David Hernandez is a champion of American Idol and has managed to cut loose from the post-show crash and make some very inspiring music. His current project is with Effie Passero, another Idol champion called “2nd Hour”. In a recent interview, he talks about how his life as a “Half Gringo” gay kid shaped him into a successful singer with a continuing career. Hernandez shows how the adversity was exactly what he needed to help him become the musician he is.
***In the interim of this interview and the publishing, the COVID-19 virus struck. Instinct is proud to announce that since no one is able to play concerts at the moment, David Hernandez will be performing a live streaming concert, this coming Wednesday March 25th at 7 PM PST. Tune in to his Instagram: dhernandezmusic or his Facebook: DHernandezMusic for a great show.
Jeremy Hinks: I wanted to say thank you for taking the time for this interview, and for those video links. I had already watched THOSE specific ones, and they were the ones I wanted to cover, so, we are on the same page. Let’s start with the “2nd Hour” Project, I LOVED that one, it was very powerful, and you and Effie both managed to pull some heartstrings.
David Hernandez: Thank you, I met Effie a couple of years ago, we made friends, shared the same booking agent, and I invited her to one of my shows, and a year after meeting her we thought about doing some work together. She sent me this song, and I said “Well, I’m a songwriter too” and I would like to re-write the 2nd verse, to come from a more personal space, covering some of what I’ve been through. And she said she would be happy to make this a collaborative effort, so I rewrote the 2nd verse. We got together and rehearsed it, and finally, a year later we got into the studio and recorded it, and recorded the music video, and the rest is kind of history. It took a while for things to come together and gel, as all good things do, we had to get our own situations in order, finances, and that to where we could get on this together and make it happen the way we both wanted it to, we wanted it to be right. But then here it is approaching 2020, and it’s like “Fuck it” we are never going to have all the money, there is never going to be the “RIGHT” time, let’s just do it with the means that we have. So we moved forward and it turns out to have been great, it has to our surprise touched so many lives already. And I wanted to kick off the year with something I was proud of, and it went over really well, I mean here it is, less than a week or so into it and over 4000 views already, it has been great. We are now moving forward with our 3-5 song EP as a duo because there are no two other American Idol finalists who have come together and done something like this. It’s a real powerhouse and we hope to get some label attention and reach a lot of people.
JH: Well, I love the dynamic of it, the mix of the vocals. Yours this strong male, smooth voice, and hers just as strong, and very intense, there was just a great balance between the both of you. I would LOVE to hear it live, so if the two of you take the stage together, I’m on the guest list… A wonderful collaboration
DH: YEAH!!!! Thank you, I appreciate that.
JH: See, I watched your American Idol performances, and they are all very “Produced” and “tied down” for the TV audiences, and its someone else’s production. This speaks to you, I’ll get to your song “Beautiful” in a moment, but let’s backtrack, the acoustic version, that speaks to you, and your abilities as a writer, composer, and performer, and there it is RAW production, and it was just as great as anything you did on the show. That puts YOUR talents out there, showing that you were not just a product of the producer assigned to you on the show. For the show, you have a week to practice, every note from the band is pretty much sequenced in, tied down vocal coach, nothing to go wrong, everything was someone else’s work, then the last bit was your vocal performance. It was a 90/10 there. Your acoustic of “Beautiful” was a 10/90, and it was powerful.
DH: Yeah, it’s not “PRODUCED” with an auto tuner, anything like that, so it’s as real as it gets that way, true. That’s kind of why I did it because when I recorded “Beautiful” in the beginning, I got a lot of feedback from friends and family who I let hear it privately, “It’s great, but it sounds really “PRODUCED”. That’s the truth, everything you hear on the radio is “Produced” and overproduced sometimes. The difference is when you can step away as an artist, and do your own thing. This is why everyone in that video was there, they were all friends, all great singers, they weren’t getting paid. I only paid for the studio time, and when I asked them, they all said: “Hell yeah, let’s do it”. It was because I wanted to show everyone, yes you heard me on Idol, so many years ago, and now you hear me, and people say “it’s gotten better” and I say, yeah, I HOPE it got better as I get older. Cause I want to show, “Yeah, lemme show these mutherfuckers that I CAN STILL SING!!!” And that I can sing, and it got better.
JH: Ok, my age, you are 10 years younger than me, but in my teenage years, there was Tiffany, and the New Kids on The Block and they were SO produced, even the stage show, if you had heard them sing half of what you heard at the live show, that would have been impressive. That’s just how it was done those days. So watching that, I could say, this guy is the real deal, its stripped-down, no fluff in production, and it still is just as powerful as the “Release” version. This one showcased what you really can do. I don’t know if you remember in the early ’90s when everyone was doing their “Unplugged” shows.
DH: Of course I watched ALL of them.
JH: Yeah, to show that they actually could play, and the one album that sold nothing, was the KISS unplugged one. Without all the theatrics, and them blowing shit up on stage, there wasn’t much. Anyway, in the video, you had a lot of different people tried to cover it all. The gay couples, the straight couples, the older aged couple, the bald fat guy in there, thanks for giving us old bald fat guys representation in the video by the way. Talk about that song, and why you put it together that way.
DH: That song came at an interesting time in my life. I was kind of depressed, as to what was going on in the music industry, I was feeling insecure, and anxiety and the fear of being where I did not want to be at a time that I had set for myself. So when the song was pitched to me, I didn’t want to sing it because I like to write my material and I was being snobby. Then my manager said, “You need to really at least listen to this song again.” So I listened to it again and thought I would just go lay down the vocals for it and see how it goes. So I went into the studio and recorded it, and was pleasantly surprised at how I sounded, and you just never know, different singers can evoke different emotions on the same thing. So when I walked out of the studio, I felt better, and I thought this song is really positive. Because most of the stuff I write comes from a place of hurt. So when I thought about the actual video, which I had never actually recorded a music video. And, I was raised in the Phoenix Arizona area, but I was in a town called Guadalupe Arizona, its a small poor town in the middle of Tempe, 99% Latino. I remember being the only biracial kid in this all Latino community. So all my life I was straddling the fence between my Latino roots and my white roots. So I would get called “Gringo” a lot, and “Guerro” a lot, all these sorts of racial slurs. So I never really grew up, being able to know what to put in those boxes to check, “Bi-Racial Latino” or “White Latino”, and in addition to that, being gay, and knowing it, but never being able to come close to being out about it. I was already being “assaulted” for my being race, I was smart enough to know that all the boys were looking at girls, and all the girls were looking at boys, and there were no boys around me looking at other boys, and my family was also very vocal about homosexuals. So as you get older, you don’t often look inside yourself to see why you act the way that you act. So when It came to the point that I recorded “Beautiful” I had just turned 33, and I realized that I had a lot of pain, and triggers from that time in my life. And even til now I hadn’t dealt with it, and I thought in my 33 years of life, and right now, though I had been out to my friends, I never asked myself “What does beautiful really mean?” and that’s why the song and this video were so cathartic experience for me that I thought that it was literally therapy. So I decided I wanted everyone who watched the video to see someone that they could relate to. So, I even made sure there was that bald guy in there for you. That is how it was birthed, and I’m glad it turned out that way. Even now, though I kind of get tired of singing the song when I watch that video, I’m just super proud of its message and how well it was done. Cause there were some crazy stupid ideas pitched to me for the video, and I thought, I wanted to do just something like that. And it was a great jumping-off point for my career, since Idol. I had been making music, and touring, but hadn’t released. So, this was my first release that was MINE, and even now, people always say at my shows “SING BEAUTIFUL, and I’m happy that they know it.
JH: So, I’m that guy in the front row jumping up and down with his hand up saying ” OH OH, I have a question, I have a question”
DH: Yes Jeremy, you have a question? (laughing)
JH: So when you did that song, did you realize at that time that you had something that was you, YOURS to give?”
DH: Actually yes, when I got out of the studio, I thought “Wow, people need to hear that song”, and I also realized that everything that I love to shut my door and listen to in the bedroom, isn’t necessarily the norm. Cause when I first heard that song I thought “This is one cheesy ass song” and wondered how I was going to put any soul to it. But I learned to trust influential people around me, that would hear me, and say about singing “Ok David, I hear you have the song, and let it take you THIS WAY”, and they see things in it as a finished product that maybe you don’t. That was when I learned that if you have people around you, that you trust, to actually put your trust in them. And I had been sitting on this song for 3 months, and once I took their influence. I learned that I had a voice, even though I hadn’t actually been “Out” publicly, or even addressed being bi-racial, that I realized I had so much depth and so much of a story.
JH: One individual I know from one of those shows, not saying any names or seasons, but, he said he had that same thing happen, only it took him a long time, years to break free of his “Idol” performances, and productions, to take what he had to offer, and do that, instead of the pre-canned packages he had done for so long. You did it much sooner than he did. And then he got it into some house remixes, and dancing tracks, whatever. So, I’m digging back through your catalog and I’m listening to the Hector stuff, (Dance remix producer) and I like it, and that speaks to the versatility to your music if people are running off with it and making dance remixes of it because it inspired them to take your art. Someone said, “you know you have made it if someone makes a dance mix of your song, and you never meant for it to BE a dance song”.
DH: It’s cool because it’s from Hector Fonseca which is a pretty prominent DJ.
JH: Yeah Hector pops up every once in awhile, I have a friend Kathy Fisher who works with George Acosta all the time. So, I find it interesting that you consider yourself to be bi-racial and that it is something to talk about or consider. I never would have thought about that, because where I live, the Mormon immigrants from all over the world are here in Salt Lake City. I mean, mixed-race folks are everywhere. Even in my neighborhood, we have a very large French population, from all kinds of french speaking countries. I speak it, my daughters all speak it, they go to a school that half the classes are in french. So to think it would be anything to care about that someone is of a different race or ethnicity does sound strange to me, I never would have picked up on that anyway. Different worlds, were being half gringo was the odd man out, but you just added to the dynamic of where you came from that’s interesting. But then again, I’m the dumb straight christian white guy, so, anyone different from me is interesting. I think you are pretty resilient after all that and the post Idol crash, you are back on top making music as you.
DH: Thank you.
JH: So, there you are from Guadalupe, Arizona, gay, and isolated that way when you did you know, and when were you able to finally tell someone?
DH: I knew when I was five years old, I didn’t know there was anything wrong with it, but my mom who was just amazing, let me be whoever I wanted to be, she let me wear the costumes I wanted to wear at Halloween. So I didn’t realize a problem with it until I got into school, and I realized the things like sports, or PE, were not the things I wanted to do, I wanted to do musical theater and the arts, and I loved English class. The things that didn’t stimulate the other boys. So I always knew there was something different about me, I just didn’t know how to process that. I felt like something was wrong with me, I felt like I was broken when I was at school. So that was hard to process until I got out of high school, went to college, and was able to have my own space and make my own crowd.
JH: I hear ya on that, I was a punk kid, goth, combat boots, loved and collected music, who took dance and ballet for my gym credit in high school, and wondered why I was supposed to be like the other guys. Nuff said.
DH: Exactly, but coming from a young age, you are programmed to think you are supposed to fit in. Whatever creates fewer waves, don’t swim upstream. BUT, I turned out the complete opposite of that, I am loud, outspoken, opinionated, GAY, I’m an artist. It was nothing I was raised where this would have been a possibility. But its all the energy you attract in the frequencies that you put out there, that’s why I’ve been so able to maintain in life. But I’m also not delusional in knowing that I live in a bubble. I live in Los Angeles, and I know that there are kids out there in rural towns, that can’t experience this. So that’s why I’m loud, that’s why I sing songs like beautiful, and make videos with gay couples, and seen as the norm. I want those kids to get to that, and I want everyone to think they can fucking do that, so that everyone, not just the big celebrities and how many Instagram followers, but that everyone can make waves, see that, and realize we are human.
JH: Give “Shield” a shake, my daughters watched it, and said, “Yep he’s gay, he’s too hot to be straight”. I loved the video, powerful and great song. I saw your tattoos, but couldn’t read the one on your right arm. And the videography on that was wonderful, and well, its message is pretty upfront, makes sense, but what was that one on your right arm?
DH: That one said “Never forget where I began”, and yeah, it was a great song, a message of loyalty, hope for someone, telling them its going to be okay, no matter how hard it gets.
JH: So we are tying up on the time here, here is my question that I ask every artist I interview. What would you say to the young gay kid who is in the closet, afraid, and in that vulnerable state. You have already answered it in several other answers, but put it all in one answer if you would.
DH: I will say this, if you are unable to be who you are, and be out, to just wait, you are ok, you are fine, you will find a time and place in your life, and people that you can come out to, they will be there for you and you will be able to do amazing things when that happens, just hang on, once you have people that will accept you, you will get from them the strength to grow, and strong enough to stand on your own as your true self.