Devin Velez dreamed a dream, then he did it; watched it, then he lived it. The Chicago-born, longtime fan of "American Idol" tried out for the show last summer after talking about doing so for years, and then lived out every "Idol" fan's dream by heading to Hollywood and eventually making his way to the top 10. Even though he was eliminated after the top-eight show thanks in part to a mildly disastrous group song, Velez cherished his time on the show and felt like he won anyway.
"My goal was to make the top 10," he said. "So i feel like I won."
Now Velez will embark on a nationwide tour with the other 10 finalists, hoping to kickstart his own solo career. We caught up with Velez before he departed to talk about what he'll miss about Chicago, what "Idol" will miss from Randy Jackson and life as a celebrity Starbucks barista.
What was being on "Idol" like? How did your emotions progress as you made it further on the show?
Oh man, it was the most boring thing ever--I'm totally kidding. Are you kidding me? This was my dream. Oh my gosh. I remember watching all 12 seasons, so I've been an "Idol" fanatic for 12 years. ... When the audition day came I was a nervous wreck. ... But the moment they said "Devin, they're ready for you," and I walked in, all my nerves went away. ... It's something that I still can't believe happened. It was amazing how literally like a second later, all of my nerves went away. ... From that day on, on the show, I never got nervous.
So was your mindset I was in this to win this, or were you just happy to be there?
Something else happened--we had a week off after Hollywood week. They flew us back home to be with our families. That week, something happened, where my aunt looked at me--she's a Christian and my family is very Christian. But my aunt told me that she was praying for me, and she felt that God was telling her that someone's going to need my help when I get back out there. ... When she told me this--what's funny is that I put God before everything I do, including "Idol," including my career, including school, including everything--that's just the way that I am. I remember going back to "Idol" the following week, and my mindset then was different ... it was, "Where is this person that needs my help?"... I don't want to say their name, but I did end up praying for a person, and some opportunities have opened up for them. ... I remember being there for that person, and it felt really, really good.
What is that dynamic like between the contestants when the cameras are off?
I look at it like a giant family. In all honesty, obviously we have some arguments, but, for the most part, we're a big happy family. We argue and then get over it and then the next day we're having dinner together. ... We're all really, really close, and I love it. ... Like I don't want to have beef with someone I'm going to be on a tour bus with for three months. That would just be awful.
Last time I talked to you, you were working as a Starbucks barista and said you really liked it. Will you continue doing that?
I'm not still working at Starbucks. It's not because I'm too good for Starbucks, in no way, shape or form. But even before I left, once people found out I was auditioning for the show, people were already asking me to sign their cups and taking pictures. ... Now that I've made it to top 10, a lot more people know who I am. So I just don't think I can get any work done there.
Do you have any plans of a music career?
Absolutely, yeah. The college I want to go to is VanderCook College of Music, and graduting from there would be just awesome. If I gradutate from there, I will be able to play 16 instruments fluently, read and compose music and have a degree in education. So that would be my fallback if my solo career doesn't work. I mean, I could be the best freakin' music teacher there ever was.
Was there any moment or episode that stood out to you?
I can actually narrow it down. It was my final performance, when the judges decided not to save me. I loved that performance. ... The audience was so, so alive at that moment, and the energy that I was feeling off of that audience was crazy. They were all yelling, "Save him! Save him!" It felt like that was the loudest they'd ever yelled for a person to be saved. ... It's the people that support you. If I have no fans, then I'm not a star. ... Seeing how much I meant to them, it was just really reassuring.
You had a costly trio performance where one of your partners forgot the words. As someone who has performed before, what were you thinking during those moments?
This is a cliche, but the show must go on. I couldn't just stop and stare. You can't just do that. I'm a very quick thinker. The rest of the song, I didn't know what else would be forgotten, so I made the decision to just sing the rest of the lyrics for the rest of the song because I knew the whole song. That was just me trying to look out for a brother, trying to make sure the whole song wasn't a train wreck, you know?
What are your thoughts on Randy leaving, both as a former contestant and a fan? What do you think the judges' table loses?
I think they lose originality. I think that Randy has stayed true to himself all 12 seasons. He's just really honest. I loved his honesty. When your song was bad, he told you why it was bad and he told you it was bad. When it was good, he praised you, and that's exactly what a judge should do.
What can you tell us about the tour as far as what to expect?
OMG, I am so excited about the tour! Hm, the tour, what should you guys expect? There is going to be some Spanish on the tour, but that's a little part of me so I gotta give you guys all of me, you know? I'm hoping to have some more upbeat stuff. I want the audience moving, I want to see seats shaking, you know. I want them to see that we are all a family and that we all love each other and that we're all doing this, it's possible to achieve your dreams.
What did you miss about Chicago, or what will you miss most on the tour?
Oh my gosh, food! I cannot even begin to tell you guys, the moment I land here, with my plane in Chicago, even at the airport, the moment I get off the plane, I just breathe in, and it smells like Chicago food. It's just the most delicious thing on the planet. And L.A. has nice food, I'm sure that other cities have stuff to offer. There's just nothing like a Chicago hot dog, or a Chicago burger or pizza. Oh my god, the pizza. There's just nothing like Chicago food.
Devin's 5 essential road items for the "Idol" tour