishly. We live with Juliana’s parents in Oak Forest. It’s seven people, two dogs and one cat. Every once in a while, I’ll sleep on the couch when Juliana is talking in the middle of the night.

Luis: What does the future hold for you and Juliana?

Chris: Juliana and I are doing really great. Like any couple, we have our ups and downs. We’re trying to figure out how to be together through disability. It’s a really challenging relationship. We know we love each other and I don’t want to leave her and she doesn’t want me to leave. I think I just want her to get to the point where she’s happy and more independent before we put the pressure on ourselves to walk down the aisle. The future for us looks more promising than my music (laughs).

Twitter @aboutluisgomez

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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