This week, American Idol revealed its top 10 contestants for Season 12 -- an experience few get to have, and those that do, remember it for life.
“Oh God, I will never forget what that feels like,” season 11's Erika Van Pelt tells The Hollywood Reporter. “It feels great to survive, and it’s horrible to see your friends go home. I appreciate what those kids are doing."
Since coming to the end of her own Idol journey in March 2012, the Rhode Island singer has been hustling -- expanding her DJ business, Van Pelt Entertainment, her band, booking modeling work and high-profile gigs with the likes of Donald Trump and Vice President Joe Biden. And, of course, she's been recording, with an independent album due out this May.
As if that's not enough, Van Pelt is also the guest of honor for a Royal Carribean cruise due to set sail in 2014. “I refuse to stand down,” she says. Read on for more from the business-minded 27-year-old, who's learning to cope with her Idol-specific Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The Hollywood Reporter: First things first -- what color is your hair now?
Erika Van Pelt: (Laughs) It’s blonde, per request of the people helping me put my album together. We’ll keep it blonde for now.
THR: Tell us about your album...
Van Pelt: I got home from the Philippines and knew I wanted to do an indie record. I wasn’t necessarily going to go the major label route. I wanted to have a lot of creative freedom -- basically the very opposite of [American Idol]. I didn’t have a ton of freedom with what I was doing on the show. I am 27 years-old and a grown woman. I know who I am as an artist. So I found an investor and a really great group of songwriters and a killer team of producers. It’s sort of this mishmash, motley crew of a bunch of really talented people, and it’s getting pieced together slowly. We are halfway done right now.
THR: You recently collaborated with X Factor contestant Jillian Jensen on Jessie J’s “Nobody’s Perfect.” Since you guys are friends, is she on the album?
Van Pelt: Jillian is not on the album, although w did do that one free download release. We took a poll with our fans a while ago when she was still on X Factor. Our fans found out that we knew each other, and that we played in the same band. She dated my brother, and we were very close. So we thought it would be a fun thing to do.
THR: Are you watching American Idol? Did you see Angie Miller’s performance of that song?
Van Pelt: Yes! The night I put it up for download, I saw Angela’s performance. I thought it was funny how the timing worked out. It’s a great song. I’m not surprised that everybody is doing their own versions of it.
THR: Speaking of Idol, did you see Bryant Tadeo did Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind,” which was the song you had the week you were eliminated when Jennifer Lopez said you didn't move enough.
Van Pelt: It was funny because I watched the video and got a little bit of post traumatic stress disorder. It was weird. That will be emblazoned in my mind forever. Billy Joel does this behind a piano -- do you want me to do a dance routine? Yikes! I appreciated Bryant trying to do that. It’s not an easy thing to take on. I saw a lot of blogs writing that “maybe the judges don’t like this song” that got Erika Van Pelt eliminated from the top 10 last year, and I’m not sure if there is a curse on the song as much as you just have to do something fresh to catch their attention.
THR: Seems like you’re doing just fine now. You are one of the most aggressive marketers of your whole season.
Van Pelt: As soon as I got back from the Philippines, I had a talk with myself. [I thought]: "You can go one or two ways, Erika -- you can be in the stagnant pool at the side of the rolling river or you can get rocking and rolling." I feel like no one who has ever been successful has done it by standing by and watching things happen. I like to be proactive. I don’t like to just talk about things. I am a doer.
THR: You have been doing a lot of engagements for Donald Trump. How did you hook up with him?
Van Pelt: We did a couple of things for Trump last year before I went on Idol and they were sort of sporadic. I had a meeting with him at his office in Trump Tower in New York just sort of chit-chatting back and forth. He loved the band, he loved the vibe and he wanted to have us back when he was contemplating running for President. I love the Donald. We have a good working relationship. That was how it started. He thought about having us along for his campaign ride -- that didn’t happen. But he runs all of these charity events in Palm Beach every weekend in the winter. We got locked in and did every one for him.
THR: And political events, too?
Van Pelt: We did Ashley Biden’s wedding this year, and then we performed at [Vice President] Joe Biden’s inaugural party at his house in D.C. It’s been really good. I take the band down and rock out.
THR: How did the cruise happen? That’s pretty cool.
Van Pelt: I don’t look like a pageant girl anymore, but back in the day, I used to be huge into dancing and I was playing all these sports before I started dying my hair and getting tattoos. I was a finalist in the Miss Rhode Island pageant years ago and it’s funny how things work out. I got linked in with the pageant people and this woman who I worked with that runs her own pageant now also works for a travel agency. When I got home, she approached me and said, “I would like to do this celebrity cruise.” I am half of a businesswoman, so we worked it out -- a couple of shows with songs from the record and we’ll throw a couple of cocktail parties, it will be all-inclusive and a really cool thing.
THR: Are you keeping up with your Season 11 alums?
Van Pelt: Colton Dixon was opening for Third Day in Lowell the same night I was at the Lowell Memorial Gala auditorium for a benefit. He had his driver take him over for the last five minutes just to give me a hug. I saw him for three minutes then I had to hit the stage. Elise Testone, Deandre Brackensick and I are chatting about trying to put a show together. Deandre is putting out an indie record. I was in New York a few days ago and I crashed Phillip’s interview at WPLJ!
THR: Are you keeping up with the show this year? Who do you like?
Van Pelt: I really love Angela, honestly. I like her vibe. Candice Glover is a really good friend of mine from last season. There are a lot of good voices this year. I’m encouraged that it’s not all about Nicki Minaj -- it really should be about the singers. Those kids pouring their hearts out every week.
Watch Van Pelt surprise Phillip Phillips on WPLJ below: